© 2024 WXPR
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

What's The Meaning Of The World Bank's New Poverty Lines?

According to the World Bank, if you're living on $1.90 a day or less, you're living in extreme poverty.

The 767 million people in that category have $1.90 a day or less in purchasing power to fulfill their daily needs.

Most of that money goes for food – only it may not be enough to purchase nutritious food or to stave off hunger. Hundreds of millions of the extreme poor are malnourished.

Their housing may be of low quality. And they may not have enough money for school fees (primary education isn't always free) or health-care expenses.

Millions of the extremely poor live in the world's low-income countries. But here's a surprising fact: Well over half of the extremely poor live in middle income countries like India, Nigeria and China.

And here's another point to consider: You can have more than $1.90 a day to spend on the basic necessities and still live in relative poverty.

As the World Bank puts it in a poverty FAQ: "Not surprisingly, richer countries tend to have higher poverty lines, while poorer countries have lower poverty lines."

That's why the World Bank has come up with two new "poverty line" figures for the world's middle-income countries: $3.20 a day for lower middle income nations (like Egypt, India and the Philippines) and $5.50 a day for upper middle income nations (like Brazil, Jamaica and South Africa).

The idea is that the new numbers offer a better way to measure poverty in middle-income countries.

"These new numbers are closer to the individual country's national poverty lines," says Homi Kharas, senior fellow and co-director of the Global Economy and Development Program at the Brookings Institution.

They represent a "fixed benchmark to judge whether poverty is going up or going down in the world" – and for middle-income countries to see how they're doing.

Of course, it's natural to be a bit befuddled about the meaning of these new figures.

"The challenge the World Bank has is to make sure people don't get confused," says Kharas.

In a nutshell, there's extreme poverty ... and just plain poverty.

"If you're living in shantytown slums around Lima with no basic services and scraping to get basic subsistence, you would say, 'Yeah, I'm poor,' — even though the World Bank might measure your income at $4 a day," says Justin Sandefur, a senior fellow at the Center for Global Development.

He also notes that "there almost isn't anyone in middle-income countries as poor as the most people in Ethiopia."

As for efforts to help the world's extreme poor — there's good news on that front.

Between 1990 and 2013, the number of people living on $1.90 a day or less has been cut roughly in half. The United Nations has committed to ending extreme poverty as one of its Sustainable Development Goals, an ambitious set of 17 targets for the world to reach by 2030.

But that doesn't mean poverty will vanish. The new poverty line numbers serve as a reminder, says Sandefur, that even though extreme poverty is declining, "we still have deep, intractable pockets of poverty in many countries."

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Marc Silver
Marc Silver, who edits NPR's global health blog, has been a reporter and editor for the Baltimore Jewish Times, U.S. News & World Report and National Geographic. He is the author of Breast Cancer Husband: How to Help Your Wife (and Yourself) During Diagnosis, Treatment and Beyond and co-author, with his daughter, Maya Silver, of My Parent Has Cancer and It Really Sucks: Real-Life Advice From Real-Life Teens. The NPR story he co-wrote with Rebecca Davis and Viola Kosome -- 'No Sex For Fish' — won a Sigma Delta Chi award for online reporting from the Society of Professional Journalists.
Malaka Gharib is the deputy editor and digital strategist on NPR's global health and development team. She covers topics such as the refugee crisis, gender equality and women's health. Her work as part of NPR's reporting teams has been recognized with two Gracie Awards: in 2019 for How To Raise A Human, a series on global parenting, and in 2015 for #15Girls, a series that profiled teen girls around the world.
Up North Updates
* indicates required