The single best piece of news about global poverty is that it is on the decline. According to recently published data, between 1990 and 2010, more than one billion people have moved out of extreme poverty, defined as having to live on $1.25 per day or less. This means that one of the world’s Millenium Development Goals (MDGs) of cutting poverty in half by 2015 has been met 5 years ahead of schedule. In China alone, 680 million people moved out of extreme poverty between 1981-2010, and China’s extreme-poverty rate fell drastically from 84% in 1980 to 10% today.
These numbers offer much to celebrate, but the battle against global poverty is far, far from over. For one thing, it should be noted that these figures represent a shift out of extreme poverty. It is not as if one billion people have moved out of poverty altogether. Poverty of a debilitating and even life-threatening kind still defines life conditions for millions and millions of people around the world. More than half the world’s population lives on less than $2.50 per day, 1.6 billion live without electricity, and hundreds of millions of people live without access to clean water.
Secondly, it should be noted that most of the people who have moved out of extreme poverty live in one country—China. According to data from the World Bank, 680 million Chinese moved out of poverty in the past 30 years. In other words, China alone is responsible for 95% of the decline in extreme poverty. In other parts of the world, such as India or Sub-Saharan Africa, these shifts have been much slower. In 1981, India was estimated to have 429 million people—about 60% of its population—living in poverty. Estimates for 2010 put that number at 400 million. Twenty-nine million people is certainly a significant number, but the 400 million remaining in poverty show us that there is still much work to be done.
Perhaps the most important thing about this report of 1 billion people who have escaped poverty in the past 20 years is that it shows us how possible that shift is in the first place. Global poverty is not some intractable reality. In addition to economic growth, political will, technological innovation, and informed activism can go a long way toward making widespread global poverty a thing of the past.
- Délice Williams