Bringing psychologists to the fight against deep poverty


This article describes the history, inspiration, goals, and outputs of the 2019 APA Presidential Initiative on Deep Poverty. Historically, psychologists have contributed to understanding the causes and consequences of poverty, as well as in interventions to ameliorate its effects. Less attention has been paid, however, to psychologists' unique contributions to studying and ending deep poverty, despite psychology's obvious relevance to the topic. As such, a working group was formed to develop the Deep Poverty Initiative (DPI), which had 3 main goals to engage psychologists in the fight against deep poverty: (a) change attitudes and perceptions about people living in deep poverty, (b) change policy to increase support for safety-net programs, and (c) change practices by increasing the use of psychological science and practice to build the capacity of poverty-serving organizations. First, 5 main themes from the psychological literature on deep poverty were identified by the DPI working group as crucial to changing attitudes. Compared to poverty, deep poverty was found to be especially dehumanizing, difficult to exit, and complex to solve, while also causing additional physical and psychological harm and obscuring human strengths. With this information as a basis, the working group mobilized psychologists to use the psychological science, along with their skills and positions within communities, to achieve the remaining goals of the initiative. Specific outputs, lessons learned, and suggestions for future work to continue to bring psychologists to the fight against deep poverty are given.

Publication Title

American Psychologist