This is the idea that poverty is continued as a result of people trapped in an array of social situations including: low income, poor education, poor housing, or poor health. These disadvantages collectively work in a circular process making it virtually impossible for individuals to break the cycle. This occurs when impoverished people do not have the resources necessary to get out of poverty, such as financial capital, education, or connections. In other words, poverty-stricken individuals experience disadvantages as a result of their poverty, which in turn increases their poverty. This would mean that the poor remain poor throughout their lives.
The poverty cycle is usually called "development trap" when it is applied to countries.
Dr. Ruby K. Payne distinguishes between situational poverty, which can generally be traced to a specific incident within the lifetimes of the person or family members in poverty, and generational poverty, which is a cycle that passes from generation to generation, and goes on to argue that generational poverty has its own distinct culture and belief patterns.
Another paper, titled Do poor children become poor adults?, which was originally presented at a 2004 symposium on the future of children from disadvantaged families in France, and was later included in a 2006 collection of papers related to the theme of the dynamics of inequality and poverty, discusses generational income mobility in North America and Europe. The paper opens by observing that in the United States almost one half of children born to low income parents become low income adults, four in ten in the United Kingdom, and one-third in Canada. The paper goes on to observe that rich children also tend to become rich adults — four in ten in the U.S. and the U.K., and as many as one-third in Canada. The paper argues, however, that money is not the only or even the most important factor influencing intergenerational income mobility and that the rewards to higher skilled and/or higher educated individuals in the labor market and the opportunities for children to obtain the required skills and credentials are two important factors; reaching the conclusion that income transfers to lower income individuals may be important to children in the here in now, but they should not be counted on to strongly promote generational mobility. The paper recommends that governments focus on investments in children to ensure that they have both the skills and opportunities to succeed in the labor market, and observes that though this has historically meant promoting access to higher and higher levels of education, it is becoming increasingly important that attention be paid to preschool and early childhood education.
The negative side is that studies have shown that tracking decreases students’ opportunity to learn. Tracking also has a disproportionate number of Latinos and African Americans that have low socioeconomic status in the lower learning tracks. Tracking separates social classes putting the poor and minority children in lower tracks where they receive second-rate education, and the students that are better off are placed in upper tracks where they have many opportunities for success. Studies have found that in addition to the higher tracks having more extensive curriculum, there is also a disparity among the teachers and instructional resources provided. There appears to be a race/class bias which results in intelligent children not receiving the skills or opportunities needed for success or social/economic mobility, thus continuing the cycle of poverty. There is an overall perception that American education is failing and research has done nothing to counter this statement, but instead has revealed the reality and severity of the issue of the existence of tracking and other structures that cause the cycle of poverty to continue.
While many governmental officials are still trying to find an answer to poverty, many states and localities are making an effort to break the cycle. Mayor Bloomberg of New York City has been advocating a plan where parents are paid up to $5000 a year for meeting certain goals that will better their lives. This policy was modeled after a Mexican initiative that aims to help poor families make better decisions that will help them in the long-term and break cycle of poverty and dependence that have been known to last for lifetimes. In addition, many states also have been making an attempt to help break the cycle. For example, a bill has been proposed in the California Assembly that “would establish an advisory Childhood Poverty Council to develop a plan to reduce child poverty in the state by half by 2017 and eliminate it by 2027”. Even when the plan has poverty reduction as the goal, a rise in child poverty might be the reality for many states as it was in Connecticut. States are attempting to not only decrease the number of people in the cycle of poverty, but to also adjust the stringent work requirements that resulted from Congress’s welfare reform. The tougher work restrictions have upset many poverty advocates that believe the new regulations prevent individuals that are vulnerable or that lack skills from preparing for work. California Democrat Representative McDermott believes as a result of this and other effects of the new limitations, it has been harder for individuals to escape a life of poverty.