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The Difference Between Absolute and Relative Poverty

One of the great distinctions offered by students of social class is between absolute and relative poverty. What is this distinction how does it play out in the American class system? I started by defining the terms.

In absolute poverty, a person cannot provide for his/her basic needs such as food and shelter. Homeless people suffer from absolute poverty. In relative poverty, the government's official statistics define the poverty level as those earning below 60% of average earnings.

How does it play out in the American class system?

You may also want to use the poverty threshold under this link as additional reference.

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To add to your distinction, I like this definition of absolute poverty: "People are absolutely impoverished if the minimum amounts of food, clothing and shelter necessary for survival absorb all of their income, and they live a razor's edge existence" (

In terms of relative poverty, "People are relatively impoverished if the customary (average) standard of living in their society requires more spending than the income they have available. This standard changes as a society becomes more prosperous"

As you then demonstrate how it plays out in the American class system, I feel like these terms make more rigid socioeconomic class divisions. The quality of life is also greatly affected. For example, research proves how "people in lower socio-economic classes by virtue ...

Solution Summary

This solution distinguishes between absolute and relative poverty.