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Abstract and Keywords

Poverty has been a subject of concern since the beginnings of social work. This entry reviews three key research areas. First, the extent and dynamics of poverty are examined, including the measurement of poverty, patterns of cross-sectional and comparative poverty rates, the longitudinal dynamics of poverty, and poverty as a life-course risk. Second, reasons for poverty are discussed. These are divided into individual versus structural level explanations. The concept of structural vulnerability is offered as a way of bridging key individual and structural determinants in order to better understand the existence of poverty. Third, strategies and solutions to poverty are briefly reviewed.

Keywords: causes of poverty, human capital, labor market, life course, poverty dynamics, poverty measures, poverty rates, residential segregation, social welfare state, solutions to poverty, structural vulnerability


The subject of poverty has been of central importance to the profession of social work. In fact it could be argued that addressing poverty lies at the heart of what the profession stands for. As Simon notes, the original twin missions of social work were “those of relieving the misery of the most desperate among us and of building a more just and humane social order” (1994, p. 23). This mission rings true today as well. The National Association of Social Work's Code of ethics begins by stating, “the primary mission of the social work profession is to enhance human well-being and help meet the basic human needs of all people, with particular emphasis to the needs and empowerment of people who are vulnerable, oppressed, and living in poverty” (1996, p. 1). Likewise, the Council on Social Work Education's curriculum policy statement declares that the purpose of the social work profession is to “enhance human well-being and alleviate poverty, oppression, and other forms of social injustice” (2003, p. 4).

Social work has placed a heavy emphasis on alleviating poverty for at least two reasons. First, poverty has been viewed as undermining the concept of a just society. In an affluent nation such as the United States, it appears patently unfair that not only are many left out of such prosperity, but that they also live in debilitating economic conditions. Second, social workers have long understood that poverty underlies many of the problems and issues that they confront on a daily basis. Whether the discussion revolves around racial or gender inequalities, family stress, health disparities, child welfare, economic development, or a host of other topics that social workers routinely confront, research indicates that poverty is intricately connected to each of these subjects. The alleviation of poverty is therefore perceived to be essential in striving toward the enhancement of human well-being and helping to “meet the basic human needs of all people” (NASW, 1996, p. 1). As a result, the profession has historically engaged in research, practice, organizing, and advocacy on the local, state, and federal levels with respect to poverty alleviation.

This entry addresses the scope and nature of poverty, with a particular emphasis upon poverty in the United States. Three fundamental questions are addressed. First, what are the parameters and dynamics of poverty? Second, how can the existence of poverty be best understood? And third, what can be done to alleviate the conditions of poverty?

The Extent, Prevalence, and Dynamics of Poverty

Poverty has been conceptualized and measured in a number of different ways. Over 200 years ago, Smith in his landmark treatise, Wealth of Nations (1776), defined poverty as a lack of those necessities that “the custom of the country renders it indecent for creditable people, even of the lowest order, to be without.” This type of definition is what is known as an absolute approach. A minimum threshold for living conditions is determined, and individuals falling below that threshold are considered poor. An example of this approach is the manner in which the official poverty line is drawn in the United States. The U.S. poverty line is calculated by estimating the income needed for different sizes of households to obtain what is considered a minimally adequate basket of goods and services for the year. For example, in 2011 a family of four was considered in poverty if its total income fell below $23,021 (U.S. Census Bureau, 2012). The often used standard of defining poverty as living on less than a dollar or two a day in developing countries is another example of an absolute measure of poverty.

Alternatively, poverty can be constructed in a relative rather than absolute sense. A frequently used relative measure is one that defines the poor as being in households whose incomes fall below 50% of the population's median household income. This measure is often found within a European context, as well as in comparative analyses across industrialized countries.

A third type of measure attempts to incorporate more than just low income by factoring in additional aspects of deprivation such as illiteracy, high mortality rates, and chronic unemployment. The focus here is on the concept of social exclusion or “the inability to participate in the activities of normal living” (Glennerster, 2002, 89). This type of measure has been used by the United Nations in its construction of a human poverty index for both the developing and developed nations (United Nations Development Programme, 2012), and has been discussed most notably in the work of Sen (1992).

Beyond the various approaches to measuring poverty, the dimension of time is fundamental in understanding the extent and dynamics of poverty. Poverty can be understood from a cross-sectional, longitudinal, or life-course perspective.

