Public Square

The Surprising News about Poverty

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Imagine someone asked you to put together a giant jigsaw puzzle without all the pieces included in the box. Your first thoughts might be “Why?” or “Is this person crazy?”

That’s how I think about poverty sometimes: an impossible problem God has called us to try to solve anyway. Except God isn’t crazy; he has just called us to do something huge that might be difficult to wrap out human minds around.

We won’t ever have all the pieces to the poverty puzzle in place on this side of eternity, but every now and then, a few seem to fall into place.

In my article published in Relevant yesterday, I cover three insights related to poverty relief that surprised me and might also surprise you.

The first fact is that extreme poverty is declining and business is a primary reason. Did you know that? I explain:

Last year, Barna Group found that more than eight in 10 Americans (84 percent) don’t realize extreme poverty has dropped by more than half over the last three decades. More than two-thirds (67 percent) actually thought global poverty was on the rise.

According to the World Bank, in 1981, 52 percent of the world’s population lived in extreme poverty, as defined as living on less than $1.25 a day. By 2011, it was cut by more than half (17 percent). This trend is also likely to continue. Bill and Melinda Gates predict “the lives of people in poor countries will improve faster in the next 15 years than any other time in history.”

Although traditional charity offers some immediate relief, it’s not the only solution because it doesn’t always focus on the root causes of poverty.
Peter Greer, President of Hope International, doesn’t believe traditional charity is the solution to poverty. He says in his essay in For the Least of These: A Biblical Answer to Poverty that although traditional charity offers some immediate relief, it’s not the only solution because it doesn’t always focus on the root causes of poverty.

In the same book, Christian economists, theologians, historians and practitioners claim that it is economic freedom—the freedom to secure and protect one’s own resources, labor and private property—that is responsible for lifting millions out of poverty.

Countries that have experienced an increase in economic freedom over past decades, like Bangladesh and Botswana, are also seeing lower poverty levels. Why? Because economic freedom encourages entrepreneurship and job creation. Greer says in For the Least of These that, “In one generation, poverty has been cut in half, not through charity but through job creation.”

A job can’t solve everything though, which is why it is also important for the Church and private charities to also pitch in, by serving the poor in a personal and relational ways, especially during and after disasters such as the earthquake in Nepal. The key, is finding balance approach, without losing site of what can effect long term change.

For two more pieces to the jigsaw puzzle of poverty, read the full article over at Relevant.

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  • Amarah

    This article addresses a very true aspect of poverty. Some people who are in poverty could get out of it by learning about economics, starting a business, or just getting a job. SOME (not all of course) people in poverty are just not willing to work and would rather have things handed to them. Those are the ones who could easily get out of poverty if they were willing to work. However, these kind of people are most likely to STAY in poverty to avoid hard work.
    But for those who are actually in poverty and have no easy way out, they would be happy to take advantage of job opportunities if they had them. That is why poverty has been getting better over the years! More job opportunities, more businesses, more entrepreneurs!

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