The official poverty rate in the United States was 11.4% in 2020, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. By measures from the World Bank, poverty in America is higher than in parts of Asia but much lower than in much of Africa. One nation in Africa is Burundi, the poorest country in the world.
While there is no absolute method for determining poverty rates, there is one that is widely accepted.
Gross national income, or GNI, is the sum of money earned by a country’s population and businesses within a given year. It includes income earned by corporations or persons based in a given country but operating outside of its borders. GNI is a useful measure for determining the overall income of a country. The measure helps indicate which countries are the richest and the poorest in the world. (Here you can find which are the most educated countries in the world.)
To determine the poorest country in the world, 24/7 Wall St. reviewed GNI per capita data from the World Bank for 193 countries and special regions.
Nearly all of the poorest countries in the world are located in Africa. The continent has long struggled with violent conflicts and political instability. Professors Daron Acemoglu and James A. Robinson explained in a paper on poverty in Africa that the continent struggles economically because “property rights are insecure and very inefficiently organized, markets do not function well, states are weak, and political systems do not provide public goods.” They added that these “dysfunctional dynamics were then further reinforced by colonialism.”
Even though some of these African countries have enough natural resources, like oil and gold, to lift incomes, much of the wealth goes to a select few at the top of the political system, leaving much of the population in poverty. At the end of the spectrum, these are the 25 richest countries in the world.
Burundi, a landlocked country in East Africa, is by far the poorest country in the world, with a GNI per capita that is a fraction of the worldwide figure of $17,535. Here are the details:
GNI per capita: $780
2020 GDP: $3.3 billion
Life expectancy: 61.6 years
Population: 11.9 million
In most of the wealthiest countries, a large percentage of gross domestic product comes from exports, typically well beyond the 29.5% average for all countries. Yet Burundi’s exports make up just 5.0% of its GDP, the lowest share of any country. More than 86% of Burundi’s residents live in rural areas, the second-highest share among countries. Agriculture and related industries account for 28.5% of Burundi’s $3.3 billion GDP. Worldwide, agriculture makes up just 3.5% of all economic output.
The World Bank estimates GNI per capita using purchasing power parity method, and figures are in current international dollars. GNI per capita figures are for the most recent available year for each country.
Additional data on GDP in current U.S. dollars, population, life expectancy at birth, and access to electricity also came from the World Bank and are for the most recent year available for each country.
We also considered data on public sector corruption in 2020 from the nonprofit, international watchdog and anti-corruption group Transparency International.