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How Poverty Impacts on Life Chances, Experiences and Opportunities for Young People


Poverty presents many obstacles and impediments in the life of young people lives; these can be analyzed and understood through a series of social work concepts and theories. The paper shall specifically dwell on the social exclusion, class, and labeling theories to place youth poverty in its social context. Additionally, the paper shall look at developmental issues associated with poverty and the challenges associated with such a group.

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This work will be important in social work practice because it will attempt to demystify the experiences, opportunities, and life chances surrounding youth poverty. This means that it will offer policy solutions to the problems and practical day-to-day applications as well.

Definition of terms

The labeling theory is instrumental in understanding the implications of poverty among the youth. Becker (1997) explains that all individuals are influenced by the interactions that they have with other members of society and these interactions eventually contribute towards their self-identity. Every society has rules that govern its members’ behavior; consequently, those who fail to comply with such rules may end up being labeled as deviants. When categorized as such, human beings tend to redefine their self-image around those labels mostly because they are treated differently by other members of society.

The latter theory is particularly useful in offering practical solutions to the problem of poverty among the youth. If poor youth are given negative titles such as ‘criminal’ or ‘troublemaker’ then chances are that they may live up to those prophecies. Instead, they should be empowered, supported, and assisted. One of the solutions offered by labeling theory adherents is the promotion of tolerance rather than the judgment of persons who deviate from the norm.

The exclusion theory is sometimes called the social closure theory. It puts forward the notion that all groups create their identities by outlining those who do not fall in their category; in other words, the process depends on the identification of outsiders in the same depth as identification of their characteristics. Proponents of this theory claim that social exclusion is deemed necessary for different groups because it heightens the benefits that those respective groups can get in life.

This theory will be particularly instrumental in understanding the root causes of poverty or in placing the latter phenomenon within a social context. This is mostly because it attempts to address issues surrounding social relations, equality, and community development. (Sheppard, 2006)

According to Karl Marx (the pioneer of the class theory) societies are made up of classes that are constantly in states of struggle. (Le Grand, 2003) He argued that in capitalist societies, these groups often clash over the right to control means of production. In other words, the elite possesses the unequal right and access to power and material resources. Since these entitlements are scarce, then the underprivileged will often become conscious of their status and may spearhead a rebellion against the status quo. It should be noted that for a class struggle to occur, persons with similar interests and similar social positions must consciously unite in opposition against another class. Therefore, these common interests are the driving forces that may change society’s working order. Additionally, Karl Marx adds that capitalists often look out for their interests in the pursuit of more power and more resources. This leads to an economic crisis that is characterized by several problems. (Price and Simpson, 2007)

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When one relates the latter theory to the question of poverty among the youth, it can be said that poor youth are victims of unequal distribution of resources. Consequently, the latter theory can assist in understanding the experiences of poverty among young people and some of the problems that they could be facing can be addressed through handling some of these inequalities. (Le Grand, 2003)

How poverty impacts the life chances, experiences, and opportunities for young people

Poverty minimizes young people’s life chances because it makes them vulnerable to risk. First, most of them live on a high-calorie – nutritionally poor diet. Those young persons who happen to have children are likely to sacrifice their meals to provide for their dependents. In the end, such youth may begin experiencing medical complications that may end their lives prematurely. (Bondanella, 2004)

Statistics indicate that poor people generally and the youth, in particular, are prone to more residential accidents than their counterparts in wealthier homes. For instance, such youth are more likely to be involved in automobile-related accidents or more likely to be burnt by fire than other youth. Such incidences often cause death. In other words, the youth poor have very slim chances of living beyond their thirties as a result of their vulnerability to these dangerous circumstances.

In line with the latter explanation is a report made by the Department of Work and Pension in the year 2004. The latter study revealed that teen pregnancies were more eminent among lower classes than among the higher class. Teenage mothers are less likely to raise their children properly as they are unprepared for the challenges of motherhood. Eventually, these individuals become overwhelmed as they get older i.e. as they leave their teens and enter adulthood. Most of them may abandon their dreams and aspirations to raise their children and thus be forced to live unfulfilled lives.