Cross-Sectional Rates

In 1959 the U.S. poverty rate stood at 22.4% (U.S. Census Bureau, 2012). During the 1960s the rate fell sharply, such that by 1973 it had reached a low of 11.1%. Since 1973, the overall rate of poverty has fluctuated between 11% and 15% (Hoynes, Page, & Stevens, 2006; Meyer & Wallace, 2009). It has tended to rise during periods of economic recession (early 1980s, early 1990s, middle to later 2000s), and has fallen during periods of economic expansion (middle to later 1980s, middle to later 1990s).

The poverty rate in 2011 stood at 15.0%, which represented 46.2 million individuals, or about one out of every seven Americans (U.S. Census Bureau, 2012). The percentage of the population falling into poverty or near poverty (125% of the poverty line) was 19.8% (or 60.9 million Americans), whereas 6.6% of the population (or 20.4 million Americans) experienced extreme poverty (falling below 50% of the poverty line). Of those who fell into poverty in 2011, 44% were living below 50% of the poverty line (U.S. Census Bureau, 2012). Consequently, a significant proportion of the poor in America are also experiencing extreme poverty.

In addition, Census Bureau data indicate that certain characteristics put individuals at a greater risk of experiencing cross-sectional poverty. These include having less education, being young, non-Whites, living in single-parent families, residing in economically depressed inner cities or rural areas, or having a disability (U.S. Census Bureau, 2012). In combination, these characteristics can substantially raise the risk of poverty. For example, families with Black children under the age of 5 residing in a female headed household had an overall poverty rate of 57.8% (U.S. Census Bureau, 2012).

Cross-sectional poverty rates have also been analyzed from a comparative perspective. The Luxembourg Income Study (LIS) has gathered income and demographic information on households in ∼30 industrialized nations from 1967 to the present. Variables have been standardized across the various national data sets, allowing researchers to conduct cross-national analyses regarding poverty and income inequality. This body of research shows that U.S. poverty rates (and income inequality) tend to be the highest in the developed world. Whether one looks at relative or absolute poverty among working-age adults, children, or the elderly, the story is much the same (Smeeding, 2005a). For example, in a study of international poverty rates among children, the United States ranked second highest among 26 industrialized countries with a poverty rate of 21.9% (poverty was measured as falling below one half of the country's median income). The only country with a higher rate of poverty among children was Mexico at 27.7%. In contrast, the poverty rate for children in Denmark stood at 2.4% (UNICEF, 2005). For American children in married couple families, single-parent families, or cohabiting families, the story is much the same—a far greater percentage of American children are at risk of poverty compared with their counterparts in nearly all other developed countries (Weinshenker & Heuveline, 2006).

Longitudinal Dynamics

Since the 1970s, researchers have increasingly sought to uncover the longitudinal dynamics of poverty. The focus has been on understanding the extent of turnover in the poverty population from year to year and determining the length of poverty spells. These studies have relied on several nationally representative panel data sets, including the Panel Study of Income Dynamics (PSID), the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth (NLSY), and the Survey of Income and Program Participation (SIPP). Results from these longitudinal analyses have shed considerable light on understanding the patterns of U.S. poverty. Several broad conclusions can be drawn from this body of work.

First, most spells of poverty in the United States are fairly short. The typical pattern is that households are impoverished for one or two years and then manage to get out of poverty (Bane & Ellwood, 1986; Blank, 1997; Cellini, McKernan, & Ratcliffe, 2008; Duncan, 1984; Walker, 1994). They may stay there for a period of time, only to experience an additional fall into poverty at some point (Stevens, 1999). Since their economic distance above the poverty line is often not that far, a detrimental economic event such as the loss of a job, the breakup of a family, or a medical problem can easily throw a family back below the poverty line (Duncan et al., 1995; Iceland, 2012; McKernan & Ratcliffe, 2005).

Analysts that have looked at monthly levels of poverty have found even greater fluctuation in poverty spell dynamics. For example, Iceland (2003) examined the monthly fluctuations in and out of poverty from 1996 to 1999 and found that 34% of Americans experienced poverty for at least 2 months during this time period, while half of all poverty spells were over within 4 months, and four-fifths were completed at the end of 1 year.

