Poverty and Its Impact on Development in the Caribbean

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The aim of every Caribbean country is to realize growth and development over time so as to achieve first world status. Most of the Caribbean countries are ranked as middle income countries. These countries realize that achieving first world status is a long term initiative given the many social problems that we face as a Caribbean nation. Among the many social problems that we face, poverty is the most pervasive of them all. Despite the effort of many of these countries to try and eradicate poverty it continues to account for the slow pace at which these countries develop. Commenting on the Caribbean, Carlson (1999) points to two key factors which have greatly impeded the spread and potential for economic growth and development; inequity in the distribution of income and wealth and the access to social development; and high rates of poverty. Many authors have tried to define the term poverty. However, there is no agreed upon definition. The definition is largely subjective and tends to be influenced by the prevailing culture of the particular society. The term poverty refers to “the state or condition of having little or no money, goods or means of support” (Barran and Sweezy, 1996). Poverty is hunger. Poverty is lack of shelter. Poverty is being sick and not being able to see a doctor. Poverty is not having access to school and not knowing how to read. Poverty is not having a job, is fear for the future, living one day at a time. Poverty is losing a child to illness brought about by unclean water. Poverty is powerlessness, lack of representation and lack of freedom (Narayan, 2000). The UN provides a broader definition of poverty: ‘a human condition characterized by the sustained or chronic deprivation of the resources, capabilities, choices, security and power necessary for the enjoyment of an adequate standard of living and other civil, cultural, economic, political and social rights’ (UN, 2001). In spite of all these definitions of poverty Oxfam (1998) notes that one approach is insufficient to define poverty. He argued that there are four aspects of poverty: not having enough to live on, not having enough to build from, being excluded from wealth, and being excluded from the power to change things for the better. Two main terms are used in the measure of poverty, absolute poverty and relative poverty. Not having enough is known as absolute poverty. People’s consumption or their income level is inadequate to meet the basic necessities of life. Absolute poverty is usually projected through the use of a poverty line, which involves placing a monetary value on a 'basket of goods', i.e., food and non-food, deemed necessary for survival. Not having enough to build on is relative poverty which imposes a social standard of living and an accepted quality of life. People are considered poor if they are deprived of certain goods and services that are basic when compared to the rest of society. Another measure is Subjective Poverty, it is a type of Relative poverty. It is based on notion that opinions of people about their own situations should ultimately be the decisive factor in defining their economic status. So if people say they are poor then they are poor. Some theorists have also given their perspective on the social problem of poverty. The functionalist theorizes that poverty is inevitable in every society as it is useful and functional for certain groups in society. From a Marxist point of view poverty plays an integral role in the overall inequality that characterizes capitalism. In a capitalist society wealth is concentrated in the hands of a minority (those who own and control the means of production) who are constantly trying to attain cheaper sources of workforce; to automate their production systems (thereby eliminating the need for workers); or to relocate their factories out of the country, etc. Developed by Oscar Lewis based on a 1961 study of Mexico, the culture of poverty perspective is of the view that...
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