A casual reader might be forgiven for being confused by the global conversation around poverty and inequality these days. On the one hand, there is relentless talk about rising inequality, and the ever-larger income shares captured by the top 1%. In the United States, this trend – which is very pronounced – is accompanied by falling wages at the bottom of the distribution, at least according to Figure 4 here. This seems to confirm the timeless adage that the rich are getting richer, while the poor keep getting poorer.
- shared prosperity
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.
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As we worked on a new World Bank flagship report that provides the latest and most accurate estimates on trends in global poverty and shared prosperity, it became apparent as to what we wanted for the title - Poverty and Shared Prosperity 2016: Taking on Inequality.
Because in our minds it became clear that inequality is becoming increasingly critical to meeting the World Bank’s goals of ending poverty and sharing prosperity. In fact, we find that tackling inequality will make or break the goal of ending poverty by 2030.
Figure 1: Poverty and inequality in rural China
This is a key message in the Global Monitoring Report 2015/2016 – Development Goals in an Era of Demographic Change, recently issued by the World Bank and the IMF. The countries in this category are labeled “pre-dividend,” (see Figure 1); two thirds of the world’s countries most affected by fragility, conflict and violence belong to this group.
Figure 1. Global Monitoring Report Demographic Country Typology: Pre-dividend countries.
Achieving shared prosperity, one of the World Bank’s twin-goals, isn’t just a middle-income country’s preoccupation. It has a special resonance in Tanzania, a US$1,000 per capita economy in East Africa.
Tanzania has seen remarkable economic growth and strong resilience to external shocks over the last decade. GDP grew at an annualized rate of approximately 7 percent. Yet, this achievement was overshadowed by the slow response of poverty to the growing economy. The poverty rate has remained stagnant at around 34 percent until 2007 and started a slow decline of about one percentage point per year, attaining 28.2 percent in 2012. To date, around 12 million Tanzanians continue to live in poverty, unable to meet their basic consumption needs, and more than 70 percent of the population still lives on less than US$2 per day. Promoting the participation of the poor in the growth process and improving their living standards remains a daunting challenge.