On the other hand, this body of work has also shown that there is a small number of households that do indeed experience chronic poverty for years at a time. Typically they have characteristics that put them at a severe disadvantage vis-a-vis the labor market (for example, individuals with serious work disabilities, female headed families with large numbers of children, racial minorities living in economically depressed inner city areas). Their prospects for escaping poverty for any significant period of time are greatly diminished (Devine & Wright, 1993; Wilson, 2009).

Finally, research into the dynamics of poverty shows that many households who encounter poverty will re-experience poverty at some point in their future. Using annual estimates of poverty from the PSID data, Stevens (1994) calculated that of all persons who had managed to get themselves above the poverty line, over half would return to poverty within 5 years.

The picture of poverty drawn from this body of research is thus characterized by fluidity. Individuals and households tend to weave their way in and out of poverty, depending upon the occurrence or nonoccurrence of particular detrimental events (for example, job loss, family disruption, ill health). Similar findings have been found with respect to the longitudinal patterns of welfare use (Bane & Ellwood, 1994; Blank, 1997; Duncan, 1984; Rank, 1985, 1994a).

Life-Course Risk

A third approach for assessing the scope of poverty has been to analyze poverty as a life-course event. Rowntree's (1901) description of 11,560 working-class families in the English city of York was pioneering in developing this approach. Likewise, Hunter (1904) in his book Poverty sought to locate impoverishment within the context of the life course. Recently, the work of Rank and Hirschl has attempted to gauge the extent of poverty across the America life course.

Their results indicate that between the ages of 20 and 75, nearly 60% of Americans will experience at least one year of impoverishment, while 68% of Americans will encounter poverty or near poverty (125% below the official poverty line). The odds of encountering poverty across adulthood are significantly increased for African Americans and those with lower levels of education—91% of Blacks will encounter poverty between the ages of 20 and 75 versus 53% for Whites, while 75% of those with less than 12 years of education will experience at least a year of poverty compared with 48% for those with 12 or more years of education (Rank, 2004; Rank & Hirschl, 1999a). In addition, the life course risk of experiencing poverty has increased for those in their 20s, 30s, and 40s from the 1970s through the 1990s (Sandoval, Rank, & Hirschl, 2009).

Consistent with earlier studies of poverty dynamics, individuals experiencing poverty often do so for only one or two consecutive years. However, once an individual experiences poverty, they are quite likely to encounter poverty again (Rank & Hirschl, 2001a, 2001b).

Rank and Hirschl's analyses (1999b) also indicate that poverty is quite prevalent during childhood. Between the time of birth and age 17, 34% of American children will have spent at least one year below the poverty line, while 40% will have experienced poverty or near poverty (125% of the poverty line). In addition, 40% of the elderly will encounter at least one year of poverty between the ages 60 and 90, while 48% will encounter poverty at the 125% level (Rank & Williams, 2010).

The likelihood of using a social safety net program is also exceedingly high. Consequently, 65% of all Americans between the ages 20 and 65 will at some point reside in a household that receives a means-tested welfare program (including food stamps, Medicaid, Supplemental Security Income, Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC), or other cash assistance). Furthermore, 40% of the American population will use a welfare program in five or more years (although spaced out at different points across the life course). As with the life-course patterns of poverty, the typical pattern of welfare use is that of short spells. Consequently, only 15.9% of Americans will reside in a household that receives a welfare program in five or more consecutive years (Rank, 2004; Rank & Hirschl 2002).

One program that has a particularly wide reach is the Food Stamp Program (also known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program or SNAP). For example, approximately half (49.2%) of all U.S. children between the ages 1 and 20 will at some point reside in a household that receives food stamps (Rank & Hirschl, 2009). For the majority of Americans, it would appear that the question is not if they will encounter poverty, but rather, when, which entails a fundamental shift in the perception and meaning of poverty (Rank, 2004).

The Causes of Poverty

A second major area of research has examined the factors and causes underlying poverty. Much of the debate in the literature has centered upon the extent to which poverty can be understood as a result of individual versus structural failings. As O'Connor (2001) notes in her history of 20th century poverty research, the thrust of this research has shifted from an examination of industrial capitalism as a fundamental cause of poverty at the turn of the century, to a highly technical analysis of the demographic and behavioral characteristics of the poor and welfare recipients being modeled as the causes for poverty by the end of the 20th century.

