International Day for the Eradication of Poverty

October 17, 2020
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This day has been observed annually since October 1, 1987. On that day, it was proclaimed that poverty is a violation of human rights and there is a need to come together to ensure that these rights are respected.  A commemorative stone was unveiled on this day, at the Trocadéro in Paris, to show commitment and solidarity with the poor. All member states of the United Nations are to devote the day to presenting and promoting, as appropriate in the national context, concrete activities concerning the eradication of poverty and destitution.

In a world where the top 1% (i.e. those with more than $1 million) own more than 44% of the world’s wealth, poverty becomes an issue of moral concern. Millionaires hold nearly half of the world’s total wealth. There are a total of 46.8 million millionaires worldwide, according to The Credit Suisse Global Wealth Report, and they collectively own approximately $158.3 trillion. In 2019, the number of millionaires worldwide rose by 1.1 million. The United States alone added 675,000 new millionaires.  Though these statistics are highly alarming, global inequality fell during the first part of this century. The bottom 90% which accounted for 11% of global wealth in 2000 increased to 18%. Nonetheless, the bottom 50% of wealth holders account for less than 1% of total global wealth. 

As countries recovered from the global financial crisis, inequalities grew. 

Are the top 1% responsible for the extreme economic inequalities we see today? 

The rich may or may not have an obligation to help the poor, but we must help each other. In a community where there are huge gaps in access to basic needs or standard of living, poverty can lead to crime and other social vices. As the rich and poor dwell in the same communities, helping the poor is a more sustainable step to take. Also, in a democratic society,  the government has an obligation to tax the rich to keep communities safe and provide equitable access to food, shelter, and health care. As humans are naturally selfish- a study conducted by the University of Pennsylvania researchers Alexander Stewart and Prof Joshua Plotkin - they choose to get the greater benefit for themselves. Hence the need for governments to implement policies and laws that protect the poor.

Extreme poverty remains endemic in low-income and conflict-affected countries, many of which are in Sub-Saharan Africa. Among the top 15 countries that face extreme poverty, 7 of them are in Africa. 4 of these 15 countries eliminated extreme poverty by 2015, but none of these 4 were African countries. 

What has been done to help eradicate poverty?

One of the pathways to eradicating poverty is job creation. Many countries across the world have invested in job creation strategies to rebuild infrastructure, revitalise neighbourhoods,  and reduce unemployment rates. Notable national strategies include that of Ghana’s Planting for Food and Jobs.

Also, raising the minimum wage. In the United States, though the minimum wage varies across the different states, the average minimum wage a worker earns, was $11.80 as of May 2019. States like Washington DC pay more (i.e. $14/hour) and others like Alaska pay less (i.e. $9.89 to $10.19)- with many factors under consideration. According to several members of congress, this increase in the minimum wage will lift more than 4 million Americans out of poverty. 

Additionally, investing in affordable high-quality child care and early education is a major barrier to reaching the middle class. In Austria,  parents can enrol their child in kindergarten through the local council from age five for free.  Austrian residents also receive a child care allowance to assist with the cost of childcare. Such policies can help struggling families improve the future economic mobility of their children. 

What needs to be done?

Poverty is not inevitable. Governments need to build the needed policies that will increase economic security, expand opportunities that will help struggling families escape the poverty line. Individual initiatives to help fight this global problem can also be helpful. Since poverty is different in different countries and communities, you can research to understand poverty from the people who face it. This way, better strategies can be built to address the problem better. Also, it is better to facilitate collective and organised actions to help strengthen and empower a group of people in poverty as compared to helping one person. 

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