25 Ways Psychologists Can Work to End Poverty

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By Alycia Johnson, MA (Graduate Intern, APA Office of Socioeconomic Status)

Today marks the 25th anniversary of the declaration of the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty. Today marks the 25th anniversary since its declaration with this year’s theme: “coming together with those furthest behind to build an inclusive world of universal respect for human rights and dignity” focusing on deep and extreme poverty.

 

What is deep poverty?

Deep poverty includes those having an income below half of the federal poverty level; living on less than $6,000 a year; and/or, raising a child alone on $7,600 (Lei, 2013).

Can you imagine living on less than $2.00 per day? 1.5 million Americans are faced with this reality often having to donate blood plasma and trade in food stamps for cash.

We must understand that those living in deep poverty face multiple challenges that may prevent them from working including:

  • addiction,
  • homelessness,
  • childcare,
  • chronic illness, and
  • disabilities.

 

Why does deep poverty persist?

It is difficult for these individuals to rely on government safety net programs that often contain conditions based on their ability to secure work and/or obtain an education. This increases the likelihood that those living in deep poverty are likely to stay poor due to systemic constraints and antipoverty interventions that fall short of meeting the needs of deeply poor individuals. These individuals cannot simply pick themselves up by their bootstraps. Poverty is detrimental to psychological well-being and poses a significant obstacle to mental health care.

Although the overall poverty level in the United States has fallen by 12% since 1967, the deep poverty crisis continues to persist due to negative attitudes, policy gaps, and lack of understanding. Psychology remains pivotal in contributing to the eradication of poverty due to its high-impact research and practical application.

 

What is APA doing to address deep poverty?

APA and psychology continue to prioritize attention to the understanding of SES and the lives and well-being of the poor. In its ongoing pursuit to dismantle deep and extreme poverty, Rosie Phillips Davis, PhD, APA President elect, is planning for her 2019 Presidential Initiative on Deep Poverty. It will move beyond understanding the causes and consequences of poverty to using psychological knowledge as a catalyst to challenge prejudicial attitudes and beliefs, inform policy and improve practice and programming and is well positioned to lead this charge and move beyond current understandings of causes and consequences of poverty.

Psychologists as researchers, service providers, educators, and policy advocates have a responsibility to better understand the causes of poverty and its impact on health and mental health, to help prevent and reduce the prevalence of poverty and to effectively treat and address the needs of low-income individuals and families by building on the strengths of communities. Psychologists remain ethically guided to “respect the fundamental rights, dignity, and worth of all people” (American Psychological Association, Resolution on Poverty and Socioeconomic Status, 2000) and are aware of their professional and scientific responsibilities to the community and the society in which they work and live” (American Psychological Association, Resolution on Poverty and Socioeconomic Status, 2000);

 

In honor of the 25th anniversary of World Poverty Day, here are 25 ways that psychologists can work to eradicate poverty:

 

Education

  1. Engage in continuing education and training to better understand issues related to social class, including poverty and wealth for low-income and economically marginalized people.
  2. Provide resources for educators for the inclusion of social class in psychological curricula.
  3. Train graduate and postgraduate education students better understand the causes and impact of poverty, the psychological needs of poor individuals and families, and to be culturally competent and sensitive to diversity around issues of poverty.
  4. Contribute to education by examining the effects of socioeconomic status on brain development and cognitive functioning in children, which in turn informs the practice of teaching.

 

Healthcare

  1. Understand the barriers to mental health for those from low SES backgrounds and make efforts to alleviate these barriers.
  2. Raise awareness of the multiple mechanisms by which economic marginalization contributes to health disparities.
  3. Promote equity in access and quality of healthcare for socially and economically marginalized people.
  4. Use trauma-informed care to prevent re-traumatization and improve health outcomes through awareness and education at individual and organizational levels of care (SAMHSA, 2014).
  5. Increase the proximity of psychological services to low-income communities in order to reduce the burden of inadequate access to mental health care.
  6. Support public policy that ensures access to comprehensive family planning in private and public health insurance coverage.

