What constitutes poverty? Our definition of poverty has been somewhat anticipated. Poverty is at once an absolute and a relative condition. As an absolute condition, it may be defined as an insufficient supply of those things which are necessary to maintain efficiency in the conditions existing at a given time and in a given place. A family may be said to be in poverty when its income is insufficient to provide for all its members the things necessary to maintain them in a state of physical efficiency. This is true regardless of the fact that the income would have sufficed to keep another family at the standard of efficiency in some other place, or in the same place at some other time. Thus poverty is a relative condition. The Chinese coolie can supply all his felt wants, and maintain himself efficiently, according to Chinese standards, on a wage which would mean starvation to an Italian laborer. In turn the Italian laborer can maintain himself efficiently and save money on a wage entirely insufficient to efficiently maintain an American workingman. A family with a three dollars a day standard--that is, a family living under conditions in which it takes three dollars a day to procure the things necessary to physical efficiency-- is just as poor on an income of two dollars a day as a family with an income of fifty cents a day where the necessities of physical efficiency can be procured for seventy-five cents a day.
Whenever the income of a family is so low that it does not make possible the maintenance of all its members in a state of efficiency, and there is a lack of any of the things essential to the attainment of that end, there is poverty. When the income falls so low that it must be augmented by public or private charity, we have the development of poverty to pauperism. This condition is poverty at its worst. Pau
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Publication information: Book title: Elements of Socialism:A Text-Book. Contributors: John Spargo - Author, George Louis Arner - Author. Publisher: Macmillan. Place of publication: New York. Publication year: 1912. Page number: 30.
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