Poverty and Inequality Project

PovertyPoverty is the single greatest threat to individual human development and it simultaneously creates profound social disruption in the United States and around the world. Unless institutions and citizens take steps now to reduce and prevent poverty—and the growing inequality that deepens and widens its damaging repercussions—we will face a nightmarish future that can be measured in untold numbers of destroyed lives, communities, and institutions.

Poverty and inequality are responsible for adults often being too stressed to parent well; inadequate access to nourishing food, clean water, and sanitation; dilapidated housing, homelessness, and dangerous communities; schools unable to educate children to read, write, and think for themselves; conflict, crime, and violence; few work opportunities and low pay for jobs that do exist; daily struggles to manage personal, family, and financial chaos; and risks for premature birth and early death. Ultimately, poverty and inequality engender hopelessness, helplessness, and misery, and they tear at the social fabric of families and communities.

For children who grow up in poverty, risks for adverse outcomes far outweigh those experienced by children in more affluent families. Powerful systemic factors frequently hamper movement out of poverty, so the adverse effects of an impoverished childhood often carry into adulthood. Many who plunge into poverty as adults also experience increased stressors that can be a significant blow to psychological and socioeconomic functioning. These numbers are likely to increase given the life-harming vicissitudes of economic recession, climate change, large-scale conflicts, and other severe risks to human stability and safety.

Research also shows that inequality in society is harmful to all citizens. More unequal societies have higher rates of most social problems, including violent crime, poor health, mental illness, low educational attainment, teen births, and lack of social mobility. This pattern holds for the U.S. as well – states with greater inequality tend to have higher levels of these same social ills. Such findings highlight an under-appreciated reality: reducing poverty and inequality not only benefits the poor. It also leads to a better life for those who are relatively well off today.

PsySR’s Poverty and Inequality Project aims to contribute to tackling these urgent challenges by bringing psychological science and expertise, along with the energy and dedication of our members, to bear on them.

This Project resides within two of PsySR’s broad program areas – the Social Health, Justice, and Well-Being and the Education for Social Responsibility programs. This pairing reflects the recognition that some Project initiatives will focus on direct action and others will focus on public and school education initiatives.

Specific efforts within the Poverty and Inequality Project will emerge from the priorities of the Project’s participants. Initiatives to be considered include the following:

  • The development of a set of core PsySR documents and statements on poverty and inequality
  • A project using audio-video narratives to enable the poor to tell their stories to millions of people online
  • The creation of “talking point” guides to provide individuals with tools to promote more effective strategies for anti-poverty and anti-inequality efforts
  • The development of multimedia materials focused on poverty and inequality for educators and others
  • The involvement of PsySR and its unique psychological and developmental focus with existing organizations’ efforts to reduce poverty and inequality
  • The building of a resource-rich area of the PsySR website on these key issues

PsySR Statement on Budget Priorities, Poverty, and Inequality

Psychologists for Social Responsibility has issued a statement, developed by members of the Poverty and Inequality Project, calling for budget priorities that recognize the critical importance of working together to reduce poverty and inequality in the U.S. Read the Statement »

PsySR Statement: A Commitment to Address Poverty and Inequality

Psychologists for Social Responsibility has issued a statement, developed by members of the Poverty and Inequality Project, on the urgent need to address poverty and inequality. Read the Statement »

PsySR Statement on Corporate Personhood

From a psychological perspective, “corporate personhood” is a misleading and dangerous legal fiction that gives corporations the same protections afforded to real people. Psychologists for Social Responsibility stands with the growing number of voices calling for urgent change in this arena in order to better promote human welfare. Read the Statement »

PsySR's Letter to Congress and the President on Budget Cuts, Poverty, and Inequality

Psychologists for Social Responsibility has sent a letter (signed by 166 PsySR members) to members of the U.S. Senate, the House of Representatives, and President Obama expressing deep concern over the impact of proposed budget cuts on the millions of U.S. families and children living in poverty. Read the Letter »

To Become Involved

For more information about this Project and how to participate, please contact project leaders Roy Eidelson (eidelson@psysr.org) or Steve Shapiro (sshapiro@jhmi.edu). If you are a PsySR member, you can join the project listserv by signing up online HERE (if you don't have a Google Groups account, you'll be asked to create one – this is easy to do with any email address, and please include your first and last name as well).

Selected Links and Resources

A listing of poverty-related and inequality-related websites is available HERE. A listing of useful references is available HERE.