Living on $1 a Day

Living on $1 a Day

THE SOURCE: “The Economic Lives of the Poor” by Abhijit V. Banerjee and Esther Duflo, in The Journal of EconomicPerspectives, Winter 2007.

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What is it like to live on less than $1 a day? More than one billion people in the developing world scraped by below this global line for the “extremely poor” in 2001, and their lives were hard—but not as devoid of choices as they might seem.

In Udaipur, India, according to a recent survey, only 10 percent of the poor own a chair and just five percent own a table. More than a third report that adults in their household went without food for a whole day at some point during the past year. Anemia and other illnesses are rife. Yet the same survey shows that the city’s poor spend five percent of their money on alcohol and tobacco, 10 percent on religious festivals, and almost 10 percent on “sugar, salt, and other processed foods.” In India as a whole, the share of income the poor spent on food declined between 1983 and 2000.

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