Poverty has been defined in a number of ways. The World Bank (1990) has defined poverty as 'the inability to attain a minimal standard of living'.
In the words of Dandekar (1981) 'want of adequate income, howsoever defined is poverty' Thus, lack of adequate income to buy the basic goods for subsistence living is an important element in the definitions of poverty.
1.Absolute poverty and Relative poverty
When people do not have adequate food, clothing and shelter, we say they are in absolute poverty.
Relative poverty refers to differences in income among different classes of people or people within the same group or among people of different countries. If we divide the population of a country into different class intervals based on income and if we compare say, the top 20 percent of population with the bottom 20 percent of population, then we can say we are studying about relative poverty.
2. Temporary or chronic poverty
In countries like India, when there is poor rainfall, the crops fail and the farmers temporarily enter into a poverty sample. But when they are poor for long, then we call it chronic or structural poverty. For example, when agriculturists in many poor countries are dependent upon rain and when agriculture is marked by low productivity, we say farmers are in chronic poverty.
Rowntree (1901) made a distinction between primary poverty and secondary poverty. Primary poverty refers to 'families whose total earnings are insufficient to obtain the minimum necessities for the maintenance of merely physical efficiency'. 'Secondary poverty refers to a condition in which earnings would be sufficient for the maintenance for merely physical efficiency were it not that some portion of it is absorbed by other expenditure, either useful or wasteful such as drink, gambling and inefficient housekeeping.' Rowntree said that secondary poverty prevented many more people from meeting what he called 'human needs standard' than did primary poverty (that is, inadequate incomes).
A majority of the people in rural areas are poor because they do not own assets like land and they work as agricultural labourers; their wages are low and they get work only for a few months in a year. The urban poor, on the other hand, work for long hours but they get low incomes. They are employed mostly in the unorganized or informal sector. They are 'sub-employed'. Sub-employed are those 1) who work part- time but want full - time work; 2) family heads working full time who do not earn enough to bring their families over the poverty line and 3) discouraged workers who no longer seek work.
In addition to the income based or economic view of poverty, there are other dimensions of poverty. For example, one can think of being housing poor, healthcare poor, education poor, poor in the possession of desirable physical or mental attributes.