BOSTON – Everyone has seen the video: a child about five years old looks on at the viewer with a distended belly and eyes dilated with tears. A white man with white hair tells the camera, “For just 50 cents a day, you can feed little Susie.”
But his call to action is not enough to cure the ill of global poverty. In fact, critics are renewing their criticism regarding the global poverty rate (GPR) as it currently stands.
The official statistic lands around 1.2 billion people living on or less than $1.25 a day. However, naysayers estimate that the rate is about 350 million people off. If they are right, the number would increase by about 30 percent.
Chief among the groups that believe the rate to be 350 million higher is the Overseas Development Institute: a think tank that works independently of national governments. The ODI has good reason to disbelieve the GPR: developing countries are not exactly touted for data accuracy or recency.
Naturally, the implications of the miscalculation would be huge. England has been receiving a lot of flack lately for its leaders’ decision to allocate .7 percent of the national budget toward poverty alleviation. If the number is indeed that much higher, the increased percentage may end up meaning far less than people believe it does.
Even The Economist is skeptical. In 2012, an anonymous writer reported, “Even if many of [the]middling poor move up, their places are often taken by those who have just escaped from absolute poverty; population growth does the rest.”
It is an undisputed argument among first-world statisticians that population growth and replacement rates are directly correlated with poverty rates. In poorer countries, where the number of children born to each woman averages between five and eight, there appears to be a vicious cycle: lack of access to contraceptives, medicine and resources in general lead women to give birth to more individuals because they know that the odds of all of them surviving to adulthood are low. At the other end of the spectrum, women in rich countries put off or curtail birthing children entirely because they have so many other options.
America lands in the middle, with a replacement rate of two to three children, in large part because of the immigrants that come here, both legally and illegally. Ironically, people with larger families move to the United States because they are seeking asylum from national and regional poverty, only to discover that escaping poverty in this country may not be as achievable a goal as they initially believed.
In 2012, Business Insider reported that California was the most impoverished of the 50 states, with 23.5 percent of its population below the poverty line. California, the state teeming with sunshine and the latest technological innovations has apparently been brought down by incessant droughts and an overstretched budget.
If they can occur in one of the richest nations in the world, high poverty rates can occur virtually anywhere. The important thing to remember is, no matter how big or small the number, that nothing will be accomplished through apathy. Start reading. Start caring. Start acting.
– Leah Zazofsky