Those looking for definitions of poverty are likely to find many different explanations, and they may even find a range of specific tests that are administered to determine statistics like the number of children that are in an impoverished state. The term itself is somewhat slippery to define and may have different meanings, depending upon country of origin. It can usually be thought of as the state of lacking resources that would provide people with basic necessities, or that force people to go without certain needed things, like three meals a day or shelter. It ought to be understood that people in poverty can still have some of these things, like a roof over their heads, and yet not enough of other things, like food, money to seek medical treatment, or to purchase adequate clothing.
In many countries, poverty may be defined by income only. Some countries, states, or even counties may set lines, where people who live below a certain income or just above it might be considered impoverished, while those who live well above the line are clearly not. While this may prove to be one helpful way to evaluate how to help those with little, there is significant debate about where these lines should be set. When great changes in a country’s economic structure occur, current valuations of people's economic status may change drastically. The huge increase in gas prices in the US in 2008, for example, put some people who lived above the line below it because more of their income had to pay for the rising costs of gas.
Another matter of ethical concern is what occurs when people who work full time cannot make it over the poverty line. The term working poor describes many people who work hard every day and still can’t provide themselves or their families with the average necessities of life. Great debate exists about whether a nation should make certain that employers operating in its country must offer a living wage as determined by present economic circumstances, but there is resistance to this idea, which fuels debate.
Even if there are debates about where lines should be set, these guidelines at least can give a human face to what it means to lack for basic needs. In the US in 2007, for instance, 12.5% of the population, about 37.3 million people, fell below these lines. In 2008, the World Bank estimated that about 1.4 billion people in the world are poor, and this estimate is based on those who make less than $1.25 US Dollars (USD) per day.
There are many people who argue that lacking money or resources is only part of the problem. Other things can create chronic impoverishment, like little investment in communities, high crime rates, illegal activities, and destabilized governments. Disappearing resources as countries industrialize may also result in reducing certain jobs for some, while other jobs develop for a new workforce. Lack of preventative medicine and education may keep people from either working or learning how to work in more effective ways that will raise them to higher income levels.