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The Economic and Social Processes Influencing the Level and Nature of Chronic Poverty in Urban Areas

Diana Mitlin


The objective of this paper is to review the economic, political and social processes influencing the nature, extent and depth of poverty in urban areas of the South. The task is primarily descriptive, seeking to summarise what is already known about these processes and to demarcate significant components of chronic urban poverty in the South. Due to the relative newness of the field, it seeks to draw on a wide range of literature in order to understand the issues. The discussion is tentative about the scope and depth of the findings. The strategy is to draw together insights from a wide range of disciplines, and city and neighbourhood studies. The discussion begins by considering what is chronic poverty, summarised and considered in the context of urban poverty in Section 2. Section 3 considers the nature of the urban change that is taking place. The discussion suggests that chronic poverty in urban areas is much more complex than the visible problems of acute need in inner cities. It is likely that the urban chronically poor live in diverse economic and political situations, facing different livelihood opportunities and different physical conditions. Furthermore, chronic poverty may be caused by the process of transition from rural to urban, or smaller to larger city, rather than the specific conditions in any particular urban settlement. The recognised scale of chronic poverty has to be understood in relation to measurement strategies. Section 4 discusses the problems of measuring urban poverty. In particular, it considers why many existing monetary estimates of poverty in urban areas may be too low. Sections 5 and 6 then consider the nature and extent of chronic poverty in urban areas. Section 5 takes a spatial perspective examining poverty by the nature of the urban settlement. Underlying this analytical framework is the supposition that the nature and incidence of poverty is partly related to the nature of the urban settlement. The Section is sub-divided to consider inner cities, city peripheries, small towns and refugee settlements. The following Section then analyses the chronically poor by social group. Underlying this analytical framework is the recognition that social discrimination and capabilities may influence participation in the labour market. Some groups have more opportunities offered to them and are better able to take advantages of opportunities. The groups that have been identified and that are considered in this Section are the old, young, women, badly paid, informal workers, and those with physical and mental illness, impairments and disabilities. The concluding section considers a number of issues that have emerged through the discussion: the relevance of the general frameworks of chronic poverty in an urban context; the complexity of chronic poverty in urban areas; reflects on understanding chronic poverty through the strategies of avoidance used by the urban poor; and finally identifies some future research priorities.

Publication Type(s)

CPRC Working Paper


concepts assets adverse incorporation social relations disability livelihoods migration urban areas

ISBN: 1-904049-28-1


The Economic and Social Processes PDF 348.6 KB

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