Thirty years ago, 52% of the world’s population lived in extreme poverty. Now only 21% do. There is lots of other good news about economic progress in the developing world, including declines in child deaths. But 84% of Americans are unaware of this progress, and 67% think that world-wide poverty has increased.
So says a Barna study, which expresses a concern that Western attitudes are becoming fatalistic–”nothing can be done about it”–which can stymie efforts to address the very real problems of the 21%, even though they may be quite solvable. Or is the lesson that global economic progress is happening of itself by market forces apart from outside help, especially governmental help?
Did you know that, in the past 30 years, the percentage of people in the world who live in extreme poverty has decreased by more than half?
If you said no—if you thought the number had gone up; that more people, not less, live in extreme poverty—you aren’t alone. According to a recent Barna Group survey, done in partnership with Compassion International and the new book Hope Rising by Dr. Scott Todd, more than eight in 10 Americans (84%) are unaware global poverty has reduced so drastically. More than two-thirds (67%) say they thought global poverty was on the rise over the past three decades.
Similarly, while both child deaths and deaths caused by HIV/AIDS have decreased worldwide, many Americans wrongly think these numbers are on the rise: 50% of US adults believe child deaths have increased since 1990, and 35% believe deaths from HIV/AIDS have increased in the past five years.
Despite the very real good news, more than two-thirds of US adults (68%) say they do not believe it’s possible to end extreme global poverty within the next 25 years. Sadly, concern about extreme global poverty—defined in this study as the estimated 1.4 billion people in countries outside the US who do not have access to clean water, enough food, sufficient clothing and shelter, or basic medicine like antibiotics—has declined from 21% in 2011 to 16% in 2013.
How does this sense of fatalism about global economic and health issues affect Americans’ view of the developing world? Does it hinder charitable giving? And are Christians’ views any different?