NEW YORK (MainStreet) — Earlier this year, Oxfam International released a surprising report that found that the top 1% of income earners in the world are poised to own more than half of all global wealth in 2016. The study was unveiled just prior to the World Economic Forum held in Davos, Switzerland this past January.
Specifically, the study found that the wealthiest 1% on the planet have seen their share of wealth increase from 44% in 2009 to 48% in 2014. In the past five years alone, the richest 80 experienced a doubling of their wealth in cash terms.
As for the remaining 52% of global wealth, the vast majority (46%) is owned by the richest fifth of the world’s population. This means that 80% of the global population own a mere 5.5% of the world’s wealth--which equates to $3,851 per adult annually, or 1/700th of the 1%’s average wealth--with more than a billion people worldwide living on less than $1.25 a day.
Last year, Oxfam International released different study that found that the 85 richest people on the planet owned the same amount of wealth as the 3.5 billion people that comprise the bottom half of the global income spectrum.
“Do we really want to live in a world where the one percent own more than the rest of us combined?” Winnie Byanyima, executive director of Oxfam International, said in a release. “The scale of global inequality is quite simply staggering and despite the issues shooting up the global agenda, the gap between the richest and the rest is widening fast.”
Currently, the 80 wealthiest people in the world own a combined $1.9 trillion. Of this, the lion’s share is owned by U.S. citizens--as 35 of the top 80 are Americans--making the United States the most widely represented nation in the 1%.
“Our nation has long presented itself to the world as the model of successful, inclusive growth that lifts millions into the middle class,” Gawain Kripke, Policy Director at Oxfam America, told Main Street in an email. “[Yet] today, the U.S. ranks ten out 12 OECD countries in social mobility.”
According to Kripke, the current federal minimum wage is part of the problem contributing to the lack of social mobility among the lower and middle classes.
“Our country has the highest proportion of low-wage workers of any developed country, people who work hard but...are barely able to make ends meet,” says Kripke. “At least one in four Americans work at jobs that pay so little that they cannot sustain themselves and their families without turning to government programs or going into debt.”
At $7.25 per hour, a full-time worker makes $15,080 a year--almost $4,000 below the poverty line for a family of three. This rate has been stagnant for seven years, and according to Kripke, is more than 30% below what it was in inflation-adjusted dollars in 1968.
“Money buys political clout, which the richest and most powerful use to further entrench their influence and advantages,” says Kripke. “The preferences of the poorest people, however, demonstrate no statistical impact on the voting patterns of their elected officials.”
Paul S. Adams, associate Professor of Political Science at the University of Pittsburgh at Greensburg, notes that this can have serious implications for the American middle and working classes.
“There are other consequences in the U.S. as well, ranging from the ability of the most affluent to unduly influence the political system, and even basic access to quality healthcare, education, housing, transportation and worker protections,” says Adams. “Too much concentration of wealth in the hands of a few seems inherently unstable as an economic order in modern political economic systems.”
To address these consequences and the other issues inherent in extreme income inequality, Oxfam International revealed a “Seven Point Plan,” as part of its Even It Up Campaign, which is as follows:
- Clamp down on tax dodging by corporations and rich individual
- Invest in universal, free public services such as health and education
- Share the tax burden fairly, shifting taxation from labour and consumption toward capital and wealth
- Introduce minimum wages and move towards a living wage for all workers
- Introduce equal pay legislation and promote economic policies to give women a fair deal
- Ensure adequate safety-nets for the poorest, including a minimum income guarantee
- Agree to a global goal to tackle inequality.
Byanyima has expressed that if nothing is done to address the issue, it’s not just people on the bottom who will suffer, but the entire global economy.
“Extreme inequality isn't just a moral wrong,” said Byanyima. “[I]t hampers economic growth and...threatens the private sector's bottom line.”
“The middle class and working class are actually important engines of economic prosperity and stability,” says Adams. "[W]ithout them, the economy becomes a lot less predictable and sustainable.”
--Written by Laura Kiesel for MainStreet