Poverty in Sweden
When discussing global poverty, most tend to think of cases of extreme poverty. However, poverty exists everywhere, even in prosperous countries. Sweden, a Nordic country in Northern Europe known for its progressive politics, is home to a population of 10.3 million. Although Sweden is a relatively wealthy country, 16.2% of its people are at risk of falling into poverty. Here are the top 10 facts about poverty in Sweden.

Top 10 Facts About Poverty in Sweden

  1. As referenced above, Sweden’s “risk of poverty” is defined as meeting the criteria for severe material poverty or low-income standards. Citizens with low-income standards are those whose household income is inadequate to afford necessary living costs. Currently, 6% of Sweden’s population (570,000 people) fall under low-income standards.
  2. In 2016, Statistics Sweden announced that less than 1% of the population in Sweden suffers from severe material poverty. Sweden defines “severe material poverty” by not being able to afford at least four of the following six components: unforeseen expenses, a week’s holiday per year, a meal with meat or fish every other day, satisfactory heating and housing, capital goods and bills.
  3. Since 2015, Sweden’s unemployment rate has declined by more than 0.35% per year. In 2018, the unemployment rate was 6.35%, which was a 0.37% decline from 2017. However, due to COVID-19, unemployment rates grew to 8.2% in Sweden as of April 2020. 
  4. Sweden’s welfare system reduces poverty across the country. Sweden offers a standard minimum income for all its citizens, providing approximately 60% to 70% of the average wage in Sweden. Swedish law additionally ensures all workers earn 25 paid vacation days and 16 public holidays each year.
  5. Sweden offers equality between genders, especially in the workplace. In 2009, The Swedish Discrimination Act required employers to promote equality between men and women and ban workplace harassment. Then in 2016, Sweden updated its parental leave for both parents to have three months of paid leave. Nevertheless, Sweden has room for improvement, as there is still a 10% wage-gap between men and women.
  6. Sweden’s incorporation of equal education opportunities, beyond gender or socioeconomic status, help increase opportunities for Swedish citizens, thus limiting poverty expansion. Sweden’s Education Act protects free education equality for citizens aged 6-19. In 2017, Sweden reported more than 90% of Swedish students received leaving qualifications equivalent to that of a United States high school diploma. 
  7. The free, universal healthcare in Sweden aids the country in fighting poverty. The healthcare system is highly tax-funded, and it ensures all citizens have equal access to substantial health benefits. Sweden’s Health and Medical Service Act protects universal healthcare, and Sweden’s central government oversees it.
  8. The life expectancy of Sweden is one of the highest in the world: 84 years. Municipal taxes primarily fund elderly care in Sweden. Statistics from 2014 show that the total cost of elderly care was SEK 109.2 billion, or more than USD 12.7 billion. Yet, the patients compensated for only 4% of the total cost themselves.
  9. Sweden’s aim for equal opportunities benefits everyone, including the disabled. The Swedish government and parliament authorized several disability policies. The policies cover accessibility regulations for disabled citizens across housing, transportation and employment sectors. 
  10. Although Sweden offers its citizens free education, universal healthcare and a standard minimum income, the country’s taxes are monumentally high. The tax range in Sweden is 29.2% to 35.2%, depending on the citizen’s income, compared to the lowest federal income tax in the United States, which is 10%.

As the Swedish government fixates on opportunities for its citizens, aiming for equality across genders, age and socioeconomic status, the country offers hope to its citizens that they will continue to reduce their poverty statistics.

Kacie Fredrick
Photo: Flickr

Single Motherhood in South Africa
Poverty in South Africa disproportionately affects women, a phenomenon people know as the feminization of poverty. Despite efforts by the South African government to combat severe female poverty and disadvantage, the feminization of South African poverty remains an important issue today. Single motherhood in South Africa is a huge problem because it puts a severe psychological and financial strain on both mothers and children. As of 2015, more than half of the South African population was living under the official poverty line, and homes headed by black African women are at greatest risk of impoverishment.

