Some commentators argue that greater economic growth implies less absolute poverty. This is wrong. If the economic development process is accompanied by an increase in inequality, this may prevent the benefits of growth reaching the fringes of the population: the poverty and social exclusion indicators could remain the same or even worsen. The estimates presented in this chapter—based on a unique collection of household budgets covering 150 years of Italy’s history—establish a number of unknown “facts” about the incidence and depth of poverty in Italy. This knowledge enables us to evaluate how the economic progress of the country—the spectacular increase in per-capita GDP —has been distributed among the Italians and whether it reached the poorest segment of the population. No country in the world can boast an estimate of the absolute poverty trend along such a long time frame.
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