The excellent news about poverty…that nobody knows

  • By: Compassion Canada

A new report produced by the Barna Group in partnership with Compassion highlights the good news about global poverty that very few people are aware of.

In the report, entitled The Good News About Global Poverty, Barna polled U.S. adults on their perceptions, beliefs, concerns and action regarding global poverty. What they found is reason to hope—and reason to continue raising awareness about global poverty.

What people don’t know about poverty

When the participants in the study were asked if they believe poverty is growing, shrinking or staying the same, it became clear that public understanding has not kept up with the changes in poverty. The graph below displays the responses of people who were polled between 2011-2017 and shows that most people (70 per cent) believe global poverty has increased since 1990.


But here’s the truth:

Extreme global poverty has fallen by 24 percent since 1990.

Not only do 70 per cent of people polled not know this great news, they actually believe the opposite has happened.

Let’s set the record straight:

[View a larger version of this graph]

  • In 1990, the world poverty rate was 35 per cent.
  • One of the United Nations’ Millennium Development Goals was to halve the 1990 poverty rate by 2015. This goal was met by 2010!
  • Since 1990, 1.1 billion people have been lifted out of poverty.
  • Between 2012 and 2015 alone, there was a drop of 200 million people in poverty.
  • There are still an estimated 700 million people—11 per cent of the world’s current population—living in extreme poverty (as of 2015).

This steady decline may not yet be a cause for a victory celebration, but it is reason to hope and to continue working to alleviate poverty in all its forms.

Despite lack of knowledge, people express deep concern

The report shows that people—especially younger people—feel urgency surrounding poverty. Nine out of 10 (91 per cent) are troubled when reminded of the great number of people who do not have access to clean water, sufficient food, clothing, shelter or basic medicine. One-fourth (24 per cent) selects an “extreme” level of concern for the those in poverty across the globe.

Barna found that compared to the general population, Christians are similarly unaware that international poverty is improving. But regardless of their lack of knowledge, Christians consistently report a high concern for extreme global poverty.

The vast majority (94 per cent) are at least somewhat concerned—one-third “extremely” so (34 per cent).

After all, Christians have had good teachers: Addressing poverty is a theme throughout scripture and has been a focus of the Church since its earliest days. 

This is just one of the reasons why Compassion partners solely with local churches in communities around the world to release children from poverty in Jesus’ name through our holistic child development program. It’s our goal to serve the Church’s God-given mission—both locally and around the world—to care for “the least of these.”

Despite lack of knowledge, Christians believe they can do something

Christians are relatively hopeful about their ability to affect poverty. A majority (64 per cent) feel they personally could make a substantial difference locally, or for children in extreme poverty (52 per cent).


However, ambition lags among Christians when focusing on global poverty: The largest proportion (31 per cent) assume only a “minor” impact is possible. When coupled with those who cite “none” or “not sure,” it is a resounding 61 per cent of people who are unclear that they could make a substantial difference.

What people don’t know about their personal effect on poverty

It shouldn’t be assumed that a lack of information goes hand-in-hand with a lack of engagement. Barna found that those who say they have volunteered for or donated to end poverty (globally and locally) are not any more likely to have updated, accurate numbers on poverty.

The reassuring truth is that many North Americans have eagerly contributed to global poverty’s decline. While the majority of people may believe they can have little to no impact, it’s simply untrue.

Based on the facts, we see that those who are contributing time, efforts and financial support to battle global poverty are making a difference!

We see this difference every day in the lives of the nearly two million babies, children and young adults in Compassion’s programs around the world. The ripple effect of one sponsor investing in one child to address the effects of poverty resounds through their families, churches and communities for generations.

How much more effective might we be if we embrace the hope behind the facts and meet our deep level of concern with optimistic and compassionate action?

Now that you’re in the know, will you join us in working to continue the momentum of poverty’s decline?

A version of this post was originally published by Compassion International.