Newswise — WASHINGTON – Following is the statement of Rosie Phillips Davis, PhD, president of the American Psychological Association, marking World Poverty Day:

“World Poverty Day represents an opportunity for us to examine our biases, move beyond our individual selves and identify the systemic, underlying mechanisms driving income insecurity. Psychological science can help address the structural barriers and cognitive processes that perpetuate poverty and generate solutions.

“Nearly a billion people worldwide are living with their families on less than $2 per day, and yet people believe the poor have only themselves to blame, that they are poor because of a moral failing or bad decisions made in life. Negative attitudes and beliefs about low-income people and communities result in stigma, decreased empathy, social and cognitive distancing from people experiencing poverty and lower support for poverty alleviation programs and policies.

“We need to offer people living in poverty hope, not blame, if we are going to make change possible. We can use psychology to create solutions to reduce worldwide poverty.

 “Poverty is dehumanizing and physically and psychologically harmful to children and adults, with negative effects that accumulate over time. Economic inequality affects the health of those with limited resources by increasing chronic diseases, obesity, drug and alcohol problems and, ultimately, shortening life expectancies. Even those who do not personally experience deep poverty are harmed by poverty and economic inequality. There are higher rates of these health issues across all income groups in countries with higher rates of income inequality.

“Psychologists are well positioned to lead deep poverty interventions beyond understanding the causes and consequences of poverty. Psychological science can be a catalyst for addressing and reducing poverty.”

As APA president, Davis launched a Deep Poverty Initiative to help change the conversation on deep poverty, which is defined as having an income below half the federal poverty line (in 2018, that equated to $6,392 or less for a single person and $12,850 or less for a family of four), and  empower psychologists to get involved with community organizations to develop evidence-based solutions.

Leading up to World Poverty Day, the initiative issued a five-week challenge to help psychologists and the public recognize and examine their biases and attitudes toward those in deep poverty and empower them to seek solutions at the individual, community and societal levels.

APA also has issued guidelines for practitioners working with people with low income and economic marginalization.

EDITOR’S NOTE: APA President Rosie Phillips Davis, PhD, grew up in deep poverty. She tells her story here