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The 2017 global poverty update from the World Bank

Francisco Ferreira's picture
This year’s global poverty update from the World Bank is a minor one. Until reference year 2008, the World Bank published new poverty estimates every three years, and between 2010 and 2013 we released new numbers every year (see here).

A richer array of international poverty lines

Francisco Ferreira's picture

Is poverty absolute or relative? When we think of (one-dimensional) income poverty, should we define the threshold that separates the poor from the non-poor as the cost of purchasing a fixed basket of goods and services that allows people to meet their basic needs?  Or should we instead think of it as relative deprivation: as earning or consuming less than some given proportion of the country’s average living standard?

Equality of opportunity for what?

Daniel Mahler's picture

Equality of opportunity is a popular policy objective around the world. It is deeply embodied in the American Dream and has resonated with politicians ranging from Margaret Thatcher to Nelson Mandela. It is also connected to the World Bank’s goal of shared prosperity; individuals with low opportunities should have a chance of growing and prospering in life.

The income of the world’s poor is going up, but they’re $1 trillion poorer. What’s going on?

Duncan Green's picture

Oxfam number cruncher Deborah Hardoon tries to get her head round something weird – according to the stats, the poorest half of the world is getting poorer even though the incomes of these people are rising.

It has become something of a tradition that in January every year we take a look at the Forbes list of billionaires and the Credit Suisse Global Wealth databook and calculate how many billionaires it takes to have the same amount of wealth as the bottom 50% of the planet. Since we started doing these calculations, we have watched the wealth of the top grow at the same time as the wealth of the bottom 50% has fallen. The data tells us that the bottom 50% have approximately $1 trillion (that’s $1,000 billion) less wealth than they did 5 years ago, whilst the richest 62 have about $0.5 trillion more.

The extremely wealthy are able to accumulate more wealth in a day than a whole factory full of workers could earn in a year. On 21stApril, in a 24 hour period, Carlos Slim made more than $400 million. Thomas Piketty famously points out that the rate of return on capital is higher than the general growth rate, such that capital owners are at a distinct economic advantage.

Meanwhile those 3.6 billion people in the bottom 50% include people in debt, people with nothing and people with a net wealth of up to about $5,000. People with little, no, or negative wealth, especially in developing countries with poor social insurance mechanisms (four out of five people in the bottom 50% live in Africa or Asia – including China and India), will not only find it hard to respond to financial shocks – like a poor harvest or a medical bill, but will also find it much harder to invest in their families’ future. Having little wealth may be concerning, but having less and less wealth year to year is even more worrying.

Does child sponsorship pay off in adulthood?

Paul Glewwe's picture
An International Study of Impacts on Income and Wealth

International child sponsorship has long been a common way for people in industrialized countries to connect with the poor in developing countries. We estimate that there are at least 9 million internationally sponsored children today, which means that there may be up to 100 million people today in families that are directly affected by child sponsorship (9 million sponsored children and their family members, and 9 million sponsors and their family members)  Sponsorship typically involves payments of $30-$40 per month to an NGO to help support an overseas child's schooling, health, and other needs.  Some faith-based programs also place a strong emphasis on the spiritual mentorship of sponsored children.  But the question remains--does it work? Our research shows that sponsorship translates to higher education levels and future earnings for formerly sponsored children.

The things we do: The connection between sleep and poverty

Roxanne Bauer's picture

It’s well-established that a lack of sleep can impair cognitive function and lead to adverse physical outcomes. But is it possible that a lack of sleep can also explain social issues, like poverty? 

YA woman naps on a hand cart, used for hauling goods around the crowded streets of Mumbaiou’ve probably heard the saying, “Work, play, sleep: pick two.” 
 
Unfortunately, as human beings, we cannot do everything.  Turns out, in this constant negotiation, many more people should be picking sleep over work or play. 

Researchers have demonstrated that, for most people, sleeping less than six hours a night results in cognitive impairment and a host of other health problems, including increased risk for Type II diabetes and cardiovascular disease. These diseases are also more common among the poor, which leads to some obvious questions: Does poor sleep lead to health problems and lower earnings?  Or is it the other way around- that poor health and lower earnings result in poor sleep?  Can a lack of sleep explain the income gap?

Freakonomics recently published a two-part podcast on the topic of sleep and how it may affect not just health outcomes, but also the financial outcomes for people.  It begins by discussing the puzzle over whether poverty leads to poor sleep (environmental factors, the stress of poverty, or the need to work more than one job may interfere with regular sleep) or whether poor sleep leads to poverty (the impaired cognition that results from insufficient sleep keeps us from earning our full potential).

How to narrow the gap between the rich and poor in Malaysia?

Frederico Gil Sander's picture

If you could make one New Year’s wish for your country, what would it be?

For many Malaysians, Prime Minister Najib Razak’s wish for “a safer, more prosperous, and more equal society” likely resonated with their hopes for 2015.

Malaysians appear to be increasingly concerned about income inequality. According to a 2014 Pew Global survey, 77% of Malaysians think that the gap between the rich and poor is a big problem. The government has acknowledged that inequality remains high, and that tackling these disparities will be Malaysia’s “biggest challenge” in becoming a high-income nation.

How can Malaysia narrow the gap between the rich and poor? Global experience suggests two possible levers to achieve a more equitable income distribution.

Inequality and Africa’s IDA Middle Income Trap

Ravi Kanbur's picture



Inequality is of concern for at least three reasons. First, lower inequality per se is an objective for a decent society. Second, lower inequality improves the efficiency of economic growth in achieving poverty reduction. Third, high inequality impedes growth itself, through its impact on social cohesion and the investment climate.

When Good Is Not Good Enough for 40 Million Tanzanians

Jacques Morisset's picture

Laborer working on an irrigation project. TanzaniaTanzania has undoubtedly performed well over the past decade, with growth that has averaged approximately 7% per year, thanks to the emergence of a few strategic areas such as communication, finance, construction and transport. However, this remarkable performance may not be enough to provide a sufficient number of decent or productive jobs to a fast-growing population that will double in the next 15 years. With a current workforce of about 20 million workers and an official unemployment rate of only 2%, the challenge for Tanzanians clearly does not lie with securing a job. Rather, it is to secure a job with decent earnings.

When Good Is Not Good Enough For 40 Million Tanzanians

Jacques Morisset's picture
When Good Is Not Good Enough For 40 Million Tanzanians  @ Paul Scott


Tanzania has undoubtedly performed well over the past decade, with growth that has averaged approximately 7% per year, thanks to the emergence of a few strategic areas such as communication, finance, construction, and transport. However, this remarkable performance may not be enough to provide a sufficient number of decent or productive jobs to a fast-growing population that will double in the next 15 years. With a current workforce of about 20 million workers and an unemployment rate of only 2%, the challenge for Tanzanians clearly does not lie with securing a job. Rather, it is to secure a job with decent earnings.


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