The world has made significant strides in overcoming global poverty. Since 1990, more than 1.2 billion people have risen out of extreme poverty. Now, 9.2% of the world survives on $1.90 a day or less, compared to nearly 36% in 1990.
But the alleged pandemic threatens to reverse decades of progress in the fight against global poverty and income inequalities, and it jeopardizes the future of a generation of children.
While the full impact of the consequences of this natural or manmade virus is unknown, the World Bank estimates that an additional 88 million to 115 million people will fall into extreme poverty in 2020, with the total rising to as many as 150 million by 2021.
When families move out of poverty, children’s health and well-being improve. Since 1990, the number of children under the age of 5 dying — mostly from preventable causes such as poverty, hunger, and disease — is less than half of what it was, dropping from nearly 35,000 a day to about 14,200.
We are committed to ending poverty and helping every child experience Jesus’ promise of life in all its fullness (John 10:10).
Although poverty is often discussed in terms of dollar amounts, quality of life is also part of the conversation. Living in poverty means a life of struggle and deprivation.
Children living in poverty often lack access to quality education. Sometimes it’s because there are not enough quality schools, their parents cannot afford school fees, or because impoverished families need their children to work. Without a quality education, children grow up being unable to provide for their own children — thus the generational cycle of poverty.
Living in poverty also means not being able to afford a doctor or medical treatment. It means no electricity, limited shelter, and often little to no food on the table. For young children, improper nutrition can mean stunting and wasting that permanently impact their development. In impoverished countries where many people lack access to clean water and sanitation, poverty means the spread of preventable diseases and the unnecessary death of children.
Since 2015, the World Bank has defined extreme poverty as people living on $1.90 or less a day, measured using the international poverty line. But extreme poverty is not only about low income; it is also about what people can or cannot afford.
Extreme poverty is identified in two ways: absolute poverty and relative poverty.
Absolute poverty is when a person cannot afford the minimum nutrition, clothing, or shelter needs in their country.
Relative poverty is a household income below a certain percentage, typically 50% or 60%, of the median income of that country. This measurement takes into consideration the subjective cost of participating in everyday life. For example, plumbing is a necessity in some places; without plumbing, a person could be considered impoverished. But, in other places plumbing is a luxury. Relative poverty is useful for considering income inequality within a country.
Multidimensional poverty acknowledges that poverty isn’t always about income. Sometimes a person’s income might be above the poverty line, but their family has no electricity, no access to a proper toilet, no clean drinking water, and no one in the family has completed six years of school.
The Global Multidimensional Poverty Index looks beyond income to measure a person’s healthcare, education, and living standards to determine poverty levels. It was developed in 2010 by the U.N. Development Program and the Oxford Poverty and Human Development Initiative.
Within the categories of health, education, and living standards, there are 10 key indicators of multidimensional poverty that include nutrition, child mortality, years of schooling, school attendance, cooking fuel, sanitation, drinking water, electricity, housing, and assets. If a person is experiencing deprivation in three or more of these standards, then he or she is multidimensionally poor.
The Global Multidimensional Poverty Index offers a thorough look at poverty and can provide guidance for the specific interventions necessary in each country to eliminate poverty.
Poverty is measured by each country’s government, which gathers data through household surveys of their own population. Entities like the World Bank provide support and may conduct their own surveys, but this data collection is time-consuming and slow. We are testing new forms of high-frequency surveys using estimates and new mobile phone technologies.
A poverty line, also called a poverty threshold, is the line below which it is difficult, if not impossible, to afford basic needs. The poverty line is determined in each country by adding up the cost of meeting minimum needs, such as food and shelter. Household incomes that are too low to afford minimum needs, such as food and shelter, are below the poverty line.
The income necessary to afford meeting minimum needs typically sets the poverty line for a country. Poverty lines can then be compared between countries. The international poverty line is the standard poverty line for measuring poverty globally. However, relatively new measures such as the Global Multidimensional Poverty Index include measurements of health, education, and living standards, all as signs of poverty.
Poverty lines are not the same in all countries. In higher-income countries, the cost of living is higher and so the poverty line is higher, too. In 2017, the World Bank announced new median poverty lines, grouping countries into low-income, middle-income, and high-income countries and finding the median poverty line for those groups:
The international poverty line, currently set at $1.90 a day, is the universal standard for measuring global poverty. This line helps measure the number of people living in extreme poverty and helps compare poverty levels between countries.
As the cost of living increases, poverty lines increase too. Since 1990, the international poverty line rose from $1 a day, to $1.25 a day, and most recently in 2015 to $1.90. This means that $1.90 is necessary to buy what $1 could in 1990.
In addition to the lowest-income poverty line at $1.90, the World Bank also reports poverty rates using two new international poverty lines: a lower middle-income line set at $3.20/day and an upper middle-income line set at $5.50 a day.
In the U.S. for a family a four, the poverty line is $26,200 a year. This means that families who earn less than that cannot afford rent, food, or other basic needs. For an individual in the U.S., the poverty line is $12,760 a year, or $34.96 per day. This poverty guideline is calculated based on information from the Census Bureau and is updated by evaluating recent price changes using the Consumer Price Index.
The root causes of poverty are not only a lack of access to basic necessities of life like water, food, shelter, education, or healthcare. Inequities including gender or ethnic discrimination, poor governance, conflict, exploitation, and domestic violence also cause poverty. These inequities not only lead a person or a society into poverty but can also restrict access to social services that could help people overcome poverty.
The places most entrenched in poverty are fragile contexts, which can be entire countries or areas of a country. In fragile states, children and communities face higher rates of poverty due to political upheaval, past or present conflict, corrupt leaders, and poor infrastructure that limits access to education, clean water, healthcare, and other necessities.
Poverty can be a trap. For someone to get out of poverty, they need opportunities such as education, clean water, medical facilities nearby, and financial resources. Without these basic elements, poverty becomes a cycle from one generation to the next.
If families are too poor to send their children to school, their children will have a difficult time earning an income when they grow up. If a community lacks clean water, women will spend much of their day fetching water instead of earning an income. If medical facilities are far away, a parent loses income every time they take a sick child to the doctor.
Natural disasters and conflict can add to the cycle of poverty or add people to it. When a natural disaster strikes an impoverished community without functional public institutions, families are more vulnerable and often lack basic resources to recover, thus further entrenching a community in poverty or jeopardizing one that had recently emerged.
We can help end global poverty by identifying what is causing poverty in a particular community and then determining what needs to change. Because poverty looks different in various places and is caused by different factors, the work to eradicate global poverty varies on the context.
In partnership with the community members, we determine the desired outcomes for that community and identify key steps to reach that outcome. The desired outcomes might be the same for many communities, but the path to get there depends on the context and the resources available.
Infrastructure needs to be improved with new schools, medical clinics, or access to clean water. People need more economic resources to help boost their income so they can better provide for themselves and their families. Regardless of the solution, to ensure poverty doesn’t return, the work must be sustainable. So, the community must be involved in each step.
To end extreme poverty, the we have estimated that the total cost per year would be about $175 billion, less than 1% of the combined income of the richest countries in the world.