The Poverty Trap

By LIFT on September 1, 2015

Categories: First Person Perspective, Our Work


Considering Washington, DC is the capital of one of the most advanced countries in the world, the pervasiveness of poverty in this city is alarmingly ironic. Many influential and wealthy people reside in DC right alongside hundreds upon thousands of citizens living well below the poverty line. The 1% drive Mercedes, while the rest struggle to afford the Metro. How did we get to a place where the wealthy seem to be getting wealthier, while others continue to be buried deeper and deeper into poverty?

During my time working with LIFT, I have become confident that this disparity in wealth is not caused by a disparity in work ethic. Our members work extremely hard when applying for jobs and looking for housing. Their unemployment is not caused by a lack of experience in the workforce or a lack of education, as I have met with members who have anywhere between 1 and 40 years of experience, high school diplomas, and college degrees that still have a hard time finding permanent employment. Their homelessness has nothing to do with not trying hard enough to find a home. Many of our members are actively searching for apartments and simply cannot afford the expensive DC housing that is available. The fact of the matter is that a person can have a perfect credit score, great work experience, and a sparkling personality, but could still have a hard time finding stable housing and employment simply because there are thousands of people all fighting for those same openings.

On top of all that, poverty is cyclical in nature, making destitution overwhelming and very discouraging. Take, for example, unemployment. Many who are unemployed simply don’t have the money for the transportation, clothing, and technology needed to get to work, dress well for the job, and apply through online applications. This lack of resources is directly caused by not having a job, and not having a job is caused by a lack of resources.

This idea of self-perpetuating poverty was defined by the Economic Times as a “poverty trap.” A poverty trap is a “spiraling mechanism” that causes the poor to continue to be poor because of a lack of resources. The Economic Times also went on to say that outside factors are necessary to break a society out of this “poverty trap.” These outside factors need to create a sustainable way for people to support themselves. The goal is not temporary relief, but rather long term change to keep people as high above the poverty line as possible. I strongly believe that connecting citizens to community resources and projects is the key to helping impoverished societies establish solid infrastructure to cultivate an environment for sustainable growth. This is exactly what LIFT aims to do.

LIFT actively works to break our members out of a downward spiraling poverty cycle to provide them with a means of attaining long term change. This does not imply that LIFT advocates and fellows are the ones creating change, but rather, they are helping their members find the strength within themselves to become empowered and connect with resources that will create a stable path for members to “lift” themselves and their families into a better situation. Although thinking about the inevitably circular nature of poverty is discouraging, it gives me hope to know organizations like LIFT are intervening to create sustainable, positive change for hard working, well-deserved people.


This post was written by Nisha Malhotra, an Advocate at LIFT-DC.