Raising the poverty line

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An obvious approach to narrowing the wealth gap, therefore, is to help those at the bottom in their struggle for subsistence. But this has been a challenging task.

However, the country has made tremendous efforts in the past decades. True, the overall gap between the rich and poor has continued to widen and the corresponding discontent has grown. Yet, there is another side to the picture that should in no way be ignored - the gap would have been much wider were it not for the persistent government-led poverty relief campaigns. Numerous private citizens, institutions and non-governmental organizations have contributed to this undertaking one way or another, but it is the authorities that deserve special credit for their lasting commitment and input.

Figures from the State Council Office of Poverty Alleviation and Development are solid proof. During the past five years, the number of those officially defined as poor dropped by more than 37 million to less than 27 million. Last year alone, the urban and rural poor declined by 9.09 million. More inspiring however is the government's ambition to "basically eradicate absolute poverty" by 2020, and for the 12th Five-Year Plan Period (2011-2015), it wants to see a "conspicuous reduction" in the number of the impoverished.

Considering the extent to which poverty has been reduced in the past five years, it might seem that relieving an annual average of 2.7 million people from poverty would be a piece of cake. But this is not a simple game of numbers. On the one hand, the current official poverty line is too low for people to make a decent living. The current official poverty line, which defines people with an annual income of less than 1,196 yuan ($182) as poor, is still way below the United Nations' standard. That is to say, a lot more of our compatriots should be considered poor according to the UN criterion. On the other hand, those living slightly above the official poverty are an extremely vulnerable group that can easily fall back into poverty.

In dealing with poverty, bringing meaningful improvements into the lives of society's underdogs matters more than simply reducing the number of poor, which depends on how poverty is defined.

As the country gets increasingly capable financially, and the cost of living continues to rise, there is a pressing need to raise the poverty line so that more people benefit from the fruits of progress.

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