One reason for this shift has been the growing importance of survey research within the social sciences. Such an approach lends itself more readily to an empirical analysis of individual characteristics, rather than the structural conditions underlying poverty. For example, race and gender are often treated as individual demographic attributes to be controlled for within multivariate models, rather than as structural dimensions of social and economic stratification in their own right (O’Connor, 2001). As is argued below, focusing upon particular individual factors helps to explain who loses out in the competition to find economic opportunities, while the more structural dynamics in society help to explain why there are not enough viable economic opportunities in the first place.

Individual Factors

The notion of poverty resulting from individual deficits goes back hundreds of years. Survey research confirms that a majority of Americans continue to believe that this is a very important reason for the existence of poverty (Feagin, 1975; Gans, 1995; Gilens, 1999; Kluegel & Smith, 1986; Smith & Stone, 1989). In particular, the argument has been that the poor lack the correct attitudes, motivation, or morals to get ahead (Sawhill, 2003; Schwartz, 2000). A variation on this argument has been that generous welfare programs have created work and marriage disincentives, leading to counterproductive behaviors such as out-of-wedlock teenage childbearing and avoidance of work, which in turn creates government dependency that further traps individuals and families into a cycle of poverty (Mead, 1986; Murray, 1984; Olasky, 1992).

Researchers examining the attitudes of the poor have found little evidence for the position that the poor have a different set of attitudes which have contributed to their poverty (Duncan, 1984; Edwards, Plotnick, & Klawitter, 2001; Rank, 1994a, 1994b; Seccombe, 1999). Contrary to popular opinion, the poor tend to amplify and reiterate mainstream American values such as the importance of hard work, personal responsibility, and a dislike of the welfare system. Although poverty is accompanied by increasing levels of stress and frustration, the vast majority of the poor express a similar set of core attitudes and motivations as middle-class Americans (Lichter & Crowley, 2002). Furthermore, the impact of social welfare programs on altering individual behavior and thereby fostering dependency has been shown to be minimal (Blank, 1997; Hays, 2003; Moffitt, 1992; Rank, 1989). In short, there is little empirical support for the argument that the counterproductive attitudes of the poor or the generosity of the U.S. welfare system creates or exacerbates poverty.

On the other hand, evidence overwhelmingly confirms the importance of human capital in affecting earnings (and consequently the risk of poverty). Human capital refers to the skills, education, and credentials that individuals bring with them into the labor market (Becker, 1964). The importance of human capital has been studied extensively within the labor economics and social stratification literatures. Individuals acquiring greater human capital tend to be in greater demand in the market place. As a result, they are able to pursue more lucrative careers resulting in higher paying and more stable jobs. Those lacking in human capital are unable to compete as effectively in the labor market, and therefore must often settle for unstable, low-wage work.

The effect of human capital upon the risk of poverty has been shown to be substantial (Karoly, 2001; Schiller, 2008). In particular, greater levels of education, skills, and training are strongly associated with higher levels of earnings (U.S. Census Bureau, 2012). Conversely, those lacking in marketable job skills and education are at a much greater risk of experiencing poverty.

Additional research has demonstrated that levels of human capital are highly dependent upon levels of parental human capital and economic resources. Children of parents with greater income, wealth, education, and so on, are more likely to acquire greater human capital than children coming from lower-income backgrounds. These differences, in turn, affect children's future life chances and outcomes, including the risk of poverty. Recent research has demonstrated a strong association between parents and their children with respect to levels of education, occupational status, income, and wealth (Bowles, Gintis, & Groves, 2005; d'Addio, 2007; Ermisch, Jantti, & Smeeding, 2012; Levine & Mazumder, 2007).

Beyond human capital, several other individual and family characteristics have been shown to be important in increasing or decreasing the risk of poverty. These include family structure, number of children, work disabilities, and age (Blank, 1997; Iceland, 2012). Each of these factors can be conceptualized as impacting individuals' ability to take advantage of labor market opportunities. Specifically, poverty rates tend to be higher for single-parent families, households with large numbers of children, those with work disabilities, and younger adults (U.S. Census Bureau, 2012).

