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Chronic Poverty: Meanings and Analytical Frameworks

Working papers

Written by Andrew Shepherd

This paper provides an overview of the meaning of 'chronic poverty', and identifies frameworks for analysing it, as understood by the Chronic Poverty Research Centre (CPRC) during the initial stages of research. After an introduction to the CPRC, the second section briefly reviews the major frameworks for conceptualising, defining, explaining, and measuring poverty in its broader sense, and relates these to the study of chronic poverty. It is suggested that research undertaken by CPRC should focus on poverty in its broadest, multi-dimensional sense, and that those who are chronically poor are likely to be poor in several ways, not only in terms of income. At the same time, the analysis of money-metric and other quantitative indicators are the primary means by which study of chronic poverty is presently undertaken, and will continue to have an important role to play in research. Our understanding of chronic poverty is also likely to draw upon notions of both absolute and relative poverty, vulnerability, social exclusion, and capabilities and freedoms, as well as upon subjective assessments by the poor themselves. In the third section, the characteristics of chronic poverty are presented. Long duration is identified as both necessary and sufficient for poverty to be considered chronic. It is hypothesised that chronic poverty will also often be multi-dimensional and severe. It is proposed that a five-tiered categorisation of the poor be adopted - always poor, usually poor, churning poor, occasionally poor and never poor - and that transitions between different levels over time be closely monitored. It is suggested that the tightest possible definition of chronic poverty would be intergenerationally transmitted (IGT) poverty, which is likely to be relatively intractable and therefore likely to escape current poverty reduction efforts. In this way, IGT poverty is both a characteristic and cause of chronic poverty. The subsection on IGT poverty draws upon the literature surrounding the intergenerational transfer of different capitals. This is followed by an analysis of the ways in which severity and multi-dimensionality are often characteristics of chronic poverty, and a brief review of the relevance of the World Bank's Voices of the Poor studies to an understanding of chronic poverty. The final two subsections argue that the chronically poor are a heterogeneous group. There are several sets of people who are particularly susceptible to chronic poverty, and that are likely to experience multiple and overlapping vulnerabilities. These groups include those experiencing deprivation because of their stage in the life cycle, those discriminated against because of their social position in the community or household, those with health problems and impairments, and people living in remote rural areas, urban ghettos and regions where prolonged violent conflict and insecurity have occurred. In the fourth section, the causes of chronic poverty at different levels of analysis are explored, and analytical frameworks for their understanding are laid down - quantitative panel data analysis; livelihoods analysis; freedoms; social and political exclusion; and policy analysis frameworks, which include consideration of avoiding the negative impacts of development which help to extend and deepen poverty for the poor. The final two sections bring together the preceding work and discuss the implications of our initial understanding of chronic poverty for future research.

David Hulme, Karen Moore and Andrew Shepherd