Despite government efforts to alleviate race-and-gender-skewed poverty with state-sponsored health care, free housing programs and subsidized basic services like water and electricity, poverty in South Africa remains overwhelmingly black and female. Half of South African children grow up in fatherless households, and the number of single mother households in the country has grown over the past several decades. Women must increasingly raise and support children alone, which increases a family’s risk of living under the poverty line.

Single-Mother Households and Poverty

The link between single-mother households and poverty is undeniable, impacting even the world’s most affluent nations. In Europe, single-mother households generally have more than double the poverty rate of two-parent households. Single-parent households are bound to bring in less money than married couples because they only have one source of income. As a result, children living in single-parent homes are three times as likely to be poor as children living with married parents.

South African women earn an average of 28 percent less than men, partly accounting for the disproportionate poverty of female-led households. Women also have a harder time finding jobs than men; almost 30 percent of working-age women are unemployed, compared to 25.2 percent of men. Women are also more likely to work in the informal, unregulated sector or do unpaid work. Other vulnerabilities, like domestic abuse, sexual assault, unwanted pregnancy and HIV prevent South African women from supporting themselves and their families.

There are psychological consequences for children in fatherless households as well as financial strains. Research has found that boys who grow up with absent fathers are more likely to display aggression and other hyper-masculine behaviors, which increases their risk for unhealthy relationships, crime and addiction. Fatherless girls are more likely to engage in high-risk sexual behaviors, experience an unwanted pregnancy or find themselves in an abusive relationship. These consequences propagate the cycle of fatherless homes.

Why is Single Motherhood in South Africa Common?

For almost 50 years, South Africa’s white-supremacist government crystalized systematic inequality on the basis of race through the system of Apartheid. Now, only 25 years into liberation, the South African people still feel these legacies deeply. One of the main contributing factors is the urban-rural divide. Apartheid relegated black South Africans were often in rural homelands far from metropolitan centers and, subsequently, jobs. Thousands of black men had to migrate to cities to find work. They lived in male-only hostels or townships, making low wages and sending money back to their families, who could not leave the homelands to join them.

Some argue that the destruction of the black family structure by the Apartheid regime contributed to patterns of male family-abandonment and neglect. This phenomenon may have had a hand in the recent increase in single-mother households.

Additionally, the vast gap in access to good education, well-paying jobs and respect in society created socio-economic inequalities in South Africa. Black South Africans remain poorly educated, and cyclical, persistent poverty traps many of them, leaving them unable to pull themselves out. In addition, 13 percent of all pregnancies in the country are teen pregnancies, which prevent mothers from finishing school and focusing on a career, resulting in continuous poverty.

The South African government recognizes the scope and seriousness of poverty in single-mother households and has adopted the National Development Plan: Vision 2030 to raise living standards, provide public services and reduce severe poverty and inequality. The policy outlines a plan to invest in education, health services, public transport, housing and social security, as well as welfare policies directed specifically at women and children, like a national nutrition program for pregnant women and a plan to increase women’s enrollment in schools, especially in rural areas. Single motherhood in South Africa is a dangerous phenomenon, and in order to alleviate this problem, women need better access to education, resources and job opportunities.

– Nicollet Laframboise
Photo: Flickr

Five Ways China Beats Poverty
China has made remarkable progress in solving its poverty problems. Between 1986 and 2016, China’s GDP increased from $300.758 million to $11.199 trillion. In 2017, the world’s GDP growth was 2.49 percent, but China’s GDP grew by 6.7 percent. This significant growth is closely related to China’s effective poverty policies. In 2016 alone, the Chinese government lifted 12.4 million people out of poverty.