Structural Factors

Various structural factors have been shown to be critical in understanding the existence of poverty in the United States and elsewhere. Perhaps most important of these has been an emphasis on the failure of the economy to provide enough viable economic opportunities and jobs for all. Several pioneering studies of poverty conducted at the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th century focused heavily on the importance of labor market failings to explain poverty. The work of Booth (1892–1897), Rowntree (1901), Hull House (1895), Hunter (1904), and DuBois (1899) all emphasized the importance of inadequate wages, lack of jobs, and unstable working conditions as a primary cause of poverty.

Recent research has also demonstrated a mismatch between the number of decent paying jobs that can adequately support a family versus the number of individuals in search of such jobs (Harvey, 2000; Quigley, 2003). For example, Bartik (2001) used several different approaches and assumptions to estimate the number of jobs that would be needed to significantly address the issue of poverty in the United States. He concluded that even in the booming U.S. economy of the late 1990s, between five and nine million more jobs were needed in order to meet the needs of the poor and disadvantaged. During the economic downturn beginning in 2008, this mismatch between the number of jobs needed versus those seeking such jobs was significantly greater.

In addition to the imbalance between numbers of jobs versus those in need of jobs, during the past 25 years, the American economy has been producing an increasing percentage of low-paying jobs, jobs that are part-time, and jobs that are lacking in benefits (Fligstein & Shin, 2004; Kalleberg, 2011; Hacker, 2006). Studies analyzing the percentage of the U.S. workforce falling into the low-wage sector have shown that far more American workers fall into this category than do their counterparts in other developed countries. For example, Smeeding et al. (2001) found that 25% of all U.S. full-time workers could be classified as employed in low-wage work (defined as earning less than 65% of the national median earnings for full-time jobs). This was by far the highest of the countries analyzed (the overall average was 12.9%). The result is that more Americans are working at jobs that simply do not support a family at an adequate income level.

A second structural factor affecting a society's overall rate of poverty is the effectiveness of the social welfare state in pulling individuals and families out of economic destitution. Countries with a more comprehensive welfare state (such as the Scandinavian and Benelux countries) are able to cut poverty much more than countries with a weak safety net (such as the United States or Australia). Research has repeatedly demonstrated the significant impact that a social welfare state exerts on poverty reduction (Alesina & Glaeser, 2004; Brady, 2009; Ritakallio, 2002; Smeeding, 2005a).

A third set of structural factors examined has been the impact of racial and gender discrimination. Substantial research has shown that economic, social, and political discrimination remains prevalent in American society (Feagin, 2010; Massey, 2007) and impacts the life chances of racial minorities and women in various ways, resulting in higher rates of poverty among these groups. For example, Oliver and Shapiro (2006), Shapiro (2004), and Johnson (2006) have demonstrated the legacy of discrimination through historical racial differences in wealth and asset inequalities.

Considerable work has also examined the role of residential segregation in combination with other patterns of discrimination, as a further structural cause of poverty, particularly for African American and Latino populations. This body of work has demonstrated that residential segregation on the basis of race is widespread, leading to deteriorating economic and social conditions within neighborhoods (Massey & Denton, 1993). Residential segregation restricts the opportunities available to urban Black and Latino families through social isolation and increasing levels of deprivation. These, in turn, ensure high levels of poverty and widespread social disorganization (Charles, 2003, 2006; Jargowsky, 1997; Yinger, 1995). Wilson (1987; 1996; 2008; 2009) and Anderson (1990, 1999) have also emphasized the importance of collapsed economic opportunities combined with patterns of social isolation and residential segregation resulting in high rates of urban poverty among minorities.

The Role of Structural Vulnerability

The concept of structural vulnerability (Rank, 1994, 2004; Rank, Yoon, & Hirschl, 2003) bridges the earlier discussed importance of human capital with the broader significance of structural forces. This framework recognizes that human capital and other labor market attributes are associated with who loses the economic game (and hence will be more likely to experience poverty), but that the structural elements in society ensure that there will be losers in the first place.

Consequently, it is argued that a certain percentage of the American population will experience economic vulnerability as a result of the structural failings mentioned earlier. Individuals experiencing such economic deprivation are likely to have characteristics putting them at a disadvantage in terms of competing in the economy (less education, fewer skills, single-parent families, illness or incapacitation, minorities residing in inner cities, and so on). These characteristics help to explain who in particular is at a greater risk of poverty. However, given the overall structural failings, a significant percentage of the American population will experience economic vulnerability regardless of what their individual characteristics are.