Poor youth are more likely to live in homeless conditions or poor housing conditions; as a result, they are prevented from developing physically, mentally as well as socially. Overcrowded houses contain mold that leads to respiratory infections like allergies, permanent coughs, and asthma. Also, cramped houses hamper hygiene that may cause inhabitants unnecessary risks like burns, fevers, headaches, and others. Youth who live in these conditions are also likely to be stressed; furthermore, the latter condition may accelerate into anxiety and depression. In other words, such youth are less likely to become more productive members of society because of the physical and mental conditions that their environments cause.

Young people with families are also likely to be confronted with problems of debt repayment. As of 2006, statistics revealed that in all homes where people earn less than nine thousand dollars, thirty-three percent of those individuals are in debt. When a breadwinner is a young person, then chances of owning assets are quite slim and this makes them more vulnerable to debt. It is a known fact that persons with debts are less likely to engage in business, employment, or other productive activities. In the end, they may not get meet certain expectations.

Education is another hurdle that poor youth find difficult to attain – this minimizes their opportunities in subsequent life. When young people are poor, they are less likely to participate in higher education. Those who do get an opportunity have lower chances of exhaling compared to their wealthier counterparts. In the end, it becomes very problematic for them to get good jobs or to enrich their lives. (Aassve, Iacovou and Mencarini, 2006)

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Crime is an increasing problem in slums, low-income houses as well as streets where the homeless stay. Youth are more likely to engage in criminal activities if they cannot access opportunities for personal development as is the case for those living in poverty.

Poverty makes young people less involved in community-based activities. Such individuals are often isolated from the experiences that would make their lives better. For instance, they do no have some facilities and infrastructure in their residential areas. Additionally, there are minimal services to allow participation in labor markets. Also, the cost of transport hampers their ability to become self-reliant. Leisure is another problem that poor youth lack and this often drives them to participate in self-destructive behavior such as drug/ alcohol abuse, crime as well as other forms of antisocial activities. In the end, these young people may suffer mental illnesses that make them economically/ socially unproductive or it may lead to death. (Bondanella, 2004)

Poor youth are often confronted with social stigma when required to mix with other youth in social settings such as colleges or churches. In this regard, they tend to keep to themselves and hardly get opportunities to interact or exchange ideas with persons from different walks of life. In the end, their opportunities become very limited and they end up being trapped in their circumstances. Social stigma also arises from the view that poor, young people are high-risk groups. For instance, it is assumed that young men have a propensity for violence or crime. On the other hand, society also shuns young poor women because it assumes that they are HIV positive or that are victims of early childbirth. These qualities make them unattractive for paid work thus leading to high levels of unemployment amongst them. It has been shown that lack of employment opportunities among poor youth could be one of the leading causes of poverty propagation.

Implications for social work practice

Social work practice must address the vulnerabilities and hurdles faced by the youth poor; these must be done on a micro as well as on a macro level. Actions need to be guided by the latter mentioned three theories because they provide a deeper understanding of the problems of poverty. However, social workers must remember that there is no single solution to poverty and its implications among the youth. (March and Keating, 2006)

The class theory puts forward the notion that poverty is perpetuated by unequal distribution of resources, consequently, these masses experience low employment opportunities, poor education, poor mental and physical health, low or no housing as well as inaccessible childcare. Some of these problems are difficult to address from a micro perspective and would best be handled through macro-level interventions by social workers. In other words, such solutions would refer to nationwide social policies designed to curb or minimize inequality.

Social work intervention can be done on a micro-level where the social worker deals with problems from an individualist perspective. For instance, if a poor young the person is unable to come up with his rent, then a social worker can assist by identifying subsidized housing and working with the client to deal with such payments. On the other hand, if an individual comes from a low-income household, is young and pregnant, then a social worker needs to enroll the individual into a prenatal care program as well as assist her to get a part-time job.