Five Ways China Beats Poverty

  1. Target individuals in need
    Targeting individuals is one of the ways China beats poverty. In 2012, the first year of President Xi Jinping’s first term, he declared the Chinese poverty issue to be the top task of his presidency. He called it “the baseline task for building a moderately prosperous society,” which will be achieved by 2020.The main approach to achieve this goal is the Minimum Living Allowance Guarantee, or Dibao. Dibao is a program that guarantees every household meets the minimum income level set by local governments. For example, the minimum income level set by the Beijing government was around $162, and the rural minimum income level was $123.Even though this program is controversial because of governmental corruption, it does improve the quality of life in extremely poor households. Between 2013 and 2016, more than 10 million rural people were lifted out of poverty every year, which aids in reaching President Xi’s goal: eliminate poverty by 2020.
  2. Enact comprehensive social development programs
    The second way China beats poverty is by enacting social programs. The Chinese government has implemented many social development programs since 2000, such as nine-year compulsory education. The nine-year Compulsory Education Law was exacted in 1986 with the goal of minimizing illiteracy.Another outstanding social program is the New Rural Social Pension Insurance (NRSP), which was announced in 2009. It was implemented in all counties in 2012, and more than 80 million peasants were covered by this program. This policy stipulates that individuals over 60 years of age can receive pension benefits. The amount is around 10 percent of the average annual income of rural areas in China.This policy targets a wide range of citizens and improves retirement rates, especially for women. The amount given by NRSP is limited, but it has a substantial effect on rural people’s quality of life.
  3. Merge small family fields into cooperatives
    One of President Xi’s strategies to solve poverty in rural areas is merging small family lands into cooperatives. This system pools land by peasants voluntarily giving up their ownership of free land development and becoming shareholders. The peasants then plant commercial crops such as tea to gain more profits. Some local companies invest in these lands and bring more financial benefits to rural areas. This policy solves the problem of deficiency of scattered development and generates a cohesive effect.
  4. Relocate peasants
    Another way China beats poverty is by relocating rural people. People who live in geologically hazardous areas that are prone to landslides and earthquakes, or in remote areas, will be relocated. Approximately 9.81 million people are set to move between 2016 and 2020. This program helps people who are trapped in remote and poor mountain areas and provides them with an opportunity to learn about new ideas and advanced technology.
  5. Develop tourism in villages
    The Chinese government develops tourism in villages by offering experiences based on the community. Visitors can live in local houses and participate in rural activities such as farming and cooking in primary kitchens. One successful example of this program is Lijiang, an old town in Yunnan province. About 15 million visitors come to this town, which generates more than $3 billion in profits every year.

These are five ways China beats poverty, and through these methods the country has seen remarkable progress. Other countries with similar situations can adopt some of these strategies to help solve their own poverty issues.

– Judy Lu

Photo: Flickr

The Poverty Rate In BelgiumBelgium is a country located in western Europe between France and the Netherlands. It became an independent nation from the Netherlands in 1830 and was then controlled by Germany during World War I and II. The foundation of the EU and NATO allowed the country’s capital, Brussels, to become the home for numerous international organizations. The influence of the organizations and membership in the EU and NATO has allowed the poverty rate in Belgium to remain low.

Currently, the poverty rate in Belgium rests at 15 percent. Like many other European nations, Belgium has a high standard of living and per capita income. Belgium consistently ranks among the top nations in the Human Development Index (an index that measures the quality of life in countries). In 2007, Belgium ranked number seven, which was ahead of the country it once was a part of — the Netherlands.

When measured in 1992, 3.7 percent of the population was in the lowest 10 percent of the income bracket. About 9.5 percent were in the lowest 20 percent, 14.6 percent were in the second 20 percent, 18.4 percent were in the third 20 percent and 23 percent were in the fourth 20 percent of income.

The highest 20 percent made up 34.5 percent and the highest 10 percent made up 20.2 percent of income. These statistics indicate the low poverty rate in Belgium and the little income inequality.

Although there is little income inequality in Belgium, 16.7 percent of people under the age of 18 lived in families that fell below the poverty line. Since 2012, the risk of being under the poverty line for people under the age of 18 has decreased considerably. Thanks to numerous social welfare programs, the risk of a person under 18 being under the poverty line in Belgium has fallen from 27 to 15 percent.

The social welfare system is a primary reason for why the poverty rate in Belgium remains low. The country has programs for family allowance, retirement, medical benefits, unemployment insurance and even a program that provides a salary in the event of an illness.

Belgium is a country that has managed to tackle the issues of income inequality and poverty while remaining a small nation. The social welfare system in Belgium in conjunction with its cooperation with the EU and NATO are one of the primary reasons for the success of the country. Thus, countries interested in lowering their poverty rates should follow Belgium’s example.

Nicholas Beauchamp
Photo: Flickr