The 85 richest people on Earth now have the same amount of wealth as the bottom half of the global population, according to a new report from the British humanitarian group Oxfam International.
The findings highlight the widening gap between rich and poor ahead of the annual World Economic Forum this week in Davos, Switzerland, where business and political leaders will gather to discuss the improving world economy.
The bottom half of the population — that's about 3.5 billion people — account for about $1.7 trillion, or about 0.7 percent of the world's wealth, according to the Oxfam report, titled "Working for the Few." And that happens to the same amount of wealth attributed to the world's 85 richest people.
Or as Graeme Wearden put it, writing for the Guardian: "The world's wealthiest people aren't known for traveling by bus, but if they fancied a change of scene then the richest 85 people on the globe — who between them control as much wealth as the poorest half of the global population put together — could squeeze onto a single double-decker."
And those wealthy elite are themselves, in turn, only a small part of the richest 1 percent of the world's population. That 1 percent has amassed about 46 percent of the world's wealth, or $110 trillion, according to the report. That's 65 times the total wealth of the bottom half of the population.
This news comes on the heels of a report last week by the World Economic Forum, which said widening income inequality is the risk most likely to cause serious damage in the next decade. President Barack Obama recently called the expanding gap between rich and poor a bigger threat to the U.S. economy than the budget deficit. And then there was Monday's Gallup poll, which found two-thirds of Americans were dissatisfied with the way income and wealth are distributed in the nation.
The percentage of income held by the richest 1 percent in the United States has grown nearly 150 percent from 1980 through 2012. That small elite has received 95 percent of wealth created since 2009, after the financial crisis, while the bottom 90 percent of Americans have become poorer, Oxfam said.
The uneven gains of the economic recovery, in which many people have had to take lower-paying jobs, have exacerbated income inequality, said Christine Owens, executive director of the National Employment Law Project.
"Income inequality is also socially destabilizing," Owens said. "So it's not just a question of fairness; it's a question of how do we preserve a functioning democracy, and it's difficult to do that if we don't have broadly shared prosperity."
The share of wealth owned by the richest 1 percent since 1980 expanded in all but two of the 26 nations tracked by researchers in the World Top Incomes Database. Oxfam says that falling taxes for the rich and an increased use of tax havens have helped widen income inequality.
Here are some of the steps that Oxfam wants Davos participants, which include some of the wealthiest and most influential corporate executives, to take to reverse the trend:
• Support progressive taxation;
• Pledge not to dodge taxes;
• Pay a living wage to workers at their companies;
• Push governments "to provide universal health care, education and social protection" for their citizens.
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