International Poverty Line: Definition, Criticism, Uses

What Is the International Poverty Line?

The international poverty line is a monetary threshold under which an individual is considered to be living in poverty. It is calculated by taking the poverty threshold from each country—given the value of the goods needed to sustain one adult—and converting it into dollars. The current international poverty line is $2.15 per person per day.

Key Takeaways

  • The international poverty line, which is currently $2.15 per person per day, is the threshold that determines whether someone is living in poverty.
  • The line is based on the value of goods needed to sustain one adult.
  • This metric, however, does not take into account access to sanitation, water, and electricity and what effect that has on their quality of life.

Understanding the International Poverty Line

The international poverty line was originally set to roughly $1 a day. When purchasing power parity (PPP) and all goods consumed are considered in the calculation of the line, it allows organizations to determine which populations are considered to be in absolute poverty.

The World Bank sets the international poverty line at periodic intervals as the cost of living for basic food, clothing, and shelter around the world changes. In the 2005 update, the poverty line was set at $1.25 per day. In 2011, the threshold was updated to $1.90 per pay. In 2022, global research from the World Bank brought the figure up to $2.15, where it stands in 2023.

The recent figure was set based on prices established in 2017, and that threshold should reflect that same buying power that was set with the earlier poverty line. According to the World Bank, in 2012, 897 million people were estimated to be living under the international poverty line. Based on data projections, the World Bank also estimated that as many as 685 million people could be living in extreme poverty by the end of 2022.

Criticism of the International Poverty Line

Using the international poverty line to determine how well off a population is can be misleading, as the line can be low enough that adding a small amount of additional income will not create an appreciable difference in a person's quality of life.

In addition, it can be difficult to quantify other indicators, such as education and health, thus masking the total economic impact on a population. The international poverty line also does not take into account other indicators, such as the availability of sanitation, water, and electricity for those living in poverty and what effect that has on their quality of life and opportunities.

As well, the threshold for poverty can vary drastically from wealthy nations to countries facing economic hardship. The World Bank says it needs to measure all people against the same standard. Independent researchers working with the World Bank established the figure for the initial international poverty line, which was reassessed at later intervals taking the poorest nations into greater consideration in their calculations.

Organizations like the World Bank have made it an objective to reduce worldwide poverty and might use the international poverty line and data derived from it to assess their efforts.

International Poverty Line vs. Federal Poverty Level (FPL)

The federal poverty level (FPL), also known as the poverty threshold or guidelines, in the U.S. is an annual income level based on the number of members in the household. For a single-person household, the 2023 poverty level is $14,580 a year—or just under $40 a day. For each additional household member, the level increases by $5,140. These guidelines are for all states and the District of Columbia except Alaska and Hawaii, as it's more expensive to live in those states. In the U.S., the poverty levels are used to determine eligibility for certain federal programs, such as Medicaid and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).

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  1. The World Bank. "Fact Sheet: An Adjustment to Global Poverty Lines."

  2. World Bank Blogs. "Updating the International Poverty Line with the 2017 PPPs."

  3. World Bank Group. "Policy Research Working Paper 7432, A Global Count of the Extreme Poor in 2012," Page 2 of pdf.

  4. The World Bank. "Poverty, Overview, Context."

  5. "Federal Poverty Level (FPL)."

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