Where do most of the World’s Poor Live?

In a recently released report. the Center for Global Development argues that there are more poor people in middle-income countries (MICs) than in low-income countries (LICs). The new “bottom billion” (the phrase made famous by economic Paul Collier’s book of the same name) is not only the result of India and China having moved from LIC to MIC status. Indeed, according to the authors of the report, “the proportion of the world’s poor in MICs has still tripled, not only from a range of other countries like Nigeria, Pakistan, Indonesia, but also from some surprising MIC countries such as Sudan, Angola, and Cameroon.” Whereas twenty years ago, more than 90% of the world’s poor lived in LICs, today more than 70% of the world’s poor live in MICs.

Since 2000, over 700 million poor people have “moved” into MICs by way of their countries’ graduating from low-income status (see figure 1). And this is not just about China and India. Even without them, the proportion of the world’s poor in MICs has still tripled, not only from a range of other countries like Nigeria, Pakistan, Indonesia, but also from some surprising MIC countries such as Sudan, Angola, and Cameroon. The total number of LICs has fallen from 63 in 2000 to just 40 in the most recent data (see figure 2), and this trend is likely to continue.3 India and three other countries (Pakistan, Indonesia, and Nigeria) account for much of the total number of the new MIC poor (see figure 3). Among all MICs (new and old), five populous countries are home to 854 million poor people, or two-thirds of the world’s poor. These are Pakistan, India, China, Nigeria, and Indonesia.

One might ask how sensitive the shift is to the thresholds themselves? Of the new MICs, several are very close to the threshold—notably, Lesotho, Nicaragua, Pakistan, Senegal, Vietnam, and Yemen. India is only US$180 per capita per year over the threshold, but it is reasonable to assume that growth in India will continue and keep it out of danger of slipping back. It is important to recognize, however, that a significant number of the new MICs still fall under the threshold for the International Development Association (IDA), the World Bank’s concessionary lending window for poor countries.

The authors argue that this change in the location of the world’s poor carries with it important policy implications. If most of the world’s poor live in MICs, what does that mean for foreign aid and for the economic development policies and goals of rich countries and international organizations alike? Read the report to find their answer. The report, in addition, contains some interesting charts:

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