IMPACT
01/22/2018 08:20 EST

The Billionaire Bonanza: 5 Things You Need To Know About The Inequality Gap

Spoiler alert: contains photos of rich white men.

Last year saw the biggest increase in the number of billionaires in history, with one more added every two days, according to a new Oxfam report. This grotesque wealth comes at a price.

“All over the world, our economy of the 1 percent is built on the backs of low paid workers, often women, who are paid poverty wages and denied basic rights,” the report reads.

As political, business and civil society leaders congregate in the Swiss town of Davos for the annual World Economic Forum (WEF), we’ve selected some key stats from Oxfam’s report to help you get to grips with this billionaire bonanza and what it means for workers around the world.

1. Rich Men Get Richer

Jim Tanner / Reuters
Bill Gates, Warren Buffett and Jeff Bezos (L-R), the three richest people in the U.S.

There are now 2,043 dollar billionaires worldwide. Nine out of 10 of them are men.

In 12 months, the wealth of this elite group of 2,043 has increased by $762 billion — enough to end extreme poverty seven times over.

In the period between 2006 and 2015, ordinary workers saw their incomes rise by an average of just 2 percent a year, while billionaire wealth rose by nearly 13 percent.

Bill Gates, Jeff Bezos and Warren Buffett, the three richest people in the U.S., own the same wealth ($248.5 billion) as the bottom half of the U.S. population.

2. Wages Of The Working Poor Stagnate

roibu via Getty Images
Wage theft has been found to be rampant in the U.S. poultry industry.

Around 56 percent of the global population lives on between $2 and $10 a day, including the majority of the world’s workers and small-scale food producers. 

While the value of what workers produce has grown dramatically, wages have not. The International Labour Organization found in its annual report that, between 1995 and 2014, wages in 91 of 133 rich and developing countries did not keep pace with increased productivity and economic growth.

Many countries still have no minimum wage or collective bargaining. Of those with wage policies, many fail to enforce them, depriving workers of their legal entitlements and reducing take-home pay. Oxfam has found wage theft to be rampant in the U.S. poultry industry, with companies refusing to cover overtime.

3. Women Lose Out 

Barcroft Media via Getty Images
Workers pluck tea leaves in Sylhet, Bangladesh.

At current rates of change, the global economic gender gap at work (considering disparities in pay and employment opportunities) will not be closed for another 217 years.

Women’s choices and decision-making abilities can often be constrained by their unequal responsibility for unpaid care work. Roles considered “women’s work,” such as cleaning or nursing, are often valued and paid less.

Gender inequality has been worsened by increased outsourcing led by economic strategies that prioritize cheap and precarious work, most of which is done by women. 

4. Booming Gig Economy Linked To Ill Health

Bloomberg via Getty Images
A bike messenger rides through New York. 

The informal economy accounts for a significant percentage of jobs and GDP, especially in poorer countries. In Latin America, the informal economy — jobs not regularly protected by labor laws — accounts for an estimated 40 percent of regional GDP. In countries including Sudan and Tanzania, up to 90 percent of workers have informal jobs.

Wages tend to be much lower than for workers in formal sectors — in Mexico and Brazil, for example, wages for informal workers are around half the national average for formal work.

In developed countries such as the U.S., there’s been a rapid rise in less secure jobs, something the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development has linked to rising inequality. The lack of a predictable income for those working in the “gig economy” has been linked to increased stress and ill health, due to factors including low control, physical isolation, toxic exposure or physically demanding workloads.

5. But There Is Another Way

James Leynse via Getty Images
Park Slope Food Coop in Brooklyn, one of the oldest and largest food cooperatives in America.

The Oxfam report calls for a more human economy that puts the interests of ordinary workers and small-scale food producers first, not the highly paid and the owners of wealth.

Among its recommendations for governments are to aim for the collective income of the top 10 percent to be no more than the income of the bottom 40 percent, and to encourage fairer business models, including cooperatives and employee-owned companies.

It calls for the repeal of laws that discriminate against women and proposes tax systems which put more burden on the very rich, including taxes on wealth, property and inheritance, and to put an end to tax havens.

When it comes to businesses, recommendations include paying a living wage, ensuring fair supply chains and publishing information on the gender pay gap.

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