Individuals who have a lower-than-average ability to earn income, for whatever reason, are likely to be poor. Historically, this group has included the elderly, people with disabilities, single mothers, and members of some minorities. In the West today, a significantly large group in the poverty-stricken population consists of single mothers and their children; these families account for about one-third of all poor people. Not only do women who work outside the home generally earn less than men, but a single mother often has a difficult time caring for children, running a household, and earning an adequate income. Other groups disproportionately represented below the poverty threshold are people with disabilities and their dependents, very large families, and families in which the principal wage earner is either unemployed or works for low wages.
Lack of educational opportunity is another cause of poverty. In the developed world, a larger percentage of blacks than whites are poor today, in part because of a heritage of inferior education, meaning reduced employment opportunities later.
Much of the world’s poverty is due to a low level of economic development. China and India are examples of heavily populated, developing nations where, despite substantial recent industrialization, poverty is rampant. Even in economically developed countries, widespread unemployment can create poverty. The Great Depression impoverished millions of Americans and Europeans in the 1930s. Less severe economic contractions, called recessions, cause smaller increases in the poverty rate.
A report by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), known as GEO-2000, identified excessive consumption of energy, raw materials, and other resources in Western and some East Asian nations as one of the main causes of the continued poverty of the majority of world population. Extreme poverty in many parts of the world forces residents of those areas to exploit natural resources in an unsustainable manner. Both factors have considerable economic and environmental implications.
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