The Mental Model of Poverty gives us a concrete visual representation of the various aspects of life faced by individuals experiencing generational poverty. It gives us a visual to prompt discussion on the topic. The model was created by individuals living in poverty and depicts the interlocking nature of the elements. It shows us that relationships are often the central driving force for decisions and actions for individuals in poverty.
Consider that the elements contained in the circle are present for individuals in every economic class, and how they differ for individuals in poverty. Cars – are often unreliable. Family and Friends – are often providing food, shelter and childcare. Crime and Safety may be a daily concern for the neighborhood I live in or for members of my family also in poverty. My job is just that – a J.O.B. (Just Over Broke) kind of job that pays minimum wage or less with no benefits. Illnesses come and since I don’t have insurance I continue to try to work and avoid the doctor’s fees until I’m so bad that I have to go to the ER. My housing is often unstable since I have to move often when I miss days of work and can’t make the rent. My food sources are insecure as well and so I rely on supplemental food benefits and food pantries. I have children with the same needs as any child and they often go unmet.
I spend a lot of time calling or waiting at agencies for assistance, and I seek out entertainment as a way to escape the tyranny and the stress of scarcity. The elements are interlocking because as you can imagine, if I lose my transportation, I then lose my J.O.B., I then lose my housing, I then may lose my children because they may have to stay with someone else until I can get back on my feet. The entities in the circles at the top of the page are also represented in every economic class but my relationship with them from poverty is very different from the relationships of the middle class or wealthy.
The businesses that exist around my neighborhood are often exploitative and do not exist in middle class or wealthy neighborhoods. This mental model represents the trap of poverty, the interlocking nature of the elements, and the lack of choice and power that often keeps people in poverty stuck in the circle.
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Copyright © 2006 by aha! Process, Inc. Excerpted from Bridges Out of Poverty Workbook www.ahaprocess.com