The World Bank’s new report on poverty and inequality in SA is important, and policy makers ignore it at their peril. Key finding: SA’s economic trajectory entrenches and reproduces poverty and inequality. The report starts by rehearsing the well-known facts that SA has much more poverty and much deeper inequality than other middle-income countries but then goes further, presenting swathes of data that help trace the forces that make our society so unequal.

While poverty levels are lower than they were in the mid-1990s, all the progress was made before 2010, after which we regressed. Some 56% of South Africans were living on less than R1,000 a month in 2015. This is an improvement on the 67% recorded in 2006 but is worse than the 53% recorded in 2011.

The report shows that inequality has risen over the past decade, and, relatedly, unemployment rates are among the highest in the world. These shocking numbers understate the challenge we face. The authors estimate that while over 50% of the population is poor at any given time, fewer than a quarter of all South Africans can be thought of as being securely out of poverty. Fully 78% of all South Africans were poor for at least part of the time between 2008 and 2015. ….more