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Center for Civic Engagement

Poverty Facts & Resources

The first step to helping end poverty is to understand what this issue looks like for different people and why people find themselves in poverty. Below you will find more information and resources for additional research.

  • Understanding Poverty

    What Causes Poverty?

    Poverty can be caused by many different factors, and these factors vary by where a person lives in the world.

    • Unemployment
    • Low-Paying Jobs
    • Family History of Poverty (Cycle of Poverty)
    • Warfare
    • Environmental Degradation
    • Extreme Weather (Ex. Droughts)
    • Colonial Histories
      • Political Corruption & Instability
      • Discrimination
      • Social Inequality
      • Centralization of Power
      • Debt (Personal & National)
      • Lack of Education & Resources
      • Disease

    What is the Cycle of Poverty?

    “The cycle of poverty explains why, once trapped in poverty, families can spend generations within poverty. Families in poverty often do not have the resources to get out of their situation, such as financial capital or the skills or education needed to raise their earnings” (Sheerin et al., 2015, p. 4).


    The Cycle of Poverty consists of five stages that continually lead into one another in an infinite circle. It is difficult to break out of the cycle. The stages are:

    • Grow up in poverty
    • Disadvantaged in education and skills
    • Limited employment opportunities or underemployment
    • Experience low pay and poverty in early adulthood
    • Create family that experiences poverty

    What can help people break out of this cycle?

    • Expand the federal poverty level to provide more support for more people
    • Support & expand effective social programs (food stamps, childcare, etc.)
    • Tax relief for working families
    • Access to healthcare
    • Increase the minimum wage
    • Expand programs that divert youth from the criminal justice system
    • Access to workforce development
    • More funding opportunities for state & local nonprofit organizations
    • Expanded access to education from pre-K through college
    • Provide local governments support to understand and implement federal programs


    • Borgen Project. (2013). What are Causes of Global Poverty?
    • Global Development Research Center. (2016). Causes of Poverty.
    • National Human Services Assembly. (2015). Breaking the Cycle of Poverty in Young Families: Two-Generation Recommendations.
    • Sheerin, D., Cooney, F., & Hughes, G. (2015). Higher Modern Studies for CfE: Social Issues in the UK. London, UK: Hodder Education.
    • United States Conference of Mayors. (2015). Hunger and Homelessness Survey: A Status Report on Hunger and Homelessness in America’s Cities.

  • Understanding Hunger

    What Does Hunger Look Like?

    • One in nine people, 795 million people worldwide, go hungry on a daily basis
    • The world produces enough food to feed all 7 billion people on earth, but people go hungry because they cannot grow food themselves or do not have the money to purchase it
    • Poverty is the main cause of hunger
    • If women farmers had the same resources as men, the number of hungry people in the world would be reduced by 150 million
    • 25% of the world’s children are stunted, which means their growth has been impacted by lack of proper nutrition
    • 3.1 million children die each year from poor nutrition

    What are the Risks of Hunger?

    Not having enough food can be extremely dangerous to people’s health, especially among children.

    • Undernourishment: Undernourishment is when a person does not get enough calories each day to meet their basic energy needs. This can cause tiredness and difficulty concentrating. Worldwide, 146 million children are underweight from undernourishment.
    • Malnutrition: This is when a person doesn’t get enough necessary nutrients like proteins and vitamins. In addition to the impacts listed above, malnutrition can lead to increased susceptibility to disease and stunted growth and mental development.
    • Wasting: Wasting is a rapid loss of weight due to starvation and malnutrition. If not addressed quickly, wasting can quickly lead to disease and death.


    • Do Something. (2016). 11 Facts About World Hunger.
    • Food & Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. (2016). The State of Food Insecurity in the World 2015.
    • World Food Programme. (2016). Frequently Asked Questions.
    • World Food Programme. (2016). Hunger Statistics.

  • Understanding Homelessness

    Why are People Homeless?

    The top causes of homelessness identified by people experiencing homelessness include:

    • Affordable Housing
    • Poverty
    • Unemployment
    • Low Paying Jobs
    • Family Disputes
    • Eviction
    • Domestic Violence
    • Mental Illness
    • Substance Abuse
    • Lack of Needed Services
    • Poor Social Networks

    What Does Homelessness Look Like?

    • Homelessness comes in many forms, including living outdoors, couch surfing, living out of a car, and living in emergency shelters
    • Throughout 2015, 1.48 million people experienced homelessness at some point, which is more people than the combined seating capacity of all Major League Baseball stadiums in the U.S.
    • 23% of people experiencing homelessness are children
    • Families represent 36% of people who are homeless
    • Adults with disabilities are three times more likely to experience homelessness
    • Of adults who are homeless, 29% have a severe mental illness, 22% have a physical disability, 18% are employed, 17% are victims of domestic violence, and 12% are veterans


    • National Alliance to End Homelessness. (2015). The 2015 Point-in-Time Count is Finally Here.
    • National Coalition for the Homeless. (2016). Homelessness in America.
    • United States Conference of Mayors. (2015). Hunger and Homelessness Survey: A Status Report on Hunger and Homelessness in America’s Cities.
    • U.S. Department of Housing & Urban Development. (2015). The 2015 Annual Homeless Assessment Report to Congress.

