NEW YORK — Over time, improvements in health, education and income have steadily increased. In 1982, 52 percent of people in the developing world lived at or below $1.25 per day. Today, only 21 percent of the developing world lives at or below $1.25 per day, according to World Bank figures.
Impressive advancements in human development over the past few decades helped lift hundreds of millions of people out of poverty, improved access to education and promoted quality health outcomes all across the globe.
Unfortunately, that progress is not set in stone.
A United Nations development report published on July 24 reports that 800 million people are “at risk of falling back into poverty if setbacks occur.” Titled “Sustaining Human Progress: Reducing Vulnerabilities and Building Resilience,” the report notes that rising economic inequality, poor government policies and increased threats from natural disasters mean almost a third of the world’s population are poor or vulnerable to becoming impoverished.
Additionally, progress in development is slowly decreasing across all levels. “There is evidence that the overall rate of progress is slowing across all human development groups,” the report finds. “Reducing inequality in all dimensions of human development is crucial.”
The report recommends governments worldwide provide basic social services to their people to ensure that every human has the core capability to live a full and dignified life. Safety, education, health care and access to water supplies and sanitation are all key services that can be provided by governments of countries in the early stages of their development, the report contends.
In 2004, for example, Ghana provided universal health coverage to its citizens when it’s economy’s gross domestic product (GDP) per capita was less than $2,000. And in 1949, the Costa Rican government comprehensively invested in education, health and social security with an economy of just over $2,000 GDP per capita.
“Except for societies undergoing violent strife and turmoil, most societies can—and many have—put in place basic services and social protection,” the report continues. “And they have found that an initial investment, of just a small percentage of GDP, brings benefits that far outweigh the initial outlay.”
Governments should also promote full employment, the report furthers. The unemployed lose labor skills and productivity the longer they remain unemployed, and unemployment exacts high social and economic costs. Unemployment insurance is costly to provide, and long-term unemployment can lead to declines in physical and mental health.
In short, the achievements made in human development are remarkable, but if governments don’t address inequality in education, health and income, development progress will continue to slow and may even worsen. As the UN report concludes, “most shocks and setbacks can be overcome with the right policies and a stronger commitment to social cohesion.”
– Joseph McAdams