7 Poverty Triggers | Jackson Free Press | Jackson, MS

7 Poverty Triggers

There is a reason that blaming the poor for their plight is useless, not to mention offensive. It’s usually not their fault, especially if they stay poor for long. “Forces largely seen as outside of the control of individuals have dramatic impacts on income, earnings and poverty,” The Heartland Alliance warns. The following facts can cause a person to fall into poverty:

• Recessions

• High unemployment

• Decline in the manufacturing sector

• Growth in the service sector

• Depressed earnings due to declining unionization

Note: All those conditions are currently present in the United States.

But a healthy economy does not by itself close all the doors to poverty. The Heartland Alliance lists seven circumstances, or triggers, that keep people out of the workforce or limits their wages or working hours:

  1. Growth in low-wage work: In the 2000s, the percent of the workforce in the U.S. earning poverty-level wages reached 25 percent, disparately affecting women and non-whites. A major reason is the decline in manufacturing jobs (with many moving outside the U.S.) that paid better wages and provided health insurance—they’ve been replaced with low-end service jobs, often part-time with no benefits.

  2. Discrimination: Research shows that discrimination against African American men reduces demand for their labor by a minimum of 10 to 13 percent.

  3. Dropping out of high school: High-school dropouts earn less, plus their wages have declined dramatically in recent years. They are much more likely to live in poverty: 22.9 percent, or more than 6 million people, of those without a high school diploma are poor versus only 3.6 percent, or 2 million people, with a college degree or higher. Dropouts are three to four times more likely to be unemployed.

  4. Teen births: Half of all out-of-wedlock pregnancies begin during the teenage years, leading to lower high school graduation rates and a 20 percent reduction in the mother’s adult income. If the mother ends up raising the child alone, she is three to four times more likely to live in poverty and to begin the poverty cycle for her children.

  5. Disabilities/Poor health: Single parents and people with disabilities or parents caring for children with disabilities often must work fewer hours to care for them. Poor health and disabilities are much more common in low-income households that often have worse access to health services: 25.1 percent of low-income adults report fair/poor health, and 15.2 percent report poor mental health.

  6. Incarceration: Those previously incarcerated earn 10 to 20 percent lower wages and are more likely to be unemployed, especially black men. Incarceration is at an all-time high, in no small part due to the “war on drugs.” Black men are imprisoned more often and longer than others (often for the same or lesser crimes as whites). About one in three black men, one in six Hispanic men and one in 17 white men are likely to go to prison during their lifetimes. Females of any race have a one in 56 chance in going.

  7. Violence: Those who have experienced violence face greater employment instability, especially women. Leaving abusers often results in women without any income, and they are more likely to then live in poverty.

  8. High poverty neighborhoods: Segregation, discrimination, the decline in jobs and the loss of positive role models constrain current opportunities and future aspirations for poor minority residents.

FACT: Those living in households headed by people with no high school degree are the most likely to enter poverty—and stay there.

FACT: On average, 60 percent of 20-year-olds in the United States will live in poverty at some point during their adult lives. About half of adults will experience poverty before they’re 65.


… often leads to poverty for the mother and children, but not the father. Median household income for custodial parent households drop an average of 40 percent during the five years following divorce—regardless of education level.

CHILD POVERTY: “Nearly half of the children in the United States will become economically vulnerable at least once during their childhood; and about one third will actually fall below the poverty line. Long-term child poverty is unequally distributed: almost nine out of 10 long-term poor children are African American.”

Source: Heartland Alliance


A black person living in a metropolitan area that suffers a 1-percentage point increase in the proportion of service-sector jobs is 27.4 percent more likely to exit poverty.

Factors That Make Work Experience Harder to Get:

• Globalization of jobs

• Technology that replaces people

• Movement of jobs to suburbs from cities

Source: Heartland Alliance


About 1 in 5 people with no work experience in the prior year live in poverty.


7 Poverty Triggers

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