noun, often attributive
pov·​er·​ty | \ ˈpä-vər-tē How to pronounce poverty (audio) \

Definition of poverty

1a : the state of one who lacks a usual or socially acceptable amount of money or material possessions
b : renunciation as a member of a religious order of the right as an individual to own property
3a : debility due to malnutrition
b : lack of fertility

Choose the Right Synonym for poverty

poverty, indigence, penury, want, destitution mean the state of one with insufficient resources. poverty may cover a range from extreme want of necessities to an absence of material comforts. the extreme poverty of the slum dwellers indigence implies seriously straitened circumstances. the indigence of her years as a graduate student penury suggests a cramping or oppressive lack of money. a catastrophic illness that condemned them to years of penury want and destitution imply extreme poverty that threatens life itself through starvation or exposure. lived in a perpetual state of want the widespread destitution in countries beset by famine

Examples of poverty in a Sentence

He was born in poverty. There is a poverty of information about the disease.
Recent Examples on the Web Specifically, households with annual incomes at or below 200% of the federal poverty level — about $27,000 for an individual or $55,000 for a family of four — are eligible, according to the GetInternet.gov website. Russ Wiles, The Arizona Republic, 10 May 2022 The income cutoff is 200% of the federal poverty level, which is higher for larger households. Los Angeles Times, 10 May 2022 Households with annual incomes at or below 200% of the federal poverty level, about $27,000 for an individual or $55,000 for a family of four, are eligible for the benefit program. Michael Collins, USA TODAY, 9 May 2022 Dubbed the Baltimore Young Families Success Fund, the program is open specifically to young parents, ages 18 to 24, who have income at or below 300% of the federal poverty level — about $69,000 for a three-person household. Emily Opilo, Baltimore Sun, 6 May 2022 Children from households earning between 201% and 325% of the federal poverty level also qualify but are subject to an asset test. Jenna Carlesso, Hartford Courant, 4 May 2022 To qualify for a solar rooftop array at no charge, a household’s income cannot exceed 200% of the poverty level, which is $53,000 for a family of four. Peter Krouse, cleveland, 2 May 2022 Nearly 40% of people in the TIF district live below the federal poverty level, according to the TIF law. Matthew Glowicki, The Courier-Journal, 28 Apr. 2022 The law originally required states to expand Medicaid to individuals with annual incomes up to 138% of the federal poverty level—about $18,750 in today's dollars. Sally Pipes, Forbes, 25 Apr. 2022 See More

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'poverty.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

First Known Use of poverty

12th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1a

History and Etymology for poverty

Middle English poverte, from Anglo-French poverté, from Latin paupertat-, paupertas, from pauper poor — more at poor

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Time Traveler for poverty

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The first known use of poverty was in the 12th century

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Dictionary Entries Near poverty



poverty grass

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Statistics for poverty

Last Updated

15 May 2022

Cite this Entry

“Poverty.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/poverty. Accessed 21 May. 2022.

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More Definitions for poverty


pov·​er·​ty | \ ˈpä-vər-tē How to pronounce poverty (audio) \

Kids Definition of poverty

: the condition of being poor : lack of money or possessions


pov·​er·​ty | \ ˈpäv-ərt-ē How to pronounce poverty (audio) \
plural poverties

Medical Definition of poverty

: debility due to malnutrition evidence of poverty in calves

More from Merriam-Webster on poverty

Nglish: Translation of poverty for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of poverty for Arabic Speakers

Britannica.com: Encyclopedia article about poverty


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