Poverty competency – a necessary skill to have

Learn about the different types of poverty and how you can help move people forward, out of poverty.

Diversity education is a common personal and professional development training option. One issue that is not addressed enough, however, is poverty. Poverty is in every community. Generally people do not understand poverty or try to fully understand it. Most people generalize it based on stereotypes and judgment. Like with any social issue, generalizations are not healthy. Michigan State University Extension encourages people and communities to develop poverty competency.

According to Donna Beegle, author and creator of Poverty Institute, “Poverty competency is having comprehensive understanding of poverty and the skills to effectively eradicate its impacts on learning.It is knowing the history and structural causes of poverty to ensure that you operate on facts, not stereotypes. Poverty competency is understanding the complexities of poverty and how many different life experiences are labeled “poverty.” It is knowing that working-class poverty experiences are different than situational poverty experiences or generational poverty experiences. It is understanding that students and families are struggling in a war zone. It is about operating on the assumption that people are making the best decisions they can within the “shoes” they are wearing. It is creating relationships based on identification so people can see they are not so different from those who are educated. It is fostering a climate where everyone belongs, has knowledge, and has opportunities to shine.”

There are four different types of poverty: Generational poverty, working-class poverty, situational poverty and immigrant poverty. Having an understanding of how the world views these and the behaviors that come as a result of the world view is important. For example someone from generational poverty has different experiences and behaviors than someone who is experiencing poverty due to a situation or due to immigration.

Donna Beegle states in her book “See Poverty…Be the Difference that there are five strategies that people and agencies that work with clientele living in poverty can use to help individuals and families move out of poverty:

  1. Strengths perspective approach –Empower people by focusing on the positives, what is good, what they know and what skills they have.
  2. Resiliency theory – The ability to cope and continue functioning despite experiencing stress and adversity. It is not a personal trait. Individuals and professionals can help people living in poverty develop resiliency by focusing on what is good about the person.
  3. Asset theory – The more assets a person has, both internally (conflict resolution skills, sense of purpose, etc.) and externally (housing, transportation, etc.) the more likely they will succeed. 
  4. Social capital theory – Those who are successful have connections with others who support them in various ways.  People in poverty need the same kind of support; they need meaningful relationships with others who are educated and have resources to support them. 
  5. Faulty attribution theory – We attribute motives to someone else’s behavior without discovering the “why” behind their actions. Accept people where they are and ask more questions to find out why before making assumptions or judgments. 

There is much to do in the fight on poverty. Are you competent on this topic? Is your employer competent?  Do some personal reflection and research on the topic to gain a deeper understanding. Help collaborate and strengthen partnerships within your community or try to build meaningful relationships with people in poverty. Every bit helps.

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