STRESSED because they are because they are Poor? Or poor because they are stressed?

By Brandale D. Randolph



While both have are based on elements of research based facts, neither on there are conducive towards efforts to reducing the effects of poverty on our society. To some the debate about whether chronic stress causes poverty or poverty causes chronic stress is as rhetorical as the one about the chicken and the egg. However, just as Neil deGrasse Tyson infamously laid waste to that debate by stating that the egg came first but it was laid by something that was not a chicken, I will attempt to do so to this debate.

On one hand, if one believes that poverty causes stress, they may also inversely believe that not being poor will end the stress, then the solution will be aimed at the poverty, not the stress. Thus, is one believes that poverty is simply financially related, the efforts may be geared towards making those in poverty richer.

If one believes that poverty is simply a mindset they may be aimed at changing the way that the people whom are in poverty think about the stress they are under. Both fail because the focus is primarily on the individual and not their environment or the set of circumstances that may surround them. The logical flaw is exposed in the asking of one single question, if one were to rid a person of their ‘poverty’ but leave them in the same environment would that alleviate the stress?

Maybe, for a select few, but for many, no, the stress would simply return in another form. Therefore, the environment must also change. On the other hand, if one believes that stress causes poverty, they may also believe that the reduction of stress would help reduce the effects of poverty on the individual. Therefore the primary focus becomes on the stress and not on the individual themselves.

But that leads to other questions how is this stress being defined? Is this stress internal? It could be, it researched and proven that people who live in poverty often suffer from lower feelings of self-worth and personal value, which often then leads to self-destructive behavior. Or is it external? People who live in poverty are more prone to violent crime, food insecurity, homelessness and other health issues.

As in the other situation, the flaw lies in a single question; if you were to change the environment and alleviate many of the stress placed on people in poverty would this help alleviate their poverty? In most cases, if changing one’s environment does not always lead to changing that person themselves. In this case the stressful environment may be altered but the poverty may remain. Therefore, the individual in poverty must change in accordance with his environment.

So let’s go back to the original question does stress cause poverty or does poverty cause stress? The answer is simply that while poverty and stress do go hand in hand, the origin of stress and poverty lie, outside of each other and not within.

Stress is based on our personal perception of our environment and experiences. Two people can endure the same experience; however one may see the experience as a life or death scenario, while the other may not feel that the experience is any threat at all to their existence. Thus, the stress felt by both individuals will be different. While it may have some influence, personal income does not dictate we view our experiences. It may increase the possibility for more positive experiences but there is not guarantee that a richer person will interpret a stressful environment any different from a poorer person.

Part of the answer, is understanding that it is our personal experiences that give us the lens from which we view life. The other part of the answer is in understanding that poverty exists based on greed, not income or a mindset. Poverty exits because in a world of limited valuable financial resources, poverty occurs because one set of humans, have placed a lesser value on the labor, resources and culture of another set of humans.

This is done out of greed and simply for maximized profit. In much the same way that the greatest Kings used slave labor, our wealthiest corporations pay minimum wages. Poverty is based on this, not on stress. Stress does not create poverty, greed does. Therefore long as there is greed, there will be poverty. The remaining part of the answer lies in understanding that the solution to poverty is never within the effects of poverty but outside it among environments where the effects of poverty do not exist.

So in combining the two, the answer to the question of whether poverty causes stress or is stress causes poverty, lies in its own ‘mutant chicken’, greed. Because greed was the culturally accepted solution to the stress that some humans had in the desire to be valued above other groups of humans, poverty was created and because of the existence of institution that further that poverty, the greedy are shielded from the stress that poverty causes. While these institutions are then seen by the poor as solutions to their stress, they were established ultimately to preserve the wealth of the greedy.

Brandale D. Randolph is a blogger, advocate and author of “Me & My

Broke Neighbor: The 7 Things I Learned About Success Just By Living

Next To Him…” and the forthcoming book “The Giant Sinkhole Called

Poverty” due Spring 2013. He also co-founder and executive director

of Project: Poverty, a non-profit organization that seeks permanent

solutions to the effects of poverty on our society. He is a guest

lecturer and public speaker on issues related to poverty. For booking

information more info go to or at

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