There is a lot of talk about poverty in new Zealand, and dispute about measures of poverty, levels of poverty and trends.
What about the world – in the last twenty years has extreme poverty remained about the same, doubled or halved?
In the New York Times Nicholas Kristof looks at attitudes on this in the US.
One survey found that two-thirds of Americans believed that the proportion of the world population living in extreme poverty has almost doubled over the last 20 years. Another 29 percent believed that the proportion had remained roughly the same.
That’s 95 percent of Americans — who are utterly wrong
So just about everyone was wrong.
In fact, the proportion of the world’s population living in extreme poverty hasn’t doubled or remained the same.
It has fallen by more than half, from 35 percent in 1993 to 14 percent in 2011 (the most recent year for which figures are available from the World Bank).
So a significant reduction in world poverty that most US Americans are unaware of.
Kristof also detailed:
• The number of extremely poor people (defined as those earning less than $1 or $1.25 a day, depending on who’s counting) rose inexorably until the middle of the 20th century, then roughly stabilized for a few decades. Since the 1990s, the number of poor has plummeted.
• In 1990, more than 12 million children died before the age of 5; this toll has since dropped by more than half.
• More kids than ever are becoming educated, especially girls. In the 1980s, only half of girls in developing countries completed elementary school; now, 80 percent do.
The world’s best-kept secret is that we live at a historic inflection point when extreme poverty is retreating.
“We live at a time of the greatest development progress among the global poor in the history of the world,” notes Steven Radelet, a development economist and Georgetown University professor, in a terrific book coming in November, “The Great Surge: The Ascent of the Developing World.”
“The next two decades can be even better and can become the greatest era of progress for the world’s poor in human history,” Radelet writes.
Alongside these improvements birthrates are dropping significantly. Countries like Germany and Japan have birthrates that are so low their populations would shrink without immigration. But it’s not just in developed countries.
Haitian women now average 3.1 children; in 1985, they had six.
In Bangladesh, women now average 2.2 children.
When the poor know that their children will survive, when they educate their daughters, when they access family planning, they have fewer children.
So there’s some very promising trends. What now?
So let’s get down to work and, on our watch, defeat extreme poverty worldwide. We know that the challenges are surmountable — because we’ve already turned the tide of history.
Eliminating most poverty and limiting population growth are attainable goals this century. Maybe in the first half of this century.