Here’s an amazing fact: The number of people in extreme poverty fell by 114 million from 2012 to 2013.
That is a simply massive one-year decline, and it’s not even the biggest drop in recent years. From 2010 to 2011, global poverty fell by 132 million people. From 2008 to 2013, the number fell by an average of 88 million people per year. If that rate of progress keeps up, global poverty will be eliminated in less than a decade.
These numbers come from a new World Bank report, which, while recognizing what a massive achievement this is, argues that the pace of progress will likely slow down.
There are a couple of reasons for that. A major one is that much of the poverty reduction in the past couple of decades has happened in East Asia, while progress has been slower in sub-Saharan Africa. The result is that while a narrow majority of poor people in 1990 lived in East Asia, now fewer than 10 percent do, and a majority live in sub-Saharan Africa. If that region continues to lag on poverty reduction, we should expect the rate of progress to fall.
But the bigger problem is one that’s become all too familiar to developed countries: inequality. If developing countries figure out how to redistribute income effectively and share the benefits of growth with poor populations, then there’s no reason progress should slow down. Eliminating poverty by 2030 should be totally doable. But if, as in rich countries, inequality is allowed to increase, eliminating extreme poverty becomes that much more challenging.