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 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.
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.
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.
On October 8, President Mohamed Morsi issued a decree pardoning all ‘Arab Spring’ political prisoners. While the decree, if implemented, marks a milestone in Egypt’s hard-fought 21-month-long revolution, the quotient of inequality that contributed to setting it off still remains.
From the Arab Spring to Occupy Wall Street, inequality has risen to the top of social agenda. However, our measures of inequality are often limited to final outcomes, such as income, wealth, and educational achievement, which do not distinguish between the impact on inequality of personal responsibility and that stemming from factors beyond the scope of individual responsibility.
One is always grateful to see attention paid to the quality and quantity of household data available to study poverty. It is a subject dear to my heart and to my colleagues in the Living Standards Measurement Study (LSMS ) in the World Bank. In sub-Saharan Africa, as a recent Global Dashboard post titled “What do we really know about poverty and inequality?” by Claire Melamed points out, there is still a dearth of data, even after years of government effort and international support. But there are data -- in some countries lots of data -- so it’s worth highlighting what is there. Today I wanted to add some nuance to the discussion of income and assets raised by Claire and, probably more importantly, steer people to some new data that will, we hope, excite the most blasé of you out there.