Tomorrow is Red Nose Day, an annual fundraising campaign organized by public charity Comic Relief Inc. to help alleviate child poverty. In the U.S. alone, one in seven families lives below the federal poverty line of $23,834 a year. For both black and Hispanic families, approximately one-in-four families face poverty. These levels increased in the past 10 years, thanks to the Great Recession.


These statistics look dire, and they are. America's poverty problems are real, and worth the serious attention of policy makers. But on the global level, it's important to remember that poverty is falling in stunning, unprecedented fashion.

As this chart from American Enterprise Institute expert Mark Perry illustrates, global poverty levels have fallen from an astounding 94% in 1820 to just 9.6% in 2015, with the most dramatic fall coming in the years since 1970.


This is a good chart to show your friend who can't stop complaining that everything is getting worse, all the time:

mark perry poverty
Mark Perry/AEI

As World Bank chief Jim Yong Kim noted in the organization's October report on the state of global poverty, which showed a global reduction in poverty of roughly 200 million people in the last four years alone:

“This is the best story in the world today—these projections show us that we are the first generation in human history that can end extreme poverty."


Despite having increased in the past decade, overall poverty levels in the U.S. have fallen significantly since 1960.

poverty 1

The greatest gains in poverty reduction have come in China and India, which, together, have lifted just short of 1 billion people out of poverty.


The common recipe for the countries that successfully lifted their populations out of poverty, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), was market and trade liberalization, combined with investments in education and infrastructure.

The falling global poverty rate has produced other good things, like:

Lower infant mortality

World Bank

Increased school enrollment

enrollment rates
Our World In Data

And lower rates of infectious diseases

infectious disease rates from 1900 to 1999 2

The World Bank cautions that these gains have been unequal across countries, and the OECD reports that in many cases, the growth that allowed for reduced poverty was accompanied by increasing income inequality.

Still, the World Bank has set a goal of eliminating extreme poverty, currently defined as living on $1.90 a day, by 2030. That kind of goal would have been unthinkable in 1950, to say nothing of a century earlier.


Rob covers business, economics and the environment for Fusion. He previously worked at Business Insider. He grew up in Chicago.

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