'Poverty' is a subjective and comparative term describing a lack of sufficient wealth (usually understood as capital, money, material goods, or resources especially natural resources) to live what is understood in a society as a "normal" life: for instance, to be capable of raising a healthy family, and especially educating children and participating in society. A person living in this condition of poverty is said to be poor. The meaning of "sufficient" varies widely across the different political and economic areas of the world.

Poverty is essentially the collective condition of poor people, or of poor groups, and in this sense entire nation-states are sometimes regarded as poor. To avoid stigma these are usually called developing nations.

Poverty is often strongly correlated with social problems, such as crime and disease (notably sexually transmitted diseases), sometimes in epidemic form. As a result, many societies employ social workers to fight poverty by a variety of methods which range from moral persuasion to financial subsidy to physical coercion.

There is evidence of poverty in every region. In developed countries, this condition results in wandering homeless people and poor suburbs (with so-called bidonvilles or favelas) in which poor people are - more or less - restricted to a ghetto.

The condition in itself is not always considered negatively, even if this is the prevalent interpretation: some cultural or religious groups consider poverty an ideal condition to live in, a condition necessary in order to reach certain spiritual or intellectual states. A notable example is that of the Christian Franciscan order. This is called voluntary simplicity, of which voluntary poverty is an extreme form.

Poverty is studied by many social, scientific and cultural disciplines.

In economics, two kinds of poverty are considered: relative and absolute.

In politics, the fight against poverty is usually regarded as a social goal and most governments have - secondarily at least - some dedicated institutions or departments. The work done by these bodies is mostly limited to census studies and identification of some income level below which a citizen is technically considered poor. Active interventions may include housing plans, social pensions, special job opportunities, or requirements.
Some ideologies (such as Marxism) argue that the economists and politicians actively work to create poverty. Other theories consider poverty a sign of a failing economic system and one of the main causes of crime.

In law, poverty is recognised, in most developed countries, as a mitigating factor for the determination of the punishment, being usually considered coincident with a generic and permanent state of need which can affect and alter the correct capability of clearly or freely identifying the legally and socially acceptable behaviour. Poverty is generally argued to cause increased crime rates amongst the poor by increasing their stress.

In education, poverty affects a student's ability to effectively profit from the learning environments. Especially for younger students coming from poverty, their primary needs as described in Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs; the need for a safe and stable homes, clothes on their backs, and regular meals clouds a student's ability to learn. Furthermore, in education circles there is a term used to characterize the phenomenon of the rich getting richer and the poorer getting poorer (as it relates to education but easily transfers to poverty in general) is the Matthew Effect.

Related debates on a states' human capital and a person's individual capital tend likewise to focus on access to the instructional capital and social capital available only to those educated in such formal systems.

See also: poverty pimp, poverty level, Giffen good, pauper's oath