The Poor Get Poorer

“No society can surely be flourishing and happy, of which the far greater part of the members are poor and miserable.”

ECONOMIST Adam Smith made that statement back in the 18th century. Many are convinced that the truth of what he said is even more obvious today. The contrast between the haves and the have-nots has become even starker. In the Philippines, one third of the population live on less than $1 (U.S.) per day, an amount that is often earned in minutes in wealthier nations. The United Nations Human Development Report 2002 says that “the richest 5% of the world’s people have incomes 114 times those of the poorest 5%.”

While some live in relative comfort, millions live as squatters, setting up shacks wherever they can. Others are not that fortunate; they live on the street, with perhaps only a piece of cardboard or plastic between them and the ground. Many of them eke out a living in whatever way they can​—scavenging in garbage dumps, hauling heavy loads, or collecting recyclables in pushcarts.

Not only are inequalities between rich and poor found in developing nations but, as the World Bank states, “‘pockets of poverty’ are common in all countries.” From Bangladesh to the United States, no matter how well-off some may be, there are those who struggle to have enough to eat or to have a roof over their head. The New York Times quoted a 2001 U.S. Census Bureau report indicating that the gap between rich and poor in the United States has continued to grow. It said: “The most affluent fifth of the population received half of all household income last year . . . The poorest fifth received 3.5 percent.” The situation is the same or worse in scores of other countries. A World Bank report showed that about 57 percent of the world’s population live on less than $2 per day.

To make matters worse, in 2002, millions were disturbed by reports of executives who became wealthy under questionable circumstances. Even if nothing  outrightly illegal was done, many have felt that these company officials, as stated in Fortune magazine, “were getting immensely, extraordinarily, obscenely wealthy.” Putting it in the context of what is happening in the world, some wonder how such extreme windfalls, estimated in the hundreds of millions of dollars for some individuals, can be justified when so many live in poverty.

Poverty Here to Stay?

This is not to say that no one is trying to do something about the plight of the poor. Well-meaning government officials and help organizations have certainly put forth proposals for change. Nevertheless, the facts remain discouraging. The Human Development Report 2002 says that “many countries are poorer than 10, 20 and in some cases 30 years ago,” in spite of many noble efforts to make improvement.

Does this leave the poor without hope? We invite you to read the next article to consider some practical wisdom that can help right now as well as solutions that you might not have thought of.