This blog post is an excerpt from the book Uplift and Empower: A Guide to Understanding Extreme Poverty and Poverty Alleviation.
Eradicating extreme poverty will require a fundamental shift in paradigms and a reconsideration of the way we view and interact with low-income countries, communities, and individuals. In fact, calling people living in poverty “the poor” is an example of this which is why, for the rest of my work, I will be referring to “the poor” with names: Robin, Drew, Taylor, and Cameron.
My intention with the names is to humanize poverty and provide a sense of similarity. I purposefully chose gender neutral names popular in the United States in the hopes you may even know someone or recognize a prominent figure with the same name.
Rather than thinking of low-income individuals in the abstract sense as a distant part of human life, with names people can begin to consider the roles these people play in their communities. A Robin is as much of a family relative, community member, leader, role model, and friend as a Drew, Taylor, or Cameron.
Instead of pitting the “developed” world against the “developing” world, these names represent the four income levels used to describe the world. This practice of dividing the world into four income levels was introduced by Hans Rosling, a Swedish physician and academic who co-authored the award-winning book Factfulness. Now, not only does Rosling use this model, but so do Bill Gates and the World Bank.
The reasoning behind the idea is to move away from the outdated and nebulous titles of “developing” and “developed.” A planet with over seven billion people in it living at various levels of income and comfort shouldn’t be described by two vague categories.
Instead, the world is categorized by income level. This gives a more accurate picture than simply saying “rich” or “poor.” With levels, every dollar counts. In particular, the four income levels divide the world based on gross national income per capita because GNI measures all of the money businesses and people in a country earn as income.Business Insider created a helpful summary of the system I will use to describe the levels, in addition to their corresponding names, along with information shared by Gapminder, an organization focused on fighting misconceptions about global development founded by Hans Rosling and his children. Any time I use the phrase “the poor” from now on, it will be in quotes to indicate I am using it in reference to someone else’s ideas and wording.
Level 1 is the income level most relevant to this work…
[For a full breakdown of the income levels and their corresponding names, read chapter three of Uplift and Empower!]
The four major income levels are a helpful way to contextualize the differences between relative and absolute poverty. Relative poverty, in this context, would be represented by the difference between Drews, Taylors, and Camerons. Though their income levels differ, their basic needs are met for the most part. Maybe Drews and Taylors, depending on where you are from, would not be considered middle class, but they are not as low-income as Robins. Their children can attend schools and receive vaccinations and they can travel abroad for vacation.
Relative poverty explains why a person living at the poverty line in the United States is considered to be part of the richest 14 percent of the world’s population and explains why, from a Cameron’s perspective, Robins, Drews, and Taylors look equally poor. It also explains why it matters there are millionaires while people are living in abject poverty—especially in the context of a world where people are easily able to compare their ways of living to others.
In contrast, the world’s Robins live in absolute poverty. Each day is a struggle for survival met with vast uncertainty regarding whether or not they, or their children, will be able to eat, find drinking water, or have a good night’s rest. Robins live in a state of economic and emotional distress.
Why is this distinction so important? Because our general sense of well-being is tied to both our absolute wealth and our relative wealth. Further, as the Roslings mentioned in Factfulness, “Often it takes several generations for a family to move from Level 1 to Level 4.”
Uplift and Empower was published on August 15. You can order a copy at: https://www.amazon.com/dp/1641379243/! (The book is also available for sale at BN.com, Kobo, Walmart, and other distributors worldwide. Check UpliftandEmpower.com for more options.)
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