The critical mistake that social scientists have often made is equating the question of who loses out at the game, with the question of why the game produces losers in the first place. They are, in fact, distinct and separate questions. While deficiencies in human capital and other marketable characteristics help to explain who in the population is at a heightened risk of encountering poverty, the fact that poverty exists in the first place results not simply from these characteristics, but rather from the lack of decent opportunities and supports in society (for example, jobs that pay a living wage, access to health care, affordable child care, low cost housing). By focusing solely on personal characteristics, such as education, individuals can be shuffled up or down in terms of their being more likely to land a job with good earnings, but someone still loses out if there are not enough decent paying jobs to go around. In short, the structural vulnerability perspective argues that we are playing a large-scale version of a musical chairs game with many more players than available chairs.

Poverty Alleviation

The social policies of the United States have largely emphasized altering the incentives and disincentives for those playing the game through welfare reform, or in a very limited way, upgrading their skills and ability to compete in the game through job training programs, while at the same time leaving the structure of the game untouched. While ensuring that individuals have good quality human capital and skills are certainly important, in and of themselves, they are insufficient for reducing overall poverty.

When the overall poverty rates in the United States do in fact go up or down, they do so primarily as a result of structural impacts that increase or decrease the number of viable opportunities. In particular, the performance of the economy has been historically important. Why? Because when the economy expands, more opportunities are available for the competing pool of labor and their families. The reverse occurs when the economy slows down and contracts. Consequently, during the 1930s, early 1980s, and later 2000s when the economy was doing badly, poverty rates went up, while during periods of economic prosperity such as the 1960s or the middle to late 1990s, the overall rates of poverty declined (Hoynes et al. 2006; U.S. Census Bureau, 2012).

Similarly, changes in various social supports and the social safety net available to families make a difference in terms of how well such households are able to avoid poverty or near poverty. When such supports were increased through the War on Poverty initiatives in the 1960s, poverty rates declined. Likewise, when Social Security benefits were expanded during the 1960s and 1970s, the elderly's poverty rates declined precipitously (Katz & Stern, 2006). Conversely, when social supports have been weakened and eroded, as in the case of children's programs since the mid-1970s, their rates of poverty have gone up (Seccombe, 2000).

Consequently, social policies with the potential to effectively reduce the extent of poverty are largely those that increase and enhance the overall pool of opportunities as well as improving the living conditions and capacities of those seeking such opportunities. As Rank (2004) discusses, these policies can take several different forms. Of foremost importance is ensuring the existence of decent paying jobs that can support a family above the poverty line (Kenworthy, 2004; Quigley, 2003; Schiller, 2008). This includes job creation strategies, as well as raising and indexing the minimum wage up to a living wage and continuing support for the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC).

A second fundamental poverty alleviation strategy is to increase the affordability and access to several key social and public goods, including a quality education, health care, available housing, and child care. These social goods are vital in building and maintaining healthy and productive citizens, yet are often in short supply for low income U.S. households in the United States (Esping-Andersen, 2007). In addition, ensuring that a strong and effective safety net is in place when economic setbacks occur is essential (Zuberi, 2006).

A third strategy targets the lingering patterns of discrimination found in both the housing market and occupational structure for racial minorities and women. Vigilant enforcement of fair housing laws and antidiscrimination policies in the work place are essential for breaking down decades of discriminatory practices (Blau, Brinton, & Grusky, 2006; Stainback & Tomaskovic-Devey, 2012; Yinger, 1995). In addition, stronger enforcement of child support laws would help millions of women at risk of poverty who are heading families with children (Cancian & Meyer, 2006), as well as other family supportive employment policies (Waldfogel, 2009).

A final poverty reduction strategy is the development and implementation of asset building policies for lower-income households and communities (Schreiner & Sherraden, 2007; Shapiro & Wolff, 2001). These include individually based policies such as Individual Development Accounts, as well as community revitalization and reinvestment policies that have been implemented across the United States.

Taken as a whole, these policies have the potential to dramatically reduce the extent of poverty and economic vulnerability that currently exists in the United States. Social work practice and advocacy should strive toward the development and implementation of such poverty alleviation strategies. By doing so, the profession of social work will be proactively engaging in its primary mission to enhance “human well-being and help meet the basic human needs of all people, with particular emphasis to the needs and empowerment of people who are vulnerable, oppressed, and living in poverty” (NASW, 1996, 1).


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