Why you need to go beyond the numbers to view rural poverty

In the past decade, much progress has been made in India and people have been justifiably proud of the improving economic situation. While most observers point to the top line numbers that show the number of people living below the “poverty line” has been consistently decreasing, by focusing on just these aseptic numbers, they fail to understand and capture the continuing anguish in the rural countryside.

The Wall Street Journal recently republished an insightful article by Abraham George, who after a successful financial career in New York went back to India to found the George Foundation and Shanti Bhuvan, a home and school for untouchable kids.

From the article:

“According to the Indian government and the World Bank, less than 30% of the nation is poor, and 70% of the poor (225 million) live in the villages. These official statistics are based on a per capita consumption expenditure of Rs. 356 ($8.70) per month, or Rs. 11.70 ($0.28) per day. This low yardstick grossly undercounts the number of poor people in rural India, and certainly does not reflect the living conditions for most of them.”

“Development of countries is often judged by certain economic and social statistics … By these aggregate measures, India has made significant progress in recent years …the GDP growth rate now stands at 9.4% per year, much better than the less than 4% experienced during the 1990s. Life expectancy at birth has now improved to 64 years from 56 years 20 years ago; infant mortality has fallen to 5.6% from 8.1%; primary school attendance has risen to 74% from 65%, and the adult literacy rate is 61% as compared to 50%, all during the same period.

[Yet]…

The rural economic growth rate has been stagnant — at around 2% to 2.5% a year — during the past decade, mainly because of the weak performance of the agricultural sector. This marginal expansion barely keeps up with the 1.75% annual increase in rural population, thus offering very little improvement in income and living standards for most people in the villages.”

The rest of the article paints a detailed picture of life in a typical rural village in India based on Dr. George’s past decade of working to alleviate poverty.

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