Sunday, November 13, 2011

Less Poor than Ever Before

This is old news, but I recently rediscovered the Brookings Institution's "Poverty in Numbers" report [PDF] thanks to Bryan Caplan. The results of their analysis are so stunning that they bear repeating.

In 2005, over 1,300 million people lived in extreme poverty, defined by Brookings (and the World Bank) as living on less than $1.25 a day. By 2010, that number had fallen to less than 900 million, and if trends continue, that will fall to less than 600 million by 2015. Considering that this is happening while the human race is adding about a billion people per decade, this should put an end to Malthusian fears of overpopulation once and for all.

Expressed as a percentage of the population, the trend is even more astonishing. In 1981, the global poverty rate was higher than 50%. In 1990, when the UN established the Millennium Development Goals, the poverty rate had fallen to 41.6%. The MDG target of 20.8% by 2015 was already met in 2008. According to Brookings, in 2010 the poverty rate was 15.8%, and if trends continue, that will fall to only 9.9% by 2015.

To put that another way, not only have we achieved the Millennium Development Goal of halving the global poverty rate seven years early, but we are on track to halve it again by the MDG's deadline.

Not only is the overall poverty rate falling, but poverty is falling in every region studied by Brookings. The slowest progress is in Sub-Saharan Africa, but even there we have reason for optimism. For decades, the number of poor in Sub-Saharan Africa just continued to grow. Since 2005, for the first time on record, the total number of poor in that region has fallen. Also for the first time on record, the Sub-Saharan poverty rate fell below 50% between 2005 and 2010. If trends continue, it will fall below 40% by 2015.

It's worth noting that this is not a pre-recession report painting an overly rosy picture. The result was released in January 2011, and these results are despite an extra 64 million people kept in extreme poverty by the Great Recession. As the report says, "if not for the financial crisis our results would be even more dramatic than they are."

To emphasize just how dramatic these results are, the global poverty rate is lower than at any other point in human history. There has truly never been a better time to be human.

No comments:

Post a Comment