what is global poverty?
What is global poverty? That thing called poverty – how exactly is it defined? What does it mean to lead an impoverished life? Poverty is much more than just statistics about economies, hunger, and homelessness. Poverty is a state of life, affecting all of humanity.

Poverty is most commonly defined by economic standards, based on income levels and access to basic human necessities, such as food, water, and shelter. Poverty is often described with a scale, ranging from extreme to moderate levels. The internationally agreed-upon measurement of extreme poverty currently lies at $1.25 a day, with the next lowest measure of poverty standing at $2 per day. The geographic breakdown of regions with the highest levels of poverty ranging from worst to best include: Sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia, Pacific East Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean, North Africa and the Middle East, and Europe and Central Asia.


Assessing the Impact: What is Global Poverty?


Poverty has many ties to physical health as well, as the world’s poorest countries consistently demonstrate the lowest life expectancies. The majority of these health problems can be traced back to unsafe drinking water and malnutrition, which causes an estimated 8 million people to die every year in addition to 30,000 children’s deaths per day.

Another problem with poverty is the acts of desperation it drives people to. When humans are deprived of basic life necessities, they are forced to take desperate measures in an effort to change their bleak future. Historically, poverty has proven to be the cause of much violence and conflict and continues to be so today. In many situations human trafficking, the use of child soldiers, and prostitution can all be linked to poverty.

In what is perhaps a testament to the subjective definition of poverty, there are mixed results in reducing poverty levels today. According to data from The Economist, nearly one billion people have been lifted out of chronic poverty over the last two decades. While this initially sounds very positive, one must also consider the huge levels of wealth disparity that have shot up in this same time period, as the poorest 20 percent of the world’s population uses a mere 1.3 percent of global resources in contrast to the richest 20% consuming an approximated 86 percent of the world’s resources.

Poverty can be a controversial subject in modern society, as individuals have different understandings of what it means to be poor and what appropriate solutions to poverty should look like. Skeptics criticize the economic definition of poverty because it fails to factor in quality of life. Rather than focusing on pure economic data, most agree that the definition of poverty must also include political and cultural factors and access to opportunities, education, and healthcare. If there’s one thing that can be agreed on, it would be that poverty is a real problem affecting millions of people around the world today, and poverty is a complex issue with multiple layers.

Allison Meade

Sources: United Nations, World Health Organization, Global Issues, World Bank, ASCD

What Is Global Poverty
Global poverty, at least on first blush, seems to be a rather self-explanatory concept. To be poor, we understand as Americans, is being unable to afford certain necessities. But what it is to be poor, that is, what it is to be unable to afford certain necessities would surely depend on who you are asking. What you consider necessary, such that it would constitute a necessity, would most certainly change your definition of what it means to be poor. So, is global poverty subjective?

Extreme global poverty, as defined by today’s standards, is living on less than $1.25 USD per day. To be considered extremely poor, therefore, would require living on about $450 USD a year or less. Worldwide, there are 1.2 billion people who would “qualify” as living in extreme poverty. But is living on less than a certain amount of money a day all there is to poverty?

The World Bank suggests that poverty is a pronounced and multi-dimensional deprivation in well-being. Rather than placing a number at which one is considered poor or extremely poor, the World Bank definition operates on a holistic approach that takes multiple factors into consideration. For example, communities with inadequate access to health services or education may be considered to be facing the circumstances of poverty, though they live on an amount in excess of the global standard for poverty. Likewise, living with insufficient physical security or certain basic human rights, say freedom of speech, may constitute poverty.

Clearly, what is poverty is not limited to a financial over/under amount, such that it demands a more inclusive, and perhaps malleable, definition. Because understanding what poverty actually is is so fundamental to addressing poverty as an important global issue, however, the United Nations has dedicated both time and resources to better recognizing and defining the many facets of poverty. As a result, the world’s largest multi-governmental organization has developed several working definitions of poverty, including “absolute poverty” and “overall poverty,” while the official United Nations definition of “poverty” is as follows: “Fundamentally, poverty is a denial of choices and opportunities, a violation of human dignity. It means lack of basic capacity to participate effectively in society. It means not having enough to feed and cloth a family, not having a school or clinic to go to, not having the land on which to grow one’s food or a job to earn one’s living, not having access to credit. It means insecurity, powerlessness and exclusion of individuals, households and communities. It means susceptibility to violence, and it often implies living on marginal or fragile environments, without access to clean water or sanitation.”

– Herman Watson

Sources: United Nations, The Global Poverty Project, One Day’s Wages Brookings Institution
Photo: National Geographic