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Expand chart
Data: The World Bank and World Poverty Clock. Note: 1999-2015 World Bank figures are incomplete in South Asia. 2016-2019 figures are World Poverty Clock projections. Chart: Danielle Alberti/Axios

The 2010s may be remembered as the decade when the global 1% accumulated unfathomable wealth, but it was also perhaps the best decade ever for the world’s poorest people.

The big picture: The rate of extreme poverty around the world was cut in half over the past decade (15.7% in 2010 to 7.7% now), and all but eradicated in China.

A tipping point was reached in 2018, according to a Brookings analysis, with more than half the world in the middle class or above for the first time in history.

  • Along with that came massive declines in mortality rates for women and infants, both of which have been halved since 1990.
  • Meanwhile, primary education has become near-universal in nearly all of the world, including for girls. The global youth literacy rate was up to 91% as of 2016, though sub-Saharan Africa (75%) lags behind.
  • The average income of the world’s bottom 50% of earners nearly doubled between 1980 and 2016, according to Abhijit Banerjee and Esther Duflo, MIT professors and the 2019 Nobel laureates in economics.

The other side: There was only one group that fared better over that time, Banerjee and Duflo write in Foreign Affairs: the global 1%. “The rich in already rich countries plus an increasing number of superrich in the developing world… captured an astounding 27% of global growth.”

An examination of Forbes’ billionaire lists over the past decade tells much of the story:

  • In 2009, the world had 793 billionaires with a combined wealth of $2.4 trillion. There were 98 members of a more exclusive club: $5 billion or more.
  • As of 2019, the world had 2,153 billionaires with a total net worth of $8.7 trillion. Membership of the $5 billion club quadrupled to 424, and 166 people now have at least $10 billion.
  • To qualify as one of the world’s 100 richest people, you’d now need not $4.9 billion, as was the case a decade ago, but $14.4 billion.

The global picture: There were 130 billionaires in Asia a decade ago. Now there are 729, and 324 just in mainland China.

  • Billionaires weren’t the only ones to benefit. Generally speaking, the 2010s were a decade in which the world’s rich got much richer.

As the global 1% captured more and more of the pie, Banerjee and Duflo write, “The 49% of people below them, which includes almost everybody in the United States and Europe, lost out, and their incomes stagnated.”

  • There’s also cause for concern in China and India, which have been the primary drivers of global poverty reduction but are now experiencing slower growth.

The bottom line: Extreme poverty has fallen but not been eliminated, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa where poverty rates are stubbornly high and fast-growing populations mean more people now live in poverty than a decade ago.

  • A rising economic tide has lifted some to unprecedented heights, but millions around the world remain underwater.

Go deeper

Updated 2 mins ago - Energy & Environment

Ransomware attack forces shutdown of major U.S. fuel pipeline

A police officer stands guard inside the gate to the Colonial Pipeline Co. Pelham junction and tank farm in Pelham, Alabama, in 2016. Photo: Luke Sharrett/Bloomberg via Getty Images

A major U.S. fuel pipeline running from Texas to New York has been taken offline by its operator because of a ransomware attack, Colonial Pipeline said Saturday.

Why it matters: It's a significant breach of critical infrastructure and comes on the heels of multiple other major cyberattacks on both U.S. companies and the federal government.

Updated 3 mins ago - World

Vehicle bombing near Afghan school in Kabul kills at least 30

People gather at the scene of the bombing. Photo: Haroon Sabawoon/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

A vehicle bombing outside of a high school in the Afghan capital of Kabul on Saturday killed at least 30 people and injured more than 50, including multiple female high school students, according to Reuters.

Why it matters: It is at least the second bombing to strike students in Afghanistan in a little over a week. Violence in Afghanistan has escalated since President Biden announced that the U.S. would begin withdrawing troops in May and would complete a full withdrawal by Sept. 11, 2021.

Erica Pandey, author of @Work
2 hours ago - Economy & Business

The wealthy exodus from superstar cities

Pandemic-induced remote work is chipping away at a recent trend of Americans staying put — but only for the well-off.

Why it matters: Telework has been lauded as a geographic equalizer, allowing talented people from all over the country to go for jobs in superstar coastal metros. But the benefits have largely been limited to wealthier workers — so far.