A global middle class is ‘more promise than reality’

A growing emerging market "middle class" across Africa, Asia and Latin America driving demand for consumer goods such as cars, cell phones and travel is "more promise than reality," according to a report on poverty.

Washington D.C.-based Pew Research Center found that nearly 700 million people emerged from poverty between 2001 and 2011— but most only barely, continuing to live a "low-income existence."

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"The first decade of this century witnessed an historic reduction in global poverty and a near doubling of the number of people who could be considered middle income. But the emergence of a truly global middle class is still more promise than reality," said Rakesh Kochhar, associate director of research at Pew Research Center in a report on Wednesday.

In 2011, just over half (56 percent) of the world's population lived a "low-income existence," defined by Pew as a daily income between $2 and $10.

Only 13 percent were defined as "middle income," with an income of between $10 and $20 per day, up from 7 percent in 2001.

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Furthermore, the growth in this population was concentrated in China, South America and Eastern Europe, while the middle class barely expanded in India, Southeast Asia, Africa or Central America.

Plus, those "newly minted as middle class enjoy a standard of living that is modest by Western norms," said Kochhar. He noted that a daily income of $10-$20 a day translated into an annual income of $14,600 to $29,200 for a family of four—straddling the official poverty line in the U.S. in 2011.

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"As significant as the rise of the middle class has been, middle-incomes status is still beyond the grasp of many people in developing and emerging markets," Kochhar said.

However, other strategists have been slightly more upbeat for the future of a global middle class. Management consultancy group EY highlights that "since 1995, the remarkable growth of the EM economies has brought millions out of abject poverty, but it has put far fewer people into what we have called the global middle class."

But its report, published in 2013, then said: "But it is this richer, global middle class that we forecast will begin to grow rapidly over the next 20 years."