A practical perspective on socio-economic dimensions of poverty

Poverty is the only subject of hundreds of economists around the world. They present hundreds of papers in international conferences and journals and act as consultants to World Bank. The politicians also speak about poverty. However, there are certain socio-economic dimensions that need to be understood about poverty. Even if we understand the basics, some structural changes can indeed result in great changes. Some socio-economic dimensions of poverty are discussed here.


This author would not even like to go through the expert and formal opinion of the poverty line. The last time one heard of was a daily wage of Rs32. This was absolutely ridiculous even then. It could be even more dangerous today. The inflation figures dished out by the Government always seem very unrealistic. The actual truth is that inflation has made the poor more vulnerable than ever before.

Be that as it may, there are many dimensions of poverty in different areas of the country. This article will discuss facets of a) Urban poverty complexities b) Semi-urban and rural poverty dimensions c) Poverty of those underemployed/ unemployed and d) Poverty of the disadvantaged and socially vulnerable.

Urban poverty complexities

The metro cities have an in-built bias in favor of the rich. For instance, the neo-rich and the business classes, along with the managerial classes simply monopolize the resources in the city center. The worst case happens with rented accommodation. For example, an apartment in the heart of Chennai or Bangalore with fairly good facilities comes at a cost of Rs35,000 in the very posh localities. The other essential commodities like vegetables, meat, fish and fruits come at a big premium. But this cost is nothing for these classes with very good purchasing power. The class in the middle of the middle-class spectrum and the lower middle classes cannot afford this cost and are forced to go to the suburbs, as far as forty kilometers from the center of the city. This adds to their commuting cost and very high commuting time also takes a big toll on the health of these people. In real terms, the cost of living is the same, except for the accommodation. Those with a family income of just Rs 20000, do not even save Rs700 per month. The same family income needs to be Rs60,000 in Mumbai.

Hence, what is "poverty" in real terms, is a very subjective phenomenon. The actual remedies to tackle poverty also need to take all realities into account. The people who earn less than the amounts indicated above are the most vulnerable of the urban population and since they get to live in slums, their lives are always miserable. For some solutions, we can effectively think of some experiments. The "Amma canteen" in Tamil Nadu, was very successful. However, corruption and rising costs ruined it. It can be implemented with the CSR funds of corporates and with voluntary donations for which there should be exemptions under section 80 (G) of the IT Act. If this is done, at least the urban poor can have some hope of having a decent meal at highly subsidized rates.

Semi-urban and rural poverty dimensions

Here, the landless laborers are the most vulnerable. Since they are untrained for any other job, they depend totally on agriculture and if the rains do not come, they are doomed. The owners of huge tracks of land someone escape as they can pool their resources. But those with small holdings are caught up in a debt trap. This will only ruin their futures and they are a very poor lot of people at any point in time. If they have sons or daughters who are somewhat educated and are employed somewhere, they do survive to some extent. This does not happen in every family.

Particularly poor are servant maids, electricians, sweepers, and so on, who live in very small houses. For them, life itself is a big struggle. They never get to save any money and life is always miserable. They need the Public Distribution System to come to their rescue and can indeed keep their head above water, only if they are given solid support from the Government, through the PDS. They also need to understand that they need to seek employment in the non-farming sector. Most do so. For example, a growing tribe of these people is employed in the construction sector in the metro cities and they earn slightly higher wages. However, they spend quite a bit of money on travel and are a poor lot when they are sick. For them, the Government hospitals, where there is maximum corruption, is the only hope. Poverty can be eradicated only if the Government hospitals also receive private donations. Any step in this direction is welcome. As regards education, the Government schools act as a big cushion. However, the standards here need to improve a lot.

Poverty of those underemployed/ unemployed

The online agencies like Swiggy and Food panda employ hundreds of graduates and postgraduates. Yet, this is a classic case of exploitation and is blatant underemployment. This happens only because the graduates do not get any other job. Those who are unemployed are even worse off. They do not any social security and depend on the income of their fathers and mothers. They sometimes do some odd jobs to survive and make some money, which is not sufficient for even petrol expenses. Their poverty even makes vulnerable to violence and most enter politics in one way or the other. This is very dangerous too. If the unemployed and underemployed are from rural areas, their misery is even more pronounced and they have nowhere to go. Out of sheer frustration, they take up some job in the BPO sector and lead very unhappy lives. The salary increases are not much and those who do not have good English speaking skills land in deep trouble. These classes also contribute to the increasing rate of crimes in the cities. They are always frustrated when parents or relatives chide them for being a burden. In Tamil, the famous phrase is "Dhanda Soru" which translates into free food for a useless person." When even neighbors start using such harsh words, the young minds ads hurt badly. Many take to petty crime to somehow make a little money. Only a very small population of these people take up special training in some job-oriented course or the other. They fall prey to petty crime. Many movies in most Indian languages simply seem to be misleading such youth. The phrase, "open the bottle" is so famous in most Tamil or Telugu movies. This is a big invitation to go high on booze. When this happens with the money of parents, it becomes a vicious circle of people being misled into all sorts of crime. Most recent movies glorify such people as " heroes" who can easily win over young girls. This is another trend and poverty becomes an even more big problem when these guys fall sick. Heart attacks at the age of 32 are very common in cases where contract employees most of their earnings on booze. Some eighty percent of the servant maids have husbands who push their families to grind poverty. Even graduates are prone to this very bad habit.

Poverty of the disadvantaged and socially vulnerable

For the Dalits and those who had been oppressed for a very long time, poverty is a self-perpetuating phenomenon. There is no escape from poverty because of their mindsets. Though a fraction of them are now educated and employed in the corporate sector, and in the Government jobs, they are nowhere realizing their full potential. There is an urgent need to address this situation too. The major mindset is to follow the tradition of the father. Thus, a cobbler's son tends to become only a cobbler. This should change.


Some dimensions, more so, the socio-economic dimensions of poverty have been discussed above. The list is not exhaustive. Nor is there any last word on poverty. The solutions are very complex and we can only hope that the solutions will slowly emerge.


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