The United Nations defines extreme poverty as living on less than a dollar a day. Although a recent U.N. report projects that 920 million people will still qualify as extremely poor in 2015, that will be only 15 percent of the world's population, down from 42 percent in 1990. (The "less than a dollar" figures are adjusted for inflation.)
Much of the gain has taken place in China. In 1990, 60 percent of the Chinese population lived on less than a dollar a day. Today just 16 percent of the nation's 1.3 billion people do.
An analysis by the World Bank confirms the U.N. findings, while noting that "in some cases," such as sub-Saharan Africa and India, "progress has been tempered by population growth," with poverty rates dropping even as the absolute number of people living in poverty grows. Still, the drop in poverty rates was something few could even imagine until very recently. In 1990 the U.N. set a goal of reducing the number of people living on less than a dollar a day by half before 2015. A poll that year found that only 8 percent of Americans considered the objective attainable.