What is extreme poverty?

How the world measures the poorest of the poor.

The World Bank defines “extreme poverty” as living on $1.25 or less a day. The good news: That rate has been halved since 1990. An estimated 21 percent of people in the developing world live at or below the $1.25-per-day threshold, down from 43 percent in 1990 and 52 percent in 1981.

That means the United Nations met one of its key Millennium Development Goals—ahead of schedule. The bad news is that more than 1 billion people still live in extreme poverty, and twice that many live on less than $2 a day.

Why is extreme poverty declining?

China’s phenomenal economic growth accounts for most of the progress. Between 1981 and 2010, China raised 680 million of its people above the extreme poverty line. The total for the rest of the developing world was only 43 million. Today, according to the World Bank, three-quarters of the globe’s extremely poor population lives in either Southeast Asia or sub-Saharan Africa.

Where is extreme poverty worst?

Sub-Saharan Africa is still by far the world’s poorest region. Though the percentage of extremely poor people there has dropped, population increases mean that the number of extremely poor people has risen in recent years, according to the World Bank. There are about 414 million extremely poor Africans today, compared with 205 million three decades ago.

A resident takes off a load from his back after a day's work in Devland, South Africa. (Photo: Sowetan/Getty Images)

Meanwhile, even as poverty is being reduced, income inequality is growing around the world.

Can we eliminate extreme poverty?

The next round of U.N.-sponsored international goals is expected to include the complete eradication of extreme poverty. Continuing economic growth in the developing world and improving technologies that make it easier to identify poor individuals and target programs to them will help get us there. But it won’t be easy. The remaining poor are the hardest to reach; many of them live in failing states or remote areas.

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