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South Asia Sees a Shrinking Middle Class and Surge in Poverty

Source: Pew Research Center

More people moved into poverty in South Asia in 2020 compared to other regions globally, reversing years of progress in the region. South Asia also saw the biggest decline in its middle class, which decreased by 32 million people, while East Asia and the Pacific lost 19 million, according to Pew Research Center. 

Globally, there were 54 million fewer people in the middle class in 2020 than the pre-pandemic forecasted number. The global population living in poverty rose to an estimated 803 million — compared to the 672 million that was initially expected pre-pandemic. “The steep rise in global poverty is driven by the fact that many who were in the low-income tier prior to the pandemic lived on the margin of poverty,” according to Pew. 

The path to recovery remains unclear as regions start to revive their economies — although vaccine distribution has led to a rise in consumer confidence. The pace and strength of the recovery will depend on access to medical supplies, governmental support and regional economic and societal status prior to COVID-19.

Global Standard of Living Drops for Second Year, UN Reports

Source: The Economist

The standard of living dropped for people around the world in 2021, wiping out any gains since 2016, the United Nations reports in its recent Human Development Index. The report comes just as world leaders met at the United Nations General Assembly to discuss the most pressing global issues. 

The U.N. reports that the pandemic, the Ukraine conflict and the effects of climate change are driving reversals in human development in more than 80% of the countries surveyed. This is the second year in a row that the global standard of living has dropped — the first time the index has dropped two years in a row since it started in 1990. 

The index measures factors like life expectancy, education and income. COVID-19 caused the biggest fall in life expectancy worldwide since World War II. The pandemic particularly accelerated the decline of countries in Latin America and the Caribbean. Living standards also dropped significantly in South Asia and fell even further in sub-Saharan Africa. The ongoing cost-of-living crisis spurred by inflation and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine means that conditions are unlikely to improve in the near future.

Coal Prices Soar As Winter Approaches

Source: Data: FactSet; Chart: Axios Visuals

Coal prices are skyrocketing around the world as countries brace themselves for winter amid an energy crisis. Demand for coal surged this year after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and subsequent Western sanctions caused natural gas and oil shortages worldwide.

The competition has driven coal prices to record highs: Europe’s benchmark coal futures rose to $320 a ton, about 90% higher than last year. Asian benchmark Australian Newcastle coal hit a record $431 a ton, and U.S. coal prices rose to $193 a ton. That’s roughly three times higher than the benchmarks in the second quarter of 2021. The EU’s ban on Russian coal went into effect last month, increasing the region’s reliance on imports from Indonesia and Australia.

China and India are the world’s largest coal consumers, accounting for 70% of global coal demand. And China has increased its reliance on coal this year as drought has reduced its hydroelectric power production. But Europe is one of the main drivers behind the current push for coal. High demand for coal power is expected to continue throughout the year, despite nearly 200 countries pledging to reduce their coal consumption at the 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference.

The Dollar Is At Its Strongest Value in 20 Years

The U.S. dollar is at its strongest value relative to the Japanese yen and British pound since the 1980s and trading on par with the euro for the first time in nearly two decades. The driving force behind the rising strength of the dollar is U.S. monetary policy — as the Federal Reserve raises interest rates to curtail inflation, it also pushes up the price of the dollar. The Bank of Japan, the Bank of England, and the European Central Bank have also raised interest rates, albeit less aggressively than the Fed. 

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine also spurred an inflow of capital into the U.S., raising demand for dollars as global investors consider the U.S. a safer haven than Europe, the U.K. or Japan. The U.S. economy has recovered from the pandemic more quickly compared to other countries; its GDP is now 15.6% higher than the third quarter of 2019. In comparison, the eurozone’s GDP grew by 8.3% and Japan’s declined by 3.6%, over the same period.

The strength of the dollar will help U.S. inflation as it lowers the cost of imports. But it also has drawbacks, as American products become more expensive in international markets and emerging economies like China and India pay a higher dollar price for commodity imports.

The Most Expensive Cities in the World

Rising global inflation is widening the gap between salary increases and costs of living worldwide, leading to a loss of purchasing power for employees. As companies look to entice new and remote workers, which cities are most likely to attract and retain top talent?

The cities with the lowest cost of living and the highest quality of life are Vancouver, Toronto, Stockholm, Lisbon, and Frankfurt, according to Mercer’s recent Quality of Living Survey 2021-2022. The city with the highest cost of living is Hong Kong, followed by four cities in Switzerland: Zurich, Geneva, Basel, and Bern. Tel Aviv ranked sixth, with New York City coming in seventh place. 

Cities with a higher cost of living did not necessarily have a higher quality of life: Hong Kong, for example, scored lower on quality of living than other locations. Cost of living was measured by comparing 200 expenses like food, housing, household goods, and more. Quality of life was measured by housing affordability, safety, education, eco-friendliness, and other factors.

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