Hint of What’s to Come: A Look at Poverty and Economic Inequality

Map of the UN’s human development index report. The darker the blue, the more developed the country. Image found at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:2011_UN_Human_Development_Report_Quartiles.svg

I am currently working on a large project (a prezi, to be exact) on poverty and economic inequality. (Yes, this is what I do for fun.) I will be posting it when I have finished it, but until then, I will give a teaser (or two).

When researching poverty facts I came across this quote that I found to be quite poignant and combines a lot of different ideas that I am learning in my post-grad study of economics, work, human development, etc.

“Human development is about much more than the rise or fall of national incomes. It is about creating an environment in which people can develop their full potential and lead productive, creative lives in accord with their needs and interests. People are the real wealth of nations. Development is thus about expanding the choices people have to lead lives that they value. And it is thus about much more than economic growth, which is only a means—if a very important one—of enlarging people’s choices.” —Human Development Reports, United Nations Development Program (found here: http://www.globalissues.org/article/4/poverty-around-the-world)

By this definition it can be argued that even some countries traditionally seen as developed are actually under-developed. Take the US for example. Has the country really done what the second sentence of the quote says? With underemployment near 20% and people holding on to their jobs regardless of whether is matches their skill-set, interests, and needs, the answer is no. People in the US are not reaching their full potential in the working world.

Meanwhile, economic disparity is at an all-time high and the richest 1% of the population is still getting richer. This is contrary to means of development, however, and economic inequality that high is actually something that is found in many developing countries. In fact, according to an NPR article, the US’s economic inequality rivals that of the Sub-Saharan African countries of Cameroon and the Ivory Coast. These countries according to the 2011 UN Human Development index rank 150th and 170th respectively on the development scale. This raises an important set of questions: is it possible for a country to move backward on this scale and is that the future for the US? With all the talk of “racing to the bottom” that is creeping up in economic conversations, it is getting harder to answer those questions with a “no.”

International Human Development Indicators – UNDP.