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Poverty, its consequences, and how to fight it

In 2015, 25% of the world’s population lived on less than US$3.10 per day. Called the “global” poor, no matter where they live they have the same purchasing power based on the minimum nutritional requirements for good health. But, how is poverty defined in absolute and relative terms? And how does being poor and feeling poor compared with your peers affect your well-being, happiness, and mental health? How are factors such as unemployment, retirement, and single parenthood associated with persistent poverty and how can vulnerable people like women and the elderly be protected from it?

What can policymakers do to reduce poverty?
Increasing the minimum wage is expected to help fight poverty as part of a wider poverty reduction package, but other tools such as earned income tax credits might be better suited. But, what role do means-tested, pro-work cash assistance programs, and negative income tax schemes play in delivering income to the working poor? How can higher education protect against persistent poverty? And can the integration of productive inclusion programs into existing social assistance systems lead to substantial and long-term poverty reduction?

  • Men without work: A global well-being and ill-being comparison

    The number of prime-age males outside the labor force is increasing worldwide, with worrying results

    Carol GrahamSergio Pinto, October 2019
    The global economy is full of progress paradoxes. Improvements in technology, reducing poverty, and increasing life expectancy coexist with persistent poverty in the poorest countries and increasing inequality and unhappiness in many wealthy ones. A key driver of the latter is the decline in the status and wages of low-skilled labor, with an increasing percentage of prime-aged men (and to a lesser extent women) simply dropping out of the labor force. The trend is starkest in the US, though frustration in this same cohort is also prevalent in Europe, and it is reflected in voting patterns in both contexts.
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  • Self-employment and poverty in developing countries Updated

    The right policies can help the self-employed to boost their earnings above the poverty level and earn more for the work they do

    Gary S. Fields, March 2019
    A key way for the world’s poor to escape poverty is to earn more for their labor. Most of the world’s poor people are self-employed, but because there are few opportunities in most developing countries for them to earn enough to escape poverty, they are working hard but working poor. Two key policy planks in the fight against poverty should be: raising the returns to self-employment and creating more opportunities to move from self-employment into higher paying wage employment.
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  • Does increasing the minimum wage reduce poverty in developing countries? Updated

    Whether raising minimum wages reduces—or increases—poverty depends on the characteristics of the labor market

    T. H. Gindling, November 2018
    Raising the minimum wage in developing countries could increase or decrease poverty, depending on labor market characteristics. Minimum wages target formal sector workers—a minority in most developing countries—many of whom do not live in poor households. Whether raising minimum wages reduces poverty depends not only on whether formal sector workers lose jobs as a result, but also on whether low-wage workers live in poor households, how widely minimum wages are enforced, how minimum wages affect informal workers, and whether social safety nets are in place.
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  • Female poverty and intrahousehold inequality in transition economies

    An unequal distribution of resources within the family is a special concern for female poverty

    Luca Piccoli, March 2017
    Transition to a market economy is accompanied by a period of greater economic uncertainty. Women are likely to suffer substantial disadvantages from this uncertainty compared to men as they are, for example, more likely to lose their job. This not only implies a monetary loss for the entire family, but also degrades female bargaining power within the household, possibly further aggravating their well-being. When intra-household inequality—an unequal distribution of resources among family members—exists, female poverty might be significantly larger than what can be deduced using standard household based poverty measures.
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  • What can be expected from productive inclusion programs?

    Grants and training programs are great complements to social assistance to help people out of poverty

    Jamele Rigolini, October 2016
    Productive inclusion programs provide an integrated package of services, such as grants and training, to promote self-employment and wage employment among the poor. They show promising long-term impacts, and are often proposed as a way to graduate the poor out of social assistance. Nevertheless, neither productive inclusion nor social assistance will be able to solve the broader poverty challenge independently. Rather, the future is in integrating productive inclusion into the existing social assistance system, though this poses several design, coordination, and implementation challenges.
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  • Trade liberalization and poverty reduction

    Trade can reduce poverty when accompanied by appropriate policies and institutions

    Devashish Mitra, June 2016
    Economic growth is essential, though not sufficient, for poverty reduction in developing countries. Research based on many different approaches and including both cross-
country and intra-country studies shows that international trade can contribute to economic growth, and thus can help many poor people escape poverty. However, the domestic environment has to be conducive to realizing the poverty-reduction benefits of increased trade. Complementary domestic policies and institutions needed include regulations that foster labor mobility, adequate financial development, and good public infrastructure.
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