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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 6 mins ago - World

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Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

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Why it matters: With at least 20 progressives threatening to vote against the $1.2 trillion bipartisan bill, centrist members are banking on more than 10 Republicans to approve the bill.