News & Politics

Global Inequality Skyrockets: Report Says Top 1% Have Increased Wealth By 60% Over Last Two Decades

A new report released by the anti-poverty group Oxfam is filled with staggering statistics that make clear the depth of the inequality problem.

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The world should work to end extreme wealth by 2025 and reduce the massive inequality has has skyrocketed over the past twenty years, the anti-poverty group Oxfam states in a new report [pdf].

While discourse on inequality has grown more prominent in recent years thanks to Occupy Wall Street and major institutions highlighting the problem of extreme inequality, the focus has largely been on only one-half of the problem: ending extreme poverty. Though Oxfam praises the efforts to eradicate extreme poverty, the group urges people to “demonstrate that we are also tackling inequality- and that means looking at not just the poorest but the richest.”

The report is filled with staggering statistics that make clear the depth of the inequality problem. For instance, the US has seen “the share of national income going to the top 1%... doubled since 1980 from 10 to 20%. For the top 0.01% it has quadrupled  to levels never seen before.” And globally, the situation is not any better: “Globally the incomes of the top 1% have increased 60% in twenty years. The growth in income for the 0.01% has been even greater.” And the financial crisis has only accelerated the process of the 1% gaining even greater wealth.

Why is this a problem? Oxfam lays out a number of reasons. Extreme inequality is economically inefficient, as “they limit the overall amount of growth, and...that growth fails to benefit the majority.” Inequality is also politically corrosive, as massive amounts of wealth means massive amount of political power, which in turn skews the playing field against people with less means. And that process of skewing the political playing field towards the rich increases resentment and could lead to unrest.

Oxfam also notes that massive inequality leads to environmental destruction. “Those in the 1% have been estimated to use as much as 10,000 times more carbon than the average US citizen,” the report states. “Increasing scarcity of resources like land and water mean that assets being monopolized by the few cannot continue if we are to have a sustainable future.” And lastly, Oxfam argues that inequality is unethical.

To solve the problem, the report suggests a number of things: decent work for decent wages; free public services; access to quality education; and regulation and taxation.

“We cannot afford to have a world where inequality continues to grow in the majority of countries. In a world of increasingly scarce resources, reducing inequality is more important than ever. It needs to be reduced and quickly,” says Oxfam.


Alex Kane is former World editor at AlterNet. His work has appeared in Mondoweiss, Salon, VICE, the Los Angeles Review of Books and more. Follow him on Twitter @alexbkane.

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