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The world's victory over extreme poverty, in one chart

Zack Beauchamp is a senior correspondent at Vox, where he covers ideology and challenges to democracy, both at home and abroad. Before coming to Vox in 2014, he edited TP Ideas, a section of Think Progress devoted to the ideas shaping our political world.

Despite what you may see in the headlines, the truth is that the world's in relatively good shape: in fact, we're living through the best era in human history. Fewer people are dying from illness and violence than ever. War is rarer than it ever has been. Child labor is going down, and more and more children are growing up to have educated, happy, fulfilled lives.

And there's another piece of great news: fewer people than ever are forced to live in extreme poverty (defined as living on $1.25 per day or less). Some countries have abolished extreme poverty altogether. This awesome chart, from a World Bank report on ending extreme poverty by 2030, tells the story well:

extreme poverty decline

(World Bank)

The title of the chart is a bit misleading: as you can see in the chart itself, neither the US nor the UK fully eliminated extreme poverty by 2000. Millions of Americans today still live on less than $2 per day.

But overall, the decline over the centuries is remarkable. "World poverty has fallen from an estimate of well above 80 percent in the beginning of the 19th century," the World Bank report finds, "to under 20 percent today." The progress in the now-developed countries in the above chart is nothing short of extraordinary. Japan, for example, went from a roughly 80 percent extreme poverty rate in 1800 to zero extreme poverty in the mid-late 20th century.

The biggest poverty victories in the past 30 years, however, aren't in the developed world. They're in India and China.

721 million fewer people worldwide lived in extreme poverty in 2010 than in 1981 — despite the fact that the global population went from 4.5 billion to about seven billion during that time. About 80 percent of that poverty reduction happened in China alone.

So this chart shows, as Oxford's Max Roser points out, that ending poverty everywhere really is within reach. After all, Roser says, "we did it before."

Watch: Three big reasons why war is going away

Correction: An earlier version of this post said millions of Americans live on less than $1.25 a day. The correct figure is $2.