By discussing poverty levels as opposed of individual cases of poverty, the aggregated consequences of individual and group problems must be considered. Also, there are national or regional situations that affect all in the area.
There are wars and natural disasters, for example, that can place entire regions into conditions of poverty no matter how prosperous the residents were before the event or how they recover after the event.
Definitions and numeric cutoffs for the term “poverty” will vary depending on the standards that are set. But the factors that contribute to poverty at a group, national or society wide level seem to include those limitations to making a subsistence income that are imposed by society.
Urban poverty is different from rural poverty. At least with rural poverty there are more opportunities to be self sufficient, to live on cheaper land or in substandard buildings and even vehicles. There is opportunity to grow, fish or hunt for food, but there may be fewer opportunities to trade and barter for very much money. As a result, what would be an alarmingly low income level for an urban dweller can be far more comfortable income in rural areas.
With urban poverty, there are more opportunities to be self sufficient, to barter or survive with surplus goods and to make much more unofficial or illegal money, but there are few, if any opportunities to grow or hunt for food. This creates a dependency on the job and other markets or on government agencies for support.
The first societal limitation is class based. When individuals are required to have a certain level of education in order to find work that will sustain them, then any limitations, discouragements or restrictions to getting an education will create poverty. Even in countries where education is supposed to be available to all, inequitable distribution of resources, community and home instability and other detriments to education that affect millions can be considered a major contributor to poverty.
Another societal limitation is also class based and that is oppression. Formal or institutionalized racism, slavery, child labor, class distinctions, qualifying tests and other social and economic roadblocks to a public education are a direct road toward lower income and poverty.
Large groups of individuals are, themselves, the engines of their poverty. Millions of sick, mentally ill, handicapped, disabled and very elderly individuals are living on the margins, obviously because they cannot work enough to make sufficient income. But there are growing populations of individuals who have substance abuse, criminal profiles and other problems that are based on lifestyle and which will limit their abilities to work
This leads to the idea of generational failure to break out of the cycle of poverty through education, avoiding criminal activity and avoiding substance abuse. Generational failure to stay out of jail, off of drugs and in the school system is a poverty inducing factor that crosses all ethnicity’s and social classes and will even affect individuals who were once well educated and prosperous.
In summary, the wide scale, population level factors that induce poverty include war and major natural or economic disaster, societal restrictions on opportunity, generational failure and inability to work because of various reasons.