We so often talk about poverty with no agreement as to what we are talking about. There is income, there is health, there is education, etc. There are all sorts of manifestations of poverty, which ones are we focused on and what are the demarkation points between poor and not-poor. In addition, as Woodson suggests, there are categories of poverty. Most people think of the deserving and the non-deserving poor. Woodson goes further.
There is one cohort whose poverty is the result of an unexpected setback, such as the death of a breadwinner or the loss of a job. For these people, the welfare system can function as originally intended, providing temporary support until recipients can find their footing again.I like his concept but am not quite on-board with his definition of the categories. I would suggest:
A second cohort comprises those who have remained dependent on the system because the disincentives to marry and work embedded in its regulations make it a rational choice to avoid those stepping stones to self-sufficiency. They have “done the math” and calculated that it is not worth the loss of benefits to take the first steps toward upward mobility.
The third group is made up of the disabled, many of whom will always be in need of some support.
The fourth cohort consists of those in poverty because of the choices they make and the chances they take—for example, those suffering from alcoholism and other addictions, who choose to live with the consequences rather than pursue recovery.
Poverty arising from physical disabilityCertainly these are not exclusive of one another. There are overlaps and duplications.
Poverty arising from temporary and unexpected circumstances
Poverty arising from mental disability
Poverty arising from substance dependency
Poverty arising from choice
However, I think this is useful for several reasons. First, and primarily, because it allows a better targeting of remedial and ameliorative policies. The actions and policies necessary to address physical disability are radically different from those necessary to address mental disability or substance dependency. Second, because it allows better communication. There is certainly a hierarchy of likely support. I am guessing that support for policies to address the different forms of poverty run something like Physical disability (95), Unexpected circumstances (90%), Mental disability (85%), Substance dependency (70%), Choice (30%).
Third, because this set of categories also allows you to better target resources by size of problem. I have no empirical basis for this but I am guessing that of the number of people in poverty probably divides perhaps 10% from Physical disability, 10% from Unexpected circumstances, 20% from Mental disability, 35% from substance dependency, and 25% from Choice.
I wonder where we are putting our money in comparison to where the source of the problems lie?