Pushed to the Bottom, Time to Move Beyond Income 

For the first time in history the US was included in the worldwide effort to redefine extreme poverty.

On Thursday, April 18, 2019 over 100 community members gathered at St. Mary’s Center to launch the Multi-dimensional Aspects of Poverty Research Project’s (MAP) report “Pushed to the Bottom.”  With support from the University of Oxford, the report developed by international human rights organization All Together in Dignity (ATD) Fourth World, is the culmination of three years of research into the causes and effects of extreme poverty.

In 2017, members from the St. Mary’s Center community were key contributors to the study, which was conducted in six different US locations and included 23 peer groups with 200 participants. The study was also performed in six countries around the world (an international report will out in early May 2019). MAP research was focused on collaboration between practitioners, academics and people directly impacted by poverty. This represents a new, holistic approach to understanding the true nature of this pervasive system of inequality.

A guest speaker at the event was ATD Fourth World’s United States Co-director of MAP research, Guillaume Charvon who for 15 years has worked alongside communities in poverty in Burkina Faso, France, Boston, and New York. Guillaume believes “Pushed to the Bottom” is unique because of the way that those living in poverty have been included in every step along the way as partners, not just subjects to be studied. “This approach called, Merging Knowledge is essential to truly understanding poverty.”

The current global lack of adequate language to define economic disparity and the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Number One Goal of “ Ending Poverty in All Its Forms” are the motivations for this study. In the MAP report, The Merging Knowledge process revealed nine aspects of poverty; eight symptoms and one cause. Repeatedly and passionately event speakers brought forth the aspect "Subjugation" as the leading mechanism that produces and sustains systems that keep people poor. Jessica Bartholow, civil rights attorney with the Western Center on Law and Poverty defined Subjugation as “Othering with the power to cause harm resulting in systemic violence, oppression, exclusion and discrimination.” The other aspects include:

  • A Lack of Adequate Health and Well-Being
  • Stigma and Shame
  • Social Isolation
  • Work and Employment-Related Hardships
  • Disadvantaged Areas
  • Unrecognized Voice and Exclusion from Participation
  • Resources
  • The Struggle

(Read more about the Aspects of Poverty in the report, “Pushed to the Bottom.”)

The afternoon’s program featured talks from different key individuals involved in the development of the study, as well as a memorable performance by St. Mary’s Center Emergency Shelter homeless residents on the aspect “Stigma and Shame.”

Visiting guests, US MAP Coordinators Maryann Broxton of Boston and Charvon of New York, spoke about the need to redefine the way poverty is being talked about in relationship to subjugation. During his overview of the study Charvon remarked, “If we can name it, we can work to address it.”

Validating the global need to redefine poverty outside of a fixed economic bracket was another central concern the event addressed. “We define poverty as a dollar amount, but if you make a dollar above that dollar amount are you still poor?” Jessica Bartholow of the Western Center on Law & Poverty asked rhetorically. Broxton followed up on this idea during her keynote address, “Poverty goes much deeper than income level.”

The report and the event was dedicated to MAP Co-facilitator and St. Mary’s Center Senior Advocate for Hope and Justice Ron Anderson who passed away days before the New York convening of MAP participants to begin the process of merging information gathered from peer groups across the United States.

St. Mary’s Center MAP activist and Senior Advocate Carey Whiteside spoke to the Aspect “Disadvantaged Areas” by sharing firsthand experience of living homeless and housed in the face of rising costs and poor air quality in the Bay Area, “I love my neighborhood, but it’s really hard to live here.”

Speaking on the issues of access to resources and social isolation St. Mary’s Center staff members and MAP participants Danielle Amarant and James Cogley discussed how these aspects intersect and affect each other. “During this process we became resources for each other” Amarant recalled, addressing the importance of providing a platform for those often left out of policy making and advocacy work. “You must let suffering speak if you want to hear the truth,” added Cogley.

St. Mary’s Center executive director Sharon Cornu highlighted the next steps in advocacy for change. “These important insights into the lived experience of poverty are the foundation of our action to make real change—to bring hope, healing and justice, as St. Mary’s Center says.”

A digital copy of: Pushed to the Bottom” can be downloaded at: https://map.4thworldmovement.org/download-map-report/

Article by Carolina Rivera and Monica Jahangir – Re-defining Poverty: New Report looks at subjective elements as key to understanding poverty.