Each day, millions of people around the world face the daily struggle of poverty, which often means making tough decisions on things that can have big consequences — like choosing between food or health care, or work and child care.
The United Nations (UN) has set a bold objective of ending systemic poverty within our lifetime with the introduction of “The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development” — an urgent initiative adopted by all 193 UN member states to meet 17 intersectional goals that aim together to address extreme poverty in all its forms.
World leaders gathered at the UN headquarters in 2015 to address this disparity and set 17 Global Goals, including Goal 1: No Poverty, which aims to "end poverty in all its forms everywhere."
For three decades, poverty rates around the world were declining, but that trend ended in 2020 when the COVID-19 pandemic caused massive disruption — and the cost of the pandemic was highest for the world's poorest.
As part of the overall mission to end poverty, the 17 Global Goals provide a roadmap to help end hunger, achieve gender equality, ensure health care for all, protect biodiversity, restore the world’s oceans, and much more. Achieving these goals requires international participation like never before — for poverty to be eradicated in our lifetime, governments, civil society groups, businesses, and individuals must work together.
But with fewer than 10 years left to meet the UN's critical deadline, here is everything you need to know about poverty and how the world can take action to eradicate it.
What Is Poverty?
Poverty is a deeply complex issue rooted in oppression and systems that deny communities full access to dignity and resources that could help them thrive. Because of this, there is no single poverty definition, but its impacts are far reaching and impact millions of people around the world.
Poverty affects every aspect of a person’s life and holds back human potential. Eliminating extreme poverty by 2030 is the United Nations’ number one goal for sustainable development.
The 3 Biggest Facts About Poverty That You Should Know
- Nearly half the world’s population live below the poverty line, according to the World Bank.
- Children and youth account for two-thirds of the world’s poor, as highlighted by World Vision.
- Ending extreme poverty by 2030 is the United Nations’ number one goal.
What Is Multidimensional Poverty?
While most countries define poverty solely in terms of money, people experiencing poverty perceive it as a much broader experience.
Multidimensional poverty is the concept that poverty is more than just income, and also includes — but is not limited to — education, health, living standards, access to basic services, social inclusion, and empowerment.
According to a 2022 UN Development Programme report, when considering multidimensional aspects, it is estimated that 1.2 billion people across 111 developing countries experience multidimensional poverty.
Living in poverty often entails facing multiple disadvantages simultaneously, such as poor health, malnutrition, lack of clean water or electricity, low-quality employment, or limited access to education.
Simply concentrating on a single factor, like income, fails to capture the full reality of poverty.
What Is the Difference Between Poverty and Extreme Poverty?
Extreme poverty is defined as living on less than the International Poverty Line (IPL) of $2.15 per day. The IPL reflects the median of poverty lines in low-income countries. There are about 648 million people, or 8% of the global population, living in extreme poverty, according to the World Bank.
There are two further poverty lines that the World Bank also reports on, which are higher and help monitor poverty as countries grow and living standards improve. These are currently at $3.65 and $6.85, reflecting poverty lines among lower-middle-income and upper-middle-income countries respectively.
The poverty lines represent a specific income level below which it becomes difficult, even impossible, for people to afford essentials like food and shelter. Each country establishes its own poverty line by assessing the cost of meeting minimum needs. Households with incomes below this line are classified as living in poverty.
The international poverty line is used to assess global poverty levels and gauge how international crises affect vulnerable communities.
Yet there is no single cause of extreme poverty because many factors play a role. Rampant discrimination, gender inequality, lack of education, and conflict and crisis can all limit access to infrastructure, services, and information that help provide basic needs, which in turn traps individuals and families in a cycle of poverty.
Who Is Most Affected by Poverty?
Poverty affects various groups of people, disproportionately impacting certain demographics and historically marginalized communities, like children and women.
Lack of access to adequate nutrition, health care, education, and safe living conditions can have long-lasting consequences on development and future opportunities for these groups.
Children are more likely to live in poverty than adults and they’re also more vulnerable to its effects. About 1 billion children worldwide are multidimensionally poor, meaning they lack basic necessities like nutrition or clean water. A further 150 million children have been plunged into multidimensional poverty due to COVID-19.
As a result of barriers in education, employment, and/or property ownership, women are more likely to experience poverty than men.
How Can We End Global Poverty?
Ending poverty is a complex issue, especially in fragile countries facing conflict and crisis. As we’ve seen in the last few years, even when we see progress in ending poverty, these gains are fragile and can always reverse.
The COVID-19 crisis caused the biggest setback to poverty reduction in decades, with countries still recovering from its ongoing impacts.
Ending poverty is not just about raising a person’s income, but also their access to things like water, health, education, housing, and security. Bringing everyone above the extreme poverty line of $2.15 a day is only the first step.
Together, we can make progress towards a world free from poverty and ensure that every individual has the chance to thrive and reach their full potential.
By working together and taking action, including taking action with Global Citizen, we can create a world where everyone has access to the resources and opportunities they need to live a dignified life.
By empowering communities, ensuring equal access to education and health care, promoting inclusive economic growth, combating the climate emergency and its impacts, and addressing the systemic barriers that perpetuate poverty, we can end poverty around the world. Get started taking action in the mission to end poverty today.