Report: Millions leave poverty, but not for the middle class

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NEW YORK (Gulf News): The dramatic lurch of hundreds of millions of people from poverty since the millennium began has not resulted in a truly global middle class, a new report says.

Instead, the improvement in living conditions for almost 700 million people has been a step forward from the desperate existence of $2 or less a day into a low-income world of living on $2 to $10 daily, the Pew Research Center says.

Its report, released Wednesday, looks at changes in income for more than 110 countries between 2001 and 2011, the latest that data for such a large range of countries was available.

The report comes just two days after the United Nations announced success in key development goals adopted by world leaders at the start of the millennium, including the lifting of more than one billion people out of extreme poverty.

Also worth noting: Europe and North America’s global share of the upper-middle income population fell from 76 per cent to 63 per cent by 2011 as the Asia-South Pacific region got richer. Africa remained the poorest region, with 92 per cent of its population either poor or low-income by 2011, and in Cote d’Ivoire, Kenya, Madagascar and Zambia, “poverty actually increased significantly.”

For years, reaching middle class has been held out as a goal for people in a growing number of countries. China’s rise in particular, with 203 million people there moving into a middle-income life over the decade starting in 2001, has resulted in what the report calls a “pivot to the east.”

More than half of the world’s middle-class population was living in the Asia and South Pacific region by 2011. That’s a jump from 31 per cent to 51 per cent in a decade. Largely because of Asia, the report says the world’s middle-income population nearly doubled over that time, from 399 million to 784 million.

But the gains are hardly seen everywhere. The report shows that while commodity-rich South America and a strengthening Eastern Europe, including Russia, also made strides into the middle class, Africa, India and many parts of Asia have yet to do the same.

The Pew report calls its overall findings “the uneven geography of the emerging middle class.”

The poverty rate for India, Asia’s other population giant, fell from 35 per cent to 20 per cent over the report’s period, but its middle class only grew from 1 per cent to 3 per cent. The report notes that India’s economic reforms began in 1991, 13 years after China, though the scope and pace of the countries’ reforms have varied.

South America almost reached the point where half of its population is at or above middle-income, at 47 per cent.

And despite China’s rise, more than three-fourths of its people were still poor or low-income. The only other countries seeing a significant shift into the middle class, where the poverty rate fell by at least 15 per cent and the middle-income population grew by at least 10 per cent, were Bhutan, Moldova, Ecuador, Argentina and Kazakhstan.

Among countries with a large number of high-income people, or those living on more than $50 a day, the United States stood out from its Western peers by slipping as its economy stalled. Its high-income population actually edged down, from 58 per cent in 2001 to 56 per cent in 2011.

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