If often seems like a three step forward, two step back process, but hundreds of millions of people have lifted themselves from extreme poverty in just the last few decades. From Alexander C. R. Hammond at humanprogress.org:
In 1820, 94% of the world’s population lived in extreme poverty. In 1990, 34.8%, and in 2015, just 9.6%.
Last Tuesday marked the 25th anniversary of the United Nations’ International Day for the Eradication of Poverty. The date intentionally coincides with the 30th anniversary of the Call to Action, which saw the French anti-poverty campaigner Father Joseph Wresinski ask the international community, in front of 100,000 Parisians, to “strive to eradicate extreme poverty”.
To mark the occasion, Antonio Guterres, the United Nations Secretary-General, was featured in a short video assessing the current state of world poverty. Despite noting such issues as unemployment, inequality, and conflict continuing in some regions, Guterres correctly observed that since 1990 the world has made “remarkable progress in eradicating poverty.”
While it is valuable to acknowledge that problems remain, it is important to reflect on just how far we’ve come.
The speed of poverty alleviation in the last 25 years has been historically unprecedented. Not only is the proportion of people in poverty at a record low, but, in spite of adding 2 billion to the planet’s population, the overall number of people living in extreme poverty has fallen too.
As Johan Norberg writes in his book Progress, “if you had to choose a society to live in but did not know what your social or economic position would be, you would probably choose the society with the lowest proportion (not the lowest numbers) of poor, because this is the best judgement of the life of an average citizen.” Well, in 1820, 94 percent of the world’s population lived in extreme poverty (less than $1.90 per day adjusted for purchasing power). In 1990 this figure was 34.8 percent, and in 2015, just 9.6 percent.
In the last quarter century, more than 1.25 billion people escaped extreme poverty – that equates to over 138,000 people (i.e., 38,000 more than the Parisian crowd that greeted Father Wresinski in 1987) being lifted out of poverty every day. If it takes you five minutes to read this article, another 480 people will have escaped the shackles of extreme of poverty by the time you finish. Progress is awesome. In 1820, only 60 million people didn’t live in extreme poverty. In 2015, 6.6 billion did not.
To continue reading: The World’s Poorest People Are Getting Richer Faster