Sidebar: Suffering the Numbers: Selected Poverty Statistics

• 2.6 billion live on less than $2 a day. More than 70 percent live in rural areas and depend on agriculture.

• Some 1.3 billion live in extreme poverty, defined as $1.25 a day. The number of people in extreme poverty has been falling since 1990. However, more than sixty million additional people fell into extreme poverty last year because of the global recession, the UN reported.

• The number of hungry people has risen from 842 million in the early 1990s to 1.02 billion last year.

• Women represent two-thirds of the world’s poor, perform two-thirds of the world’s work and produce 50 percent of the food (in some regions, 90 percent), while earning 10 percent of the income and owning 1 percent of the property. Women’s share of national parliamentary seats increased to 19 percent in 2009, a 6 percent improvement in a decade, according to the UN.

• 2.5 billion people lack basic sanitation services, nearly 40 percent of the world’s population. That number has decreased by 8 percent since 1990. Some 1.2 billion practice open defecation, posing health hazards to entire communities, the UN reported.

• About 900 million have no access to safe drinking water. Unsanitary water causes more deaths than HIV/AIDs, malaria, and tuberculosis combined. Water-related illness accounts for 80 percent of all sickness and disease globally. Unsanitary water is blamed for 1.5 million cases of Hepatitis A and 133 million cases of intestinal worms, the UN reported. At some point in their lives, 50 percent of all people in the developing world will be in the hospital because of a water-related disease.

• About eight million children under five are expected to die this year, most from preventable diseases. That vast number is considered an improvement; mortality rates are declining because of stepped up immunizations, vitamin A supplements, and insecticide-treated bed nets to prevent malaria. Some 40 percent of the deaths occur in just three countries: India, Nigeria, and Democratic Republic of Congo, UNICEF reported.

• Four million children die annually from just three causes: diarrhea, malaria, and pneumonia.

• 31 percent of African households owned anti-malaria bed nets in 2008, a 14 percent increase since 2006.

• Fifteen million children have lost one or both parents to AIDS. Two million children under fifteen have HIV.

• In the U.S., the poverty threshold is about $15
a day per person (based on the 2008 definition
of $21,834 for a family of four). The most recently reported poverty rate was 13.2 percent, or 39.8 million people, an increase from the year before, according to the U.S. census. For children under eighteen, the poverty rate was 19 percent. For African Americans, the poverty rate was 25 percent.

• During the last decade, two economic down-turns translated into a significant rise in U.S. poverty, according to a 2010 Brookings Institution report. Suburbs saw the greatest growth in their poor population and by 2008 had the largest share of the nation’s poor. Suburbs in the country’s largest metro areas saw their poor populations grow by 25 percent – almost five times faster than primary cities. As a result, by 2008 large suburbs were home to 1.5 million more poor than their primary cities and housed almost one-third of the nation’s poor overall.

• Some 500 million tons of heavy metals and toxins slip into the global water supply annually, according to UNESCO estimates. Up to 70 percent of industrial waste in developing countries is dumped untreated into lakes and rivers. China’s polluted lakes and rivers force 300 million people to rely on polluted water supplies.

• 20 percent of the wealthiest people (the top billion) consume 80 percent of the earth’s water, energy, and minerals each day, according to

• World agriculture produces 17 percent more calories per person than it did thirty years ago despite a 70-percent increase in the population, according to This is enough to provide everyone in the world with 2,720 food calories a day. But millions do not have enough land to grow food or enough income to buy it.