How is society affected by poverty?
Poverty has a broad variety of social effects that are felt by average citizens who are not poor to varying degrees, depending on the percentage of poor people and the palliatives a society offers them.
Scholars differ on how to define poverty, from the ability to “live decently” (Adam Smith) to the ability to consume a basic necessary food basket (Molly Orshansky). Broadly speaking, I would define poverty as a serious, recurrent and life-altering lack of food, clothing, education, housing, transportation and employment in a quantity necessary to develop and thrive on one’s own without chronic and persistent want.
The existence of poverty deprives a society of productive members whose self-sustaining physical well-being and sanity has every potential to help everyone’s lives improve. In societies in which it is accepted as a value that all human beings have a right to live in dignity, poverty costs society expenditures and effort to reduce or eradicate it.
Moreover, poverty has broad ripple effects. People who have dire need, but not the education or means to get self-sustaining employment, often turn to crime and abuse of drugs and other antisocial behavior that, because it is paradoxically inflected mostly on other poor people, makes poverty worse. Poverty also serves the need of some of the rich and powerful people who know that uneducated, needy people are easy to manipulate and control and will work for very little pay; this leads to eventual corruption at all levels of society.
This is a repost from my replies to questions posted on Quora, a question-and-answer site where questions are asked, answered, edited and organized by its community of users, at quora.com. The questions in italics and their subtexts are not mine.