  • Poverty in Pullman & Whitman County

    • In Pullman, 52.3% of residents are living below the federal poverty line
    • Whitman county is the poorest Washington county with 28.4% of residents living below the poverty line
    • 78.5% of college-aged men and 81.5% of college-aged women in Pullman are living in poverty
    • The median household income for Whitman county in 2013 was $24,288, which is just above federal poverty line for a family of four ($23,550)
    • Among those living in poverty, 82.7% are employed 62.3% of high school graduates in Pullman live in poverty as compared to 17.3% statewide
    • Approximately 32% of Pullman residents with disabilities live in poverty
    • 23.0% of children in Pullman live in poverty, while statewide, this rate is 18.3%
    • The unemployment rate in Pullman is currently at 4.2%


    • City Data. (2016). Pullman, Washington Poverty Rate Data.
    • City Data. (2016). Pullman, Washington.
    • United States Census Bureau. (2015). Pullman, Washington.
    • United States Census Bureau. (2015). Whitman County, Washington.

  • Poverty in Washington State

    • In 2015, 946,486 people were living in poverty in Washington; this is enough people to fill Safeco Field almost 20 times
    • Every night, it is estimated that 23,000 people are homeless in Washington
    • 1 in 5 children in Washington is food insecure, meaning they did not have regular access to enough food to meet their needs
    • 1 in 7 Washington residents relies on SNAP (formerly food stamps), and half of all people on SNAP are children
    • 1 in 5 Washington residents relies on their local food bank to have enough to eat
    • Washington State's poverty rate is 13.2%; Whitman County has the highest rate at 28.4% and Snohomish and Clark Counties have the lowest rate at 9.9%


    • Helping Hand House. (2016). Homelessness Facts.
    • Northwest Harvest. (2016). WA Hunger Facts.
    • United States Census Bureau. (2015). Washington.
    • USDA. (2016). Percent of Total Population in Poverty, 2014: Washington.

  • Poverty in the United States

    • In 2014, the U.S. poverty rate was 15%, which is 46.7 million people
    • 15.5 million children, or 19.7%, are living in poverty in the US
    • 28.5% of adults with disabilities live in poverty
    • In 2015, 42.2 million people were food insecure, meaning they do not have enough food to meet their needs
    • 19.4 million Americans live in extreme poverty, meaning their family income is half of the poverty line or less
    • In 2015, the average SNAP (formerly food stamps) recipient received $127 per month
    • Every night, 564,708 people are homeless in America
    • On a typical school day, 21.5 million children receive free or reduced price lunches through the National School Lunch Program


    • Hunger Notes. (2016). Hunger in America.
    • National Alliance to End Homelessness. (2016). The State of Homelessness in America 2016.
    • National Center for Law and Economic Justice. (2015). Poverty in the United States.
    • USDA. (2015). Food Security in the U.S.: Key Statistics & Graphics.

  • Poverty Worldwide

    • Nearly one half of people worldwide live on less than $2.50 per day
    • 10.7 percent of people live on less than $1.90 per day, which equates to 705,549,322 people
    • 22,000 children die each day due to poverty related issues like hunger and preventable diseases
    • Over 750 million people do not have adequate access to clean drinking water, and disease from inadequate drinking water and sanitation kills 842,000 people each year
    • 161 million children under five have stunted growth and development from malnourishment
    • 51 million children under five are wasting due to malnourishment, which means they are rapidly losing weight and may die from starvation
    • Over 500,000 women die from pregnancy or childbirth each year
    • Poverty rates are down worldwide, but with victims of hunger, starvation, and poverty in the millions, poverty is still a pressing worldwide issue


    • Do Something. (2016). 11 Facts about Global Poverty.
    • Global Issues. (2011). Today, Around 21,000 Children Died Around the World.
    • Hunger Notes. (2016). 2016 Hunger and Poverty Facts and Statistics.
    • Our World In Data. (2016). World Poverty.
    • The World Bank. (2016). Poverty Overview.

