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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.

Big Data Diving and US Intergenerational Income Mobility Hold Vital Lessons

Vamsee Kanchi's picture

Patterns of intergenerational income mobility in the United States reveal valuable lessons for economists and policy makers not just in this country, but also for the developing world, where successful efforts to promote shared prosperity and foster create better prospects for youth and children too often meet with frustration.

Raj Chetty, Professor of Economics at Harvard University lectured on this topic recently at the World Bank. For his talk, Chetty drew on recent research by him, Nathaniel Hendren, Patrick Kline and Emmanuel Saez. Chetty and team analyzed anonymous tax records on earnings of 40 million US children and their parents to gauge a child's chances of moving up the income distribution relative to his or her parents.

What Drags Poverty Reduction in South Asia?

Zahid Hussain's picture

Poverty has been a concern in societies even before the beginning of recorded history. In the past three decades extreme poverty in the world has decreased significantly. More than half of population in the developing world lived on less than $1.25 a day in 1981. This has dropped to 21% in 2010. More impressively, notwithstanding a 59% increase in population in developing countries, there were 1.2 people living on less than $1.25 a day in 2010, compared with 1.9 billion decades ago. However, the challenge of poverty reduction ahead remains daunting with 1.2 billion still living in extreme poverty. Freeing the world from poverty is perhaps the most important economic goal for the world today. More than a hundred countries are still not able to move away from high poverty traps.
 

It’s Jobs, Stupid!

Otaviano Canuto's picture

The World Bank has been tracking the world's progress against poverty since the late eighties, but the release of 2008 data was the first time in which all regions of the developing world showed a decline in the number of people living below poverty lines!


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