Causes of Urban Poverty

Urban Poverty cannot be associated just with only one or two contributory factors such poor health and inability to work or lack of skills, there are many reasons why people remain poor. Such factors combined with the government’s inability to provide subsidies to lack of opportunities for specific skills results in prolonged bad situation.

The pay for people migrating from rural areas into urban developments might also be low because of lack of necessary skills or technological knowledge. Poor people might also not be able to afford proper education to train themselves in skills that provide a larger salary. The skills available for the poor to lower middle class people differ greatly from those available to more privileged and middle class.

Related: What is Urban Growth,  What is Counter Urbanisation, Human Poverty Index

Urban Poverty

Many times, the sole provider of the family is also only the male dominant head who might not be capable of providing much for the family. However, there are many stories of people who have climbed up the monetary ladder by conducting manual and low skilled jobs and raising money for better opportunities for their children. United Nations in the Sustainable Development Goals, lists poverty on first place and requires all countries to form plans and take action to reduce poverty.

 Some important reasons for urban poverty are:

  1. Migration from rural areas to urban mega-city metropolis: When people without sufficient income migrate from rural areas (where they are usually displaced from) to the urban megalopolises, it leads to informal settlements in big cities. Because of lack of income, the people who have migrated, live in slums or small houses by the streets where no one is held accountable for their living conditions. Most of these people are involved in manual construction work, but such work does not provide much money, especially to live in big cities. Research suggests that a large number of such migrants lives in slums because of such living conditions. It also creates overcrowding as millions migrate from rural areas to urban regions on a daily basis.
  2. Lack of Opportunities and Skills Training: One of the major causes for urban poverty is lack of adequate job opportunities for the poor. They cannot afford to pay for skills training and many do not feel they have the ability to learn the skills required to advance, or to find a suitable job that pays more. Many find it difficult to sustain well paid jobs and do not have the skills to conduct the technical based jobs in Indian urban megalopolis. Their only option would be to search for jobs in informal economies such as domestic work and driving auto-rickshaws or buses. Such jobs are not lucrative and do not pay as much as the living conditions demand for in these cities. As many low-skilled people look for such jobs, it creates lack of opportunities and inadequate supply of opportunities.
  3. Lack of Affordability – Lack of affordability can range from affordable housing to affordable groceries and food or travel costs. All these activities are more expensive in cities compared to rural areas. The amount of funds they earn from low income jobs are just not sufficient for them to live in affordable homes in mega cities. The land prices in urban areas are increasing everyday on a daily basis and rent is not affordable for the poor. This is the main cause for informal settlements because of the increase in supply and demand in urban areas. It also leads to undocumented settlements where there is no record of people living in cities. The job market in many countries is such that it has increasingly become technology savvy and is more suitable for middle class population, whereas people living in slums and streets don’t have basic knowledge to gain such high level jobs. Unless one works very hard to make income and learn the skills needed to climb up the ladder, it would be very difficult for the poor to escape their circumstances.
  4. High Birth Rate – A high birth rate remains one of the closely linked factor contributing to urban poverty. An uncontrolled and very high birth rate makes it difficult for family to meet their all requirements. A limited income cannot fulfill the need of quality education for children because of which they are forced to be engaged in low skill work. Another factor remains forced marriages & early (child) marriages which is prevalent among the poor population, it forces people to get married and bear children. Traditionalist philosophies are very prevalent even among the rich in some places, but more so among the poor. Having children is considered to be holy and is approved by the society as being healthy. Because of such societal pressures and inadequacy to escape from such familial situations, there is a growth in birth rate among the poor. Ideally, it is argued that if one cannot afford to provide for their children they should reconsider procreating, but the topic is quite controversial. In turn, poor families face more hardships because of high birth rate among their families which they cannot afford to provide for.
  5. Lack of quality education – Education plays a major role in everyone’s lives. A well educated person is expected to be better paid and have a fixed or more secured source of income through job or business. Lack of access to formal education or lack of quality education deprives a person of various economic opportunities. Tough various countries allow people to get primary and higher education for free or subsidised price but the overall quality and usefulness of the subjects being taught remains questionable. Preparing a person to take on open market and prove themselves requires much more than a regular degree. They need to be trained in various aspects and might require additional/ specialized training before they can start working.  Having a degree is not enough because of increased competition in market, thus quality of education plays a vital role.

Related: 5 Benefits of Living in Cities, Population Explosion | Meaning, Reasons & Effects


Therefore, for the above reasons and more, there are many factors which contribute to urban poverty. Many research organisations including World Health Organisation, and United Nations are actively involved in helping the urban poor and combating poverty among developing countries. This has led to drastic improvements in the recent decades and has created more job opportunities for the poor, although it still remains insufficient for many families. The income gap has also increased in many parts of the world, leading to more challenges for the poor.

With time and increased awareness among everyone, and the government making more contributions in helping the poor by providing subsidies, the situation might improve gradually. The topic is controversial and complicated and would need more extensive research and understanding to provide accurate data. There are, of course, many more reasons that contribute to urban poverty than stated above in this article. As we proceed further, we can hope for better situations for the poor with increased facilities and opportunities that can be created for the urban poor.

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