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Living Comfortably or Getting By - still hungry


In this guest blog Lymari Morales, Managing News Editor of, explains the latest findings from research across Africa about how people see themselves.

The "poverty line" has always been a murky concept -- be it in a wealthy country like the U.S. or in impoverished nations where the main gauge is whether one lives on more or less than $1.25 per day.

Gallup’s global surveys underscore the complexity involved. As part of its continuous global research, Gallup asks citizens around the world about basic needs, such as food and shelter, and higher order needs, such as employment and wellbeing. Our research confirms that it is very difficult to achieve the latter without the former.

Gallup also asks respondents about their household income to look at the relationship between the money they have and everything else they think and do. But again, a concept like “household income” can be tricky in a place where, lacking a paycheck from an employer, one might trade goods or accept other means to get by.

For that reason, Gallup also asks respondents, “Which one of these phrases comes closest to your own feelings about your household income these days: Living comfortably on present income, getting by on present income, finding it difficult on present income, or finding it very difficult on present income?”

Here are some results from sub-Saharan Africa based on surveys conducted in 2009 and 2010. What we learn is that a median of 71% of sub-Saharan Africans say they are finding it difficult to live on their present income. Fewer than 2 in 10 say they are “getting by,” and fewer than 1 in 10 say they are “living comfortably.”

But living comfortably or getting by clearly means something else to sub-Saharan Africans.

A Gallup analysis released this week reveals that sizable minorities -- and in some cases large majorities -- of those who say they are living comfortably or getting by also say there were times in the past year when they could not afford to buy the food they or their family needed.

In the Central African Republic, where 87% of respondents tell Gallup there were times they could not afford food, this percentage barely budges across the subjective income categories. In Cameroon, Liberia, Sierra Leone, Niger, Zambia, Comoros, Congo (Kinshasa), and Tanzania, 50% or more of respondents who say they are living comfortably or getting by say there were times they could not afford food. In 20 of the 28 countries, more than one-third of those who say they are living comfortably or getting by still say there were times in the last year when they did not have enough money to buy food.

Gallup’s continuous tracking of these issues reveals that sub-Saharan Africans have only become more negative about their financial situation in recent years -- even as GDP in the region has improved. More sub-Saharan Africans in 2010 told Gallup they were finding it difficult or very difficult to live on their present income than did in each of the prior three years.

These Gallup findings showcase the complicated nature of assessing “poverty” around the world. They also serve as an important reminder that it takes more than classical economic metrics, such as daily income or GDP, to monitor and improve the wellbeing of populations worldwide.

If you'd like to understand more about the challenge of hunger and poverty, sign up to spend 5 days living below the line - eating and drinking on your local equivalent of the extreme poverty line - UKAustraliaUSA.


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