  • Scholarly Resources


    • Allen, P. (2007). The disappearance of hunger in America. Gastronomica: The Journal of Food and Culture, 7(3), 19-23.
    • Amster, R. (2003). Patterns of exclusion: Sanitizing space, criminalizing homelessness. Social Justice, 30(1), 195-221.
    • Anyon, J. (2007). No Child Left Behind as an anti-poverty measure. Teacher Education Quarterly, 34(2), 157-162.
    • Armaline, W. T. (2005). "Kids need structure": Negotiating rules, power, and social control in an emergency youth shelter. The American Behavioral Scientist, 48(8), 1124-1149.
    • Baron, J. B. (2004). The "no property" problem: Understanding poverty by understanding wealth. Michigan Law Review, 102(6), 1000-1024.
    • Bray, R. (2007). Child care and poverty in South Africa. Journal of Children and Poverty, 13, 1-19.
    • Eikenberry, N., & Smith, C. (2005). Attitudes, beliefs, and prevalence of dumpster diving as a means to obtain food by Midwestern, low-income, urban dwellers. Agriculture and Human Values, 22(2), 187-202.
    • Frongillo, E. A., & Horan, C. M. (2004). Hunger and aging. Generations, 28(3), 28-34.
    • Haldenby, A. (2007). Homelessness and health in adolescents. Qualitative Health Research, 17(9), 1232-1244.
    • Hodgetts, Darrin. (2007) Health inequalities and homelessness. Journal of Health and Psychology, 12(5), 709-725.
    • Miller, A., & Keys, C. B. (2001). Understanding dignity in the lives of homeless persons. American Journal of Community Psychology, 29(2), 331-354.
    • Miller, C. (2006). Images from the streets: Art for social change from the homelessness photography project. Social Justice, 33(2), 122-135.
    • Nord, M. (2003). Measuring the food security of elderly persons. Family Economics and Nutrition Review, 15(1), 33-46.
    • Phinney, R., Danzinger, S., Pollack, H. A., & Seefeldt, K. (2007). Housing instability among current and former welfare recipients. American Journal of Public Health, 97(5), 832-838.
    • Reiner, L. (2001) The geopolitics of hunger. Action against hunger.
    • Russell, S. (2005). The hunger experiment. The Wilson Quarterly, 29(3), 66-83.
    • Sanchez, P., & Swaminathan, M. S. (2005). Hunger in Africa: The link between unhealthy people and unhealthy soils. The Lancet, 365(9457), 442-445.
    • Sanchez, P., & Swaminathan, M. S. (2005). Cutting world hunger in half. Science, 307(5708), 357-360.
    • Shapouri, S., & Rosen, S. (2004). Fifty years of U.S. food aid and its role in reducing world hunger. Amber Waves, 2(4), 38-44.
    • Tompsett, C. J. (2006). Homelessness in the United States: Assessing changes in prevalence and public opinion, 1993-2001. American Journal of Community Psychology, 37(1-2), 47-61.
    • Toro, P. A. (2007).Toward an international understanding of homelessness. Journal of Social Issues 63(3), 461-481.
    • Turnbull, J., Muckle, W., & Masters, C. (2007). Homelessness and health. Canadian Medical Association Journal, 177(9), 1065-1067.
    • Wakin, M. (2005). Not sheltered, not homeless: RVs as makeshifts. The American Behavioral Scientist, 48(8), 1013-1033.


    • Bryant, C. (2003). The cultural feast: An introduction to food and society. Belmont, CA: Thomson &Wadsworth.
    • Clark, R. F. (2006). Giving credit where due: A path to global poverty reduction. Lanham, MD: University Press of America.
    • Egendorf, L. K. (Ed.). (2006). Food. Detroit, MI: Greenhaven Press.
    • Espindola, E. (2005). Poverty, hunger and food security in Central America and Panama. Santiago,Chile: Naciones Unidas, CEPAL, Social Development Division.
    • Hunnicutt, S. C. (2007). World hunger. Detroit, MI: Greenhaven Press.
    • Jomo, K. S. (2007). A flat world big gaps: Economic liberalization, globalization, poverty and inequality. London: Zed.
    • Logan. T. D. (2005). The transformation of hunger: The demand for calories past and present,Cambridge, MA: National Bureau of Economic Research.
    • McGovern, G. (2001). The third freedom: Ending hunger in our time. New York: Simon & Schuster.
    • Runge, C. F. (2003). Ending hunger in our lifetime: Food security and globalization. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press.
    • Russell, S. (2005). Hunger: An unnatural history. New York: Basic Books.
    • Schwartz-Nobel, L. (2002). Growing up empty: The hunger epidemic in America. New York: Harper Collins.
    • Stanford, C. (Ed.). (2007). World hunger. Bronx, NY: H. W. Wilson Company.
    • Tucker, T. (2006). The great starvation experiment: The heroic men who starved so that millions could live. New York: Free Press.
    • Warnes, A. (2004). Hunger overcome?: Food and resistance in twentieth-century African American literature. Athens, GA: University of Georgia Press.
    • Witt, D. (2004). Black hunger: Soul food and America. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press.
    • Wunderlich, G., & Norwood, J. (Eds.). (2006). Food insecurity and hunger in the United States: An assessment of the measure. Washington, D. C.: National Academies Press.