According to 2012 data released on Wednesday by the U.S.
Census Bureau, 15% of individuals in the United States live below the poverty
line. While down from 15.1% last year, it remains statistically unchanged and
near a record high. Today, more than 46 million people live in poverty in
America, more than at any point in the country’s history.

 However, compared to the poorest countries
in the world, the poverty rate in the U.S. is relatively modest. In some
countries, the poverty rate is more than five times the U.S. current figures.
In Haiti, the highest in the world, 77% of residents live in poverty. Based on
data from the World Bank, 24/7 Wall St. identified the 10 countries with
the highest poverty rates.

The presence of extreme poverty usually coincides with
significant obstacles, including limited resources, disease, famine and war.
24/7 Wall St. analyzed how the most impoverished nations ranked in several key
areas ranging from level of peace to economic stability, health and education.
The poorest countries consistently performed poorly in nearly every case.

Educational attainment and literacy rates are particularly
low in these countries. While adult literacy figures were unavailable for many
of these nations, those that have reported data were among the worst in the
world. In several cases, less than half of eligible children were enrolled in
primary education (the equivalent of elementary and middle school). In the
Democratic Republic of the Congo, among the poorest countries, less than a
third of the relevant population was enrolled in primary education. By
comparison, in the United States, nearly 95% were.

Health and healthy decisions are often ignored in these
countries. In the 10 nations with the highest poverty rates, HIV prevalence is
extremely high. Five of the eight countries for which data are available were
in the top 25 (out of more than 200 countries) for HIV cases among people 15 to
49. These include Zimbabwe, which has the fifth-highest HIV/AIDS prevalence
rate at 14.3%, and Swaziland, which has the highest recorded rate at 25.9%. In
the U.S., the rate is just 0.78%.

Life expectancy, not surprising, is also very low. In the
U.S., a person born today is projected to live to the age of 78.2. In each of
these countries, life expectancy is less than 60 years. In four of these
countries, the average resident will not live to see 50.

24/7 Wall St. relied on World Bank data for the
percentage of residents who are living below their national poverty lines. Data
was only available for 112 developing nations. In addition, we considered GDP
per capita, gross domestic product, HIV/AIDS prevalence, life expectancy,
unemployment, infant mortality and primary school enrollment — all from the
World Bank. Where current data was not available, data from the most recent
available year was used. We also relied on the U.S. Department of State and the
Intelligence Agency’s World Factbook for additional information on
these countries, including the presence of armed conflict and recent natural

These are the 10 poorest countries in the world.

10. Sao Tome and Principe
Poverty rate: 66.2%
Population: 168,526
GDP: $248 million (5th lowest)
GDP per capita: $1,473 (48th lowest)

Sao Tome and Principe, a country of fewer than 200,000
people off the western coast of Africa, has relied heavily on cocoa production
since it became an independent state in 1975. However, production has declined
substantially due to drought and mismanagement. While the country stands to
benefit from the recent discovery of oil from the Gulf of Guinea, the World
Factbook notes that production is likely several years away. Unlike most of the
countries on this list, Sao Tome and Principe has a primary school enrollment
of 98.3%, which is substantially above the world rate of 88.8%.

9. Sierra Leone
Poverty rate: 66.4%
Population: 5,997,486
GDP: $2.24 billion (36th lowest)
GDP per capita: $374 (4th lowest)

Sierra Leone has significant mineral, agricultural and
fishery resources that could lead the country to economic growth. Political
stability is slowly helping to improve the fortunes of the country as it
recovers from the civil war, which lasted from 1991 to 2002. But while the
military has been in charge of the country ever since the war, issues such as
corruption still exist. The country has to rely on international aid from
organizations such as the International Monetary Fund in order to remain financially
solvent, and inflation of 18% in Sierra Leone is a serious problem. Sierra
Leone has the highest rate of infant mortality in the world, with 113.7 deaths
for every 1,000 live births. Sierra Leone’s life expectancy of just 47.4 years
old is the second lowest in the world.

8. Burundi
Poverty rate: 66.9%
Population: 8,575,172
GDP: $2.33 billion (38th lowest)
GDP per capita: $271 (2nd lowest)

In 1993, political differences between Burundi’s two largest
ethnic groups, the Hutu and Tutsi, triggered widespread ethnic violence that
lasted almost a dozen years. Although this civil war has ended, ethnic
conflicts in the region continue. The prolonged conflict, however, is not the
only factor keeping Burundians in poverty. Although the country also has
limited natural resources and agriculture accounts for just 31% of GDP, more
than 90% of the working population is employed in the sector. According to the
World Bank, Burundi remains one of the world’s poorer countries on a per capita
basis — only one country, the Democratic Republic of Congo, had a GDP per
capita figure lower than Burundi’s $271. Burundi’s infant mortality rate of
87.8 deaths per 1,000 live births is more than double the rate worldwide.

