What is the difference of 'needy' and 'poor'? In the context of helping (needy|poor) people from country XY.

First I dismissed the use of needy, because I heard it in negative context (like "That guy was so needy, he was almost begging for her number..."). So I preferred to use "poor" instead. But this is probably a stupid argument, as I found later.

I've been trying to find the difference and I only found that many times these adjectives go together, like in this dictionary or in the phrase "Caring for the Poor and Needy". But the fact that they are used in such a way means that there must be some difference in the meaning; otherwise who would put two synonyms in one term?

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    Needy in the economic sense is a term for poor used by those who are not poor. There is also an emotional sense, which is the one displayed by the guy who almost begged for the number. Oct 25, 2015 at 17:33
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    I rather doubt any of the claimed 67 instances of She's very needy in Google Books have anything to do with her lacking money or possessions. Oct 25, 2015 at 18:14
  • Really, the terms are strongly tinged with politics, and will be nuanced by their contexts to mean any number of things, depending on what the author wants to "sell" you.
    – Hot Licks
    Oct 25, 2015 at 19:11

2 Answers 2


Poor in the economic sense means living in poverty, i.e., not having enough money according to some guideline. For governmental purposes in the US, that guideline is set by the federal and state governments and is based on income and assets. Needy in the economic sense means so poor as to be unable to obtain the necessities of life -- food, clothing, shelter, etc.

If you're needy, then you're poor. But if you're poor, state welfare and private charity may provide enough to make sure you're not needy.


Anyone can be in need at any time. It means the lack of a particular thing at a particular time. If you have all the money in the world but you lack good health, then you are needy insofar as you need medical assistance. Anyone can become needy at any given period of life irrespective of their wealth.

Poor is not having life's essentials: food, clothing, shelter, money, etc.

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