Components of a measure of level of living include health, food consumption and nutrition, education, employment and conditions of work, housing, social security, clothing, recreation, and human freedoms. There are many people in developing countries and in some regions and urban areas of developed countries, whose level of living is considered to be below a desirable standard.
Recent years have seen a further increase in unemployment and destitution, a general worsening in the basic conditions of life, including an absolute impoverishment of the mass of the population in many if not most developing countries as a result of stagnation and decline in use of value-oriented agricultural and industrial production, the outflow of surplus, the progressive displacement of the subsistence economy, and the destruction of the environment. In industrialized countries almost all social and environmental problems are getting worse: crime, substance abuse, stress diseases, homelessness, depression, traffic noise and congestion, pollution, pace, urban blight and poverty.
The precipitous decline in living standards in many developing countries, especially in Africa and Latin America results in social unrest and threatens democratic political institutions. This decline is the result of the drop in commodity prices, deteriorating terms of trade, barriers in industrialized countries to the import of manufactured goods from developing countries and the onerous external debts of capital which acts as severe constraints on economic and social development. Malnutrition, already a serious problem in the 1970s, has risen in the wake of food shortages and near famine conditions.
Statistics from the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP, reported to Rio+5 conference in 1997, are that: more than 100 nations are worse off today than they were 15 years ago; some 1.3 billion people have daily incomes of less than US$1, and 60 percent of humanity lives on less than US$2 per day.
The rate of growth in gross national product per capita in Latin America and the Caribbean in 1988 was 1.5 percentage points lower than in 1987. During the seven years ending in 1988, there had been a net transfer of US$ 20 billion to US$ 30 billion from countries in the region.
Despite the accelerated economic growth between 1958 and 1980, people in the USA reported feeling significantly less well-off in 1980 that they had 22 years before. The rise in per capita consumption in the USA between 1970 and 1990 was 45%; the decrease in the quality of life as measured by the Index of Social Health was 51%.
Raising the GNP lowers the quality of life, because the market forces commercialize the lives of the people who concentrate on maximizing their self-interest. Slowly the market will determine more and more different aspects of the society.
A rising standard of living has not always resulted in a higher quality of life. Indeed, in many ways there has been an erosion in the sense of well-being of people in industrialized countries – both at the individual level and for community. Wealth has come with unforeseen costs: personal, social and environmental.