It goes against prevailing impressions, but global poverty is declining. In the past 30 years, the percentage of the global population living in poverty has decreased by half. But the difference between those numbers and our impression of the global poverty situation could impact how we respond the still-important problem.
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 U.S. 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 U.S. 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 U.S. 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.
Those numbers matter primarily in their implications for engagement. Those who see global poverty as a worsening problem without realistic solutions are less likely to engage the issue. But in this area, Christians—particularly younger Christians—are cultural leaders:
Practicing Christians under 40 are the most optimistic at nearly half (48%), with practicing Christians over 40 slightly higher than the general population (37% compared to 32% of all adults).
Would knowing that extreme poverty can be eliminated make a difference in how Americans behave? The general population is split on this question, with 45% of U.S. adults saying such knowledge makes them more likely to do significantly more to help the effort and 55% saying it wouldn't make a difference in their behavior. Among Christians, however, knowing global poverty is eradicable would make a more dramatic difference. Nearly two-thirds of practicing Protestants (62%) and practicing Christians under 40 (64%) say such knowledge would motivate them to do more to help in the coming year.
Be sure to read Barna's full report. It includes nifty infographics!
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