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The Poor in Developed Countries - Characteristics Of Poverty In Wealthy Countries

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Usually in wealthy countries, poverty is not absolute. The poor in these nations do not for the most part experience famine or starvation, and although homelessness does occur, it is a multifaceted phenomenon that can have causes other than poverty. In fact, many poor people in the developed world work full time and earn more money per week than those in the developing world earn per year. However, relative poverty is poverty nonetheless, and in wealthy countries it can have harsh consequences.

Some researchers and aid workers have suggested that the poor in wealthy countries suffer more psychological problems and social isolation than those in low-income countries. In 1999 Mari Marcel-Thekaekara, a renowned international aid worker and founder of ACCORD, a nongovernmental organization that works with tribal people in Tamil Nadu, India, reported in London's Guardian ("Poor Relations," February 27, 1999) that in some respects the kind of poverty she witnessed in the Easterhouse slum in Glasgow, Scotland, was worse than anything she had seen working in India for ten years. "[W]e were hit by the reality of the poverty surrounding us in Glasgow. Most of the men in Easterhouse hadn't had a job in twenty years. They were dispirited, depressed, often alcoholic. Their self-esteem had gone. Emotionally and mentally they were far worse off than the poor where we worked in India, even though the physical trappings of poverty were less stark."

In October 2005 another article in the Guardian declared that alcoholism and poverty were the primary factors in Russia's rapid population decline ("Population Dip in Russia Blamed on Alcoholism and Poverty," October 24, 2005). According to the article, the life expectancy for Russian women is seventy-two years, but for men it is just fifty-eight years. The psychological aspects of poverty exist worldwide. In the United States poor people suffer disproportionately from mental health problems, according to the American Psychological Association, and are much less likely than their nonpoor counterparts to receive medical help. A study by the University of Alberta in Canada found that children who begin life in poverty experience higher levels of antisocial behavior ("Long-Term Poverty Affects Mental Health of Children," Science Daily, February 9, 2006). The United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) reported in March 2005 that forty to fifty million children in the world's wealthiest countries will grow up in poverty ("Child Poverty on the Rise in Wealthy Nations," March 1, 2005). Even Japan, known for its relatively low poverty rates, has experienced an alarming increase; the country was stunned when in January 2005 a woman and her three-year-old son were found dead in their Tokyo-area apartment, having starved to death (J. Sean Curtin, "Japan, Land of Rising Poverty," Asia Times Online, February 11, 2005).

These examples illustrate the severity of the problem. In nearly all industrialized countries—with the notable exception of those in Scandinavia—poverty is rising, particularly among children, and the depth of poverty is increasing. Reasons include stagnating wages, long-term unemployment, and rising prices of essentials such as food and fuel. More complex reasons include racism, immigration, and increasing numbers of divorces that lead to single parenthood. A decrease or total absence of social safety nets such as day care, elder care, and health care complicates the matter even further.

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