Impoverished People



Impoverished people are those who lack "a usual or socially acceptable amount of money or material possessions," or alternately those who "lack the means to satisfy their basic needs (Britannica). This definition, necessarily subjective and broad, indicates that what one person or society deems "socially acceptable" or what constitutes "basic needs" is malleable.

Similarly, impoverished people in the United States in the nineteenth century did not fit one specific category. The rise of industrialism produced an increased number of impoverished people in the U. S., particularly within large urban centers. European immigrants in cities in the East, and Chinese immigrants on the West Coast, and African Americans in the South were disproportionately affected by poverty. Regionally, the highest number of impoverished people came from the U. S. South, where "both whites and African Americans struggled with debt, low cotton prices, laws favorable to employers and creditors, paltry alternatives, and the general post war devastation" (Encyclopedia of the United States in the Nineteenth Century, Vol. 2, 547).

Racism and nativism among employers and employees also made economic advancement more difficult for people of color and immigrants. However, the impoverished made up a comparatively low percentage of Mississippi's antebellum population, given its low number of immigrants and even native residents, lack of industrialization and urbanization, and mobility of those that were impoverished (Mississippi Encyclopedia). Many reform organizations throughout the country took the lead in fighting poverty in the nineteenth century, while state and federal governments by the end of the century also developed its own institutional responses. The status of being impoverished has always carried negative connotations in American history, so CWRGM uses the tag "Impoverished people" to emphasize the personhood of those in poverty rather than their social status.

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