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The Big News on Poverty
Last week, the World Bank reported some very big news. The percentage of the world’s population living on less than $1.25 a day (the global poverty line) fell from 43 percent in 1990 to 22 percent in 2008. According to the Bank, preliminary figures indicate that in 2010, poverty fell to less than half of its 1990 level. This means the world has met the U.N. Millennium Development Goal (MDG) of reducing income poverty by half—five years ahead of the 2015 deadline.
Following quickly on the heels of this announcement, UNICEF reported yesterday that a key part of another Millennium Development Goal has been met—also five years ahead of the deadline. Since 1990, more than 2 billion people have gained access to safe drinking water. The sanitation component of this MDG lags behind, but it’s truly great news that 2 billion people no longer have to rely on contaminated water.
One of the ready rejoinders to dampen any good news on global development has been, “Isn’t this mostly about China?” Well, yes and no. China and India—the other rapidly- growing population giant—are a big piece of the news, but the development narrative is getting broader. From 2005-2008, for example, poverty rates fell in every region of the world. That is the first time this has occurred over a three-year monitoring cycle since the Bank started tracking poverty – even though this cycle overlapped with a period of severe economic shocks caused by high energy and food prices.
It’s energizing that progress against global poverty is happening rapidly. Unfortunately, as we turn our attention to the United States the latest news is dismal. According to a recent report by the National Poverty Center at the University of Michigan, an estimated 1.46 million U.S. households lived on income of less than $2 per person, per day in 2011. There were 2.8 million children in those households. Given the cost of living anywhere in this country, what is it like for a family of three to try to survive on cash income of $180 a month?
Catch your breath for a second, because there is a silver lining of sorts. The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly known as the Food Stamp Program, essentially reduced the number of children living on $2 per day by half.
Stacey Dean of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities explained in a blog post yesterday why SNAP, more than other anti-poverty programs, makes such a difference to people in extreme poverty: “One reason that SNAP is so effective in fighting poverty is that it is focused overwhelmingly on the poor. Roughly 93 percent of SNAP benefits go to households below the poverty line, and 55 percent go to households below half of the poverty line (about $9,300 for a family of three). One in five SNAP households lives on cash income of less than $2 per person a day.”
I wish the news from the United States were better. I’ll have more to say in future posts about the incongruities between what’s happening at home and elsewhere in the world.
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