 

Practice

  1. Understand the impact of social class on academic success, career aspirations, and career development throughout the lifespan.
  2. Understand the interaction among economic insecurity, unemployment, and underemployment and contribute to re-employment processes for low-income individuals.
  3. Strive to gain awareness of how their biases related to social class may impact the training and education they provide.
  4. Increase their knowledge and understanding of social class through continuing education, training, supervision, and consultation.
  5. Recognize that people with a lower socioeconomic status are exposed to many more stressful events, have fewer resources for coping with those events, and are more likely to be in a state of chronic stress.
  6. Continue to increase their sensitivity to discrimination that their clients may face and remain mindful of their own biases and assumptions when working with individuals living in poverty.
  7. Work with law enforcement to eliminate implicit bias in policing geared toward individuals from a low socioeconomic status.
  8. Examine factors that contribute to intergenerational poverty and assist in the development of interventions to break this vicious cycle.
  9. Identify socioeconomic status, wherever possible and appropriate, as a topic to be published in social science research.

 

Policy

  1. Support programs and policies that aid in curtailing poverty, including funding for schools, public transportation, and public housing.
  2. Advocate for open spaces for physical activity and healthy food establishments, such as grocery stores and farmer’s markets, in socioeconomically and racially segregated communities.
  3. Advocate for research around Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) to inform policymakers on its effects on poor families.
  4. Collaborate with other health professions to ensure that the policies and programs to address the educational and health needs of low-income children are based on sound scientific evidence.
  5. Support public policy and programs that ensure adequate income, access to sufficient food and nutrition, and affordable and safe housing for poor people and all working families.
  6. Debunk myths, prejudices, and negative attitudes about those living in poverty through research, practice, and advocacy.

 

If you are not a psychologist, here is what you can do to support people living in poverty today:

 

1. Take a stand against poverty.

 

2. Volunteer.

 

3. Learn more about the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty

The UN website provides information on the day’s background and this year’s theme: “Coming together with those furthest behind to build an inclusive world of universal respect for human rights and dignity.” Additionally, you can learn more about areas of focus and the UN’s goals to eradicate poverty around the world.

 

Additional Resources:

 

References:

APA. (2000). Resolution on poverty and socioeconomic status. Available at www.apa.org/about/policy/poverty-resolution.aspx.

APA. (2014). Understanding and overcoming the influences of poverty on children and families. Webinar sponsored by APA’s Offices on Socioeconomic Status and Violence Prevention. Archived at www.apa.org/pi/ses/resources/webinars/index.aspx.

APA. (2015). Fighting poverty. Available at www.apa.org/monitor/2015/07-08/cover-poverty.aspx.

Lei, S. (2013). The unwaged war on deep poverty. The Urban Institute. Retrieved from https://www.urban.org/features/unwaged-war-deep-poverty

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (2014). SAMHSA’s Concept of Trauma and Guidance for a Trauma-Informed Approach. HHS Publication No. (SMA) 14-4884. Rockville, MD

 

Biography:

Alycia Johnson is a third-year doctoral student in the Higher Education Administration program at George Washington University.  She received her M.A. in Communication Studies from the University of Miami (Go Canes!) and holds a B.A. in Communication Studies from Northeastern University in Boston, MA.  Alycia’s research interests center on access and equity in higher education.  Her dissertation (in-progress) is focused on for-profit institutions and the Black student experience.  It is her goal to be an advocate for students from this population and to inform for-profit institutions on how to support the students they serve.  Alycia has over ten years of experience in higher education with most of her tenure serving in admissions and enrollment management roles including Director of Recruitment & Admissions at American University and the Executive Director for Admissions at Trinity Washington University.  Most recently she served as a Campus President at a for-profit institution.  She is also a Massachusetts native and a Patriots fan!

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