FacebookTwitterRedditEmail

The Billionaire Boom: 82% of Global Wealth Produced Last Year Went to Richest 1%

Photo by Nathaniel St. Clair

Forida is a 22-year-old sewing machine operator in a clothing factory in Dahka, Bangladesh. She often works 12-hour days producing clothes for brands such as H&M and Target. Sometimes, during busy production cycles, the hours are even longer.

“Last year, I worked until midnight for a full month,” Forida explained. “I used to feel sick all the time. I was stressed about my son and then after I got home from work, I had to clean the house and cook and then go back to work again the next morning. I would go to bed at 2am and get up at 5.30am each day.”

Even with the combined income from her husband, Forida’s family barely had enough food to eat.

Meanwhile, a CEO from a top clothing brand would have to work only four days to earn what a garment worker in Bangladesh earns in a lifetime.

Forida’s story is included in a report released today by the anti-poverty organization Oxfam. The report, Reward Work, Not Wealth, reveals how the global economy empowers the richest 1% while hundreds of millions of people struggle to survive.

Oxfam found that 82% of the global wealth produced last year went to the richest 1% of the world’s population. In other words, four out of every five dollars of wealth created in 2017 went into the pockets of the 1%.

While a new billionaire was created every other day, the 3.7 billion people making up the poorest half of the world’s population saw no increase in their wealth last year.

“The billionaire boom is not a sign of a thriving economy but a symptom of a failing economic system,” said Winnie Byanyima, the Executive Director of Oxfam. “The people who make our clothes, assemble our phones and grow our food are being exploited to ensure a steady supply of cheap goods, and swell the profits of corporations and billionaire investors.”

Oxfam reported that the 42 richest people now own as much wealth the poorest half of the world’s population.

Since 2010, billionaire wealth has risen annually by 13%, a rate six time higher than that of average workers.

Key factors contributing to this concentration of wealth, Oxfam found, are erosion of workers’ rights, corporate influence in political and labor policy-making, rewarding inherited wealth, tax evasion, and cutting costs to maximize profits for company owners.

“A perfect storm is driving up the bargaining power of those at the top while driving down the bargaining power of those at the bottom,” Paul O’Brien, Oxfam America’s Vice President for Policy and Campaigns, explained. “If such inequality remains unaddressed, it will trap people in poverty and further fracture our society.”

Oxfam pointed to President Trump’s policies as widening the gap between rich and poor, and empowering the 1% on the backs of the American working class.

Since taking office, Trump has chosen a cabinet with more billionaires in it than ever before in US history, and whose combined wealth is greater than the 100 million poorest Americans. Oxfam cited Trump’s proposed tax and healthcare reforms as policies favoring the super-rich.

Meanwhile, the three richest Americans own the same wealth as the poorest half of the country’s population.

Such data underlines the plight of the American poor. Oxfam’s report included a portrait of Dolores, a former poultry worker in Arkansas. She and her co-workers were provided so few bathroom breaks at the factory that they were forced to wear diapers to work.

“It was like having no worth,” Dolores said. “We would arrive at 5 in the morning… until 11 or 12 without using the bathroom… I was ashamed to tell them that I had to change my Pampers.”

Work in the US poultry industry has one of the highest rates of injury in the country. Oxfam found that “repetitive strain injuries can be so severe that after only one year on the production lines, some workers reported being unable to straighten their fingers, hold a spoon or even properly hold their children’s hands.”

Across the world, poor people’s labor fuels the rising concentration of wealth.

“Dangerous, poorly paid work for the many is supporting extreme wealth for the few,” Oxfam explained. “Women are in the worst work, and almost all the super-rich are men. Governments must create a more equal society by prioritizing ordinary workers and small-scale food producers instead of the rich and powerful.”

More articles by:

Benjamin Dangl has a PhD in Latin American history from McGill University and has worked as a journalist throughout Latin America for over fifteen years, covering politics and protest movements for outlets such as Common Dreams, The Guardian, Al Jazeera, The Nation, Salon, Vice, and NACLA Report on the Americas. He is the author of the books The Five Hundred Year Rebellion: Indigenous Movements and the Decolonization of History in BoliviaDancing with Dynamite: Social Movements and States in Latin America; The Price of Fire: Resource Wars and Social Movements in Bolivia, all published by AK Press. Follow him on Twitter: @bendangl

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550
Weekend Edition
August 23, 2019
Friday - Sunday
Paul Street
Notes on Inauthenticity in a Creeping Fascist Nuthouse
Andrew Levine
Recession Now, Please
Rob Urie
Mr. Trump Goes to Kensington
Jeffrey St. Clair
Deep Time and the Green River, Floating
Robert Hunziker
Earth 4C Hotter
Kenneth Good
Congo’s Patrice Lumumba: The Winds of Reaction in Africa
Pete Dolack
The Realism and Unrealism of the Green New Deals
David Rosen
The White-Nationalist Great Fear
Kenn Orphan
The War on Indigenous People is a War on the Biosphere Itself
L. Michael Hager
What Netanyahu’s Travel Ban Has Revealed
Ramzy Baroud
Jewish Settlers Rule the Roost in Israel, But at What Price?
Evaggelos Vallianatos
Is Environmental Protection Possible?
Josue De Luna Navarro
What It’s Like to Grow Up Hunted
Ralph Nader
They Don’t Make Republicans Like the Great Paul Findley Anymore!
Gary Olson
Whither the Resistance to our Capitalist Overlords?
Dean Baker
On Those Downward Jobs Revisions
Rev. William Alberts
Beware of the Gun-Lover-in-Chief
Helder F. do Vale
Brazil: From Global Leader to U.S. Lapdog
Laura Finley
Educators Actually Do “Work” in the Summer
Jim Goodman
Farmers Need a Bill of Rights
Tom Clifford
What China’s Leadership is Really Worried About: Rising Debt
Daphne Wysham
Saving the Planet Means Fighting Bipartisan Corruption
Tierra Curry
Amazon Fires Put the Planet at Risk
Nyla Ali Khan
Kashmir: Decentralize Power and Revive Regional Political Institutions
John W. Whitehead
American Apocalypse
George Wuerthner
How Agriculture and Ranching Subvert the Re-Wilding of America
Daniel Murphy
Capital in the 21st Century
Jessicah Pierre
400 Years After Slavery’s Start, No More Band-Aids
Kim C. Domenico
Finding the Comrades: Maintaining Precarious Sanity In Insane Times
Gary Leupp
“Based on the Fact She Won’t Sell Me Greenland, I’m Staying Home”
John Kendall Hawkins
The Chicago 8 Trial, Revisited
Rivera Sun
Tapping into People Power
Ted Rall
As Long as Enemies of the State Keep Dying Before Trial, No One Should Trust the State
Jesse Jackson
The Significance of the “1619 Project”
Thomas Knapp
“Nuance” in Politics and Public Policy? No Thanks
Christopher Brauchli
Trump and Endangered Species, Wildlife and Human
Mel Gurtov
China’s Hong Kong Nightmare, and the US Response
Ron Forthofer
Sick of Being a Guinea Pig
Nicky Reid
Why I Stopped Being White (and You Should Too)
Jill Richardson
As the School Year Starts, I’m Grateful for the ADA
Seth Sandronsky
Rethinking the GDR
Adolf Alzuphar
Tears / Ayizan Velekete
Stephen Cooper
General Jah Mikey: “I Just Love That Microphone, Man”
Louis Proyect
Slaves to the Clock
David Yearsley
Moral Cantatas
FacebookTwitterRedditEmail