New Poverty in the Era of Globalization: The Case of Taiwan

Good morning! In the final few posts in our series of celebrating World Social Work Day 2014, we hear from Associate Professor in the Department of Social Work at Soochow University in Taiwan, Dr Shu-jung Li, who writes about recent research charting the new poverty landscapes of ‘old’ and ‘new’ poor in Taiwan in the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis.

Over the past decade, Taiwan has witnessed a rapid increase in its population of newly-impoverished individuals. Driving this increase is globalization, and in particular, the shift of Taiwan’s traditional production centers overseas, especially to mainland China.

I was contracted by the Ministry of Health and Social Welfare to conduct a research to explore this new phenomenon.

The study held twelve focus groups around the country with 109 participants and in-depth interviews with 8 individuals. The interviewees drew from five major groups of Taiwan’s poor, namely unemployed middle-aged workers, single mothers, unemployed indigenous people, foreign-born spouses, and people who cannot afford the National Medical Insurance premium.

The research finds that a major impetus for the worsening financial plight of those who recently descended into poverty is the economic restructuring accompanying globalization. Moreover, the characteristics of the new poor are quite different from those of the “old poor.”

The new poor are mainly middle-aged, high school educated, and the primary bread-winners in their families with dependants at home. Most are able and hope to work, but suffer from job instability and/or the ability to find any re-employment. The majority of the new poor are not adequately helped by Taiwan’s current social welfare programs.

If the government does not intervene timely to create a stronger safety-net for the new poor, their families may very well become caught in a long–term poverty trap.

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March 20, 2014. World Social Work Day.

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