As it has been stated earlier, poverty causes stigmatization that often leads to depression. The social exclusion theory puts forward the notion that social exclusion hampers participation in developmental activities. Social workers can deal with feelings of exclusion by empowering young people. Those who have been extensively excluded may be undergoing depression and therefore need treatment for it. On the other hand, those who have not been severely affected still need empowerment through engagements in training programs or being granted access to part-time or full-time jobs. In the labeling theory, it is asserted that people tend to live up to their prophecies when given certain labels. Consequently, social workers should look for ways of ‘undoing’ those labels placed on poor youth by training them or granting them access to jobs. This will make them believe that they are capable of much more than they had imagined for themselves.

From the macro perspective, social workers must acknowledge the power of the community. (Barkham, 2006) Here, community assets in poor neighborhoods could be collected and then combined with national resources that would then be used to boost education, business as well as health in such communities. The youth could be selected as members of these community initiatives to boost the strengths of the poor communities while deemphasizing their weaknesses. Such a strategy in social work practice is guided by the social exclusion theory. Here, it is stated that those who are considered as ‘rightful’ members of society are more productive than those excluded from it. Consequently, social workers need to promote inclusion by making local systems more powerful.

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Special work practice should also entail avocation of the rights of poor youth in parliamentary or political systems. This can be achieved by making working conditions more feasible for young breadwinners. For instance, social workers can advocate for increments in the minimum wage, family support systems as well as educational and training opportunities. Such interventions are guided by the Marxist school of thought or the class theory where it is assumed that poverty is increased by lack of equal opportunities. Increasing the minimum wage and making working conditions for poor youth more feasible are all attempts to increase equitability in resource and wealth distribution.


Poverty causes several problems to poor youth. First, it subjects them to heightened risks that lead to health complications and even early death. Additionally, educational attainment is another serious problem that minimizes their employment opportunities. Poverty hampers accessibility to infrastructure and leisure and thus leads youth to antisocial behavior such as drugs or alcohol. Aside from that, youth suffer from a lack of jobs, lack of access to health facilities, stigmatization, debt, and hence depression.

These impacts have many implications for social work practice. Social workers need to address the root causes of the phenomenon of poverty among the youth through better work/ educational/ health policies that ensure the distribution of wealth as guided by the class theory. Also, social work practice needs to get to the micro level by empowering youth through training programs, involving them in community-based initiatives, providing them with counseling and planning for subsidized housing.


Aassve, A., Iacovou, M. and Mencarini, L. (2006). “Youth poverty and transition to adulthood in Europe.” Max Plank Institute for Demographic Research, 15 (2), 21- 50.

Barkham, P. (2006). Anti poverty campaign mobilised youth. The Guardian. P1.

Becker, H. (1997). Outsiders. New York: Free Press.

Bondanella, A. (2004). Putting a face on poverty. American Catholic organisation. Web.

LeGrand, J. (2003). Agency, Motivation and Public Policy. Oxford: OUP.

March, I. and Keating, M. (Editors) (2006). Sociology –making sense of society. Harrow: Prentice Hall.

Price, V. and Simpson, G. (2007). Transforming society? Social work and sociology. Bristol: Polity Press.

Sheppard, M. (2006). Social work and social exclusion – the idea of practice. Hampshire: Ashgate.

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"How Poverty Impacts on Life Chances, Experiences and Opportunities for Young People." StudyCorgi, 27 Oct. 2021,

1. StudyCorgi. "How Poverty Impacts on Life Chances, Experiences and Opportunities for Young People." October 27, 2021.


StudyCorgi. "How Poverty Impacts on Life Chances, Experiences and Opportunities for Young People." October 27, 2021.


StudyCorgi. 2021. "How Poverty Impacts on Life Chances, Experiences and Opportunities for Young People." October 27, 2021.


StudyCorgi. (2021) 'How Poverty Impacts on Life Chances, Experiences and Opportunities for Young People'. 27 October.

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