One says, “The poor will always be with us. So we only need to deal with the effects of poverty.”
Another says, “No. We must be systematic. Do not treat the symptoms of a disease when you can fight the pathogen.”
But they are both wrong. Poverty is neither a cause nor a disease. It is a name with no referent, a mask with no face behind it.
Poverty is not a problem to be solved, an obstacle to be removed, an enemy to be warred against, or a disease to be treated. It is a buzzword: we use it almost exclusively in metaphor, but hastily. We believe we speak of something when we say poverty, but we are hard pressed to say if it refers to anything at all. Most definitions given for it become definitions of the human condition; they fail to make anything but an arbitrary distinction between poverty and humanity.
It may be objected that poverty is the state of having little to nothing, as measured (arbitrarily) in terms of material value, and that the poor are those in poverty. But this is not what we mean when we say these words. No one describes the birds of the air or the lilies of the field as “poor.” And when we speak of “the poor,” we make a comparison that does more than describe them in terms of material value.
The poor will always be with us. And soon, whether at death or before it, we will all be such. We always have been, but the ones who feel it are better off than those who do not.