New research shows global poverty trends are on the rise amid the pandemic for the first time in decades.

The economic downturn due to COVID-19 has caused an increase in the total number of people living in extreme poverty for the first time since 1997, according to a recent policy brief from the Center for Sustainable Development at Brookings.

The pandemic has pushed households “living at the margins” back into poverty, said report authors, attributing people’s inability to pay for food or housing to job losses and school closures due to lockdowns and social distancing measures.

Women have been particularly impacted, with mothers at all socio-economic levels leaving the workforce to care for their children at home and help with online learning. The report also notes that women and girls of reproductive age were overrepresented among those living in poverty prior to the pandemic, “making these setbacks all the more concerning.”

The report, which captures the potential impacts of COVID-19 on poverty through 2030, found COVID-19 to set poverty reduction back by four years, with impacts lasting significantly longer in some countries. Researchers estimate 588 million people could still live in extreme poverty by 2030, 50 million more than were estimated in pre-COVID projections.

While impacts have been worldwide, certain countries have been more severely impacted.

Report findings include:

  • The countries with the largest change in potential poverty headcount (the impact of COVID-19 prior to accounting for mitigating government assistance) between 2019-2020 include India (46 million), Nigeria (7.4 million), and Venezuela (3.8 million)
  • Poverty is significantly increasing in middle-income, conflict affected countries in sub-Saharan Africa, which could account for 84 percent of those living in poverty by 2030
  • Pandemic impacts will be short-term for some countries, such as India, the Philippines, and Indonesia, who are expected to rebound in 2021-2022
  • Researchers project 33 countries, 15 of which are in sub-Saharan Africa, will experience lingering economic impacts with 2026 per capita income levels below those of 2019
  • Nine countries with the largest numbers of extreme poverty will be in Africa by 2030

“Unless general economic growth accelerates in Africa, the prospects for poverty reduction are dim without specific poverty targeting programs being put in place,” wrote study authors. “One silver lining of the COVID-19 pandemic has been the attention that has been given to improving and extending social protection programs.”

Brookings researchers called for the continued use of data to improve targeting of poverty hotspots and support and aid from the global community. “All around the world, countries launched social protection and safety net programs to help those at the bottom of the income distribution weather the COVID-19 pandemic. While many of these programs may be temporary, there is some hope that with the infrastructure now in place, these programs can continue to provide assistance for the poor and help them move out of poverty.”

“2021 represents an opportunity for the international community to double down on the ‘no one left behind’ value of the Sustainable Development Goals, and to support targeted investments in the cash transfer, social protection, and livelihoods interventions needed to end poverty by 2030,” researchers concluded.