7. Madagascar
Poverty rate: 68.7%
Population: 21,315,135
GDP: $9.95 billion (73rd lowest)
GDP per capita: $467 (7th lowest)

Located in the Indian Ocean east of continental Africa,
Madagascar is an island nation of more than a 350,000 square miles in size.
Until the mid-1990s, Madagascar was a socialist nation. Though it has since
embraced World Bank- and IMF-endorsed economic programs for privatization and
participated in the U.S. African Growth and Opportunity Act, the nation has had
difficulties meeting the standards expected by these organizations and
programs. Despite these programs, the nation’s economy remains largely dependent
on agriculture for employment, with 80% of all employed persons working in the
sector. In 2011, the country’s GDP per capita was just $467, making Madagascar
one of 11 nations with a figure below $500.

6. Eritrea
Poverty rate: 69.0%
Population: 5,415,280
GDP: $2.61 billion (40th lowest)
GDP per capita: $482 (8th lowest)

While hopes for economic growth rest on several
international mining projects, 80% of Eritrea’s labor force is employed in the
agricultural sector. However, agriculture only represents 11% of the nation’s
GDP, with industry comprising 34% and services making up 55%. The country’s
only political party, the People’s Front for Democracy and Justice, has
implemented policies that rigidly control the use of foreign currency and
favors party-owned businesses in the economy. Making matters more difficult for
Eritrea, the United Nations imposed economic sanctions on the country in 2009,
accusing the government of supporting anti-Ethiopian insurgents in Somalia.
Eritrea’s primary school enrollment is only about 33.5%, which is the
third-lowest rate in the entire world.

5. Swaziland
Poverty rate: 69.2%
Population: 1,067,773
GDP: $3.98 billion (47th lowest)
GDP per capita: $3,725 (82nd lowest)

A number of factors combine to limit Swaziland’s economic
growth, including an over-reliance on exports to South Africa. In addition, the
country’s workforce is largely concentrated in subsistence agriculture, even
though the country faces serious concerns about overgrazing and soil depletion.
While these factors harm the nation’s economy, health concerns are likely one
of the major factors preventing Swaziland’s population from escaping poverty.
Few nations have a lower life expectancy at birth than Swaziland, where the
average person is expected to live just 48.3 years. One of the reasons for the
low life expectancy is the high prevalence rate of HIV/AIDS among those 15 to
49 — at 25.9% it is the highest in the world.

4. Congo (Democratic Republic)
Poverty rate: 71.3%
Population: 67,757,577
GDP: $15.64 billion (91st lowest)
GDP per capita: $231 (the lowest)

The Congo has suffered from corruption and conflict in the
past 15 years that have “dramatically reduced national output and government
revenue, increased external debt, and resulted in the deaths of more than 5
million people from violence, famine and disease,” according to the CIA’s World
Factbook. The agency notes that while mining growth has helped boost the
country’s economy, much of its economic activity still takes place in the
informal sector, which is not counted in GDP statistics. Health and education
are very poor in the country. Out of 1,000 children born, 111.7 will die before
their first birthday, which is the highest rate in the world except for Sierra
Leone. Primary school enrollment of just slightly over 33% is the second worst
in the world.

 3. Zimbabwe
Poverty rate: 72%
Population: 12,754,378
GDP: $9.9 billion (72nd lowest)
GDP per capita: $776 (25th lowest)

Zimbabwe has effectively had one leader, Robert Mugabe,
since it became a sovereign nation in 1980. Mugabe’s tenure has been marked by
a violent land redistribution program that has harmed agriculture — a sector
that has served as a source of exports and jobs for the nation. Until 2009,
Zimbabwe also experienced a problem with hyperinflation. One dollar was worth
9,686.9 Zimbabwean dollars in 2007 and a stunning 430,972.7 Zimbabwean dollars
in 2008. In 1993, the nation’s poverty rate was just under 35% of the
population. Since then, the poverty rate has more than doubled to 72%.

2. Equatorial Guinea
Poverty rate: 76.8%
Population: 720,213
GDP: $19.79 billion (99th lowest)
GDP per capita: $27,478 (40th highest)

Oddly enough, the country with the second-highest poverty
rate in the world has a GDP per capita of $27,478, well above the average
worldwide figure of $10,034. However, while extraction of oil and gas has led
to economic growth, most of Equatorial Guinea’s population still relies on
subsistence farming. The government has been criticized for the mismanagement
of its revenue from energy resources. The health and well-being of its citizens
would support the critique. Despite its oil wealth, the nation is among the
worst countries in the world for life expectancy, at just 50.8 years, and for
primary education enrollment, at just 56.3% of the relevant population.

1. Haiti
Poverty rate: 77%
Population: 10,123,787
GDP: $7.35 billion (66th lowest)
GDP per capita: $726 (22nd lowest)

The World Bank notes that more than half of Haiti’s
population lives on less than $1 a day, while about 80% of the country lives on
less than $2 a day. The country’s estimated unemployment rate as of 2010 was
40.6%. The impoverished nation is in a state of rebuilding since a devastating
earthquake hit the country in 2010. According to a USAID report, the death toll
from the earthquake was between 46,000 and 85,000, while the official figure by
the Haitian government estimated the death toll at 316,000. The World Bank
estimates that damages from earthquake totaled $8 billion, or about 120% of
gross domestic product.

Compiled by Michael B. Sauter, Alexander E. M. Hess and Samuel Weigley


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