Pandemic math: Billionaire wealth soars as millions fall into poverty, Oxfam says

Greatest rise in inequality since records began

Aimee Picchi – CBS Moneywatch

The pandemic has worsened income inequality, with the world’s richest people regaining their losses in nine months while the number of people living in poverty has doubled to more than 500 million, according to a new report from the anti-poverty group Oxfam. 

The world’s poorest could take a decade to regain their financial footing from the devastation wrought by the coronavirus pandemic, according to the study, which says the novel coronavirus has accelerated an ongoing trend toward widening income inequality. Oxfam’s report will be released to coincide with the World Economic Forum’s Davos Agenda, set to take place online this year rather than its traditional gathering of global movers and shakers in the Swiss ski resort town of Davos.

America’s richest people have seen their wealth soar during the pandemic by more than $1 trillion, thanks to a booming stock market and a K-shaped recovery that has benefited the rich, while poorer people have struggled with lost wages and jobs and future opportunities. It’s a rich vs. poor phenomenon that is replicating across the globe. Oxfam describes the pandemic’s impact as “the greatest rise in inequality since records began.”

Oxfam called on the Biden administration and other governments around the world to address the inequalities caused by the pandemic. In the U.S, it said, a “multi-trillion-dollar economic recovery plan” is needed to help the tens of millions of Americans suffering from the economic impact of the pandemic. President Joe Biden has proposed a $1.9 trillion relief package, although it hasn’t yet been taken up by Congress.

“Now is not the time to tinker around the edges. We need big and bold action for a more dignified future where everyone can thrive, not just survive,” Paul O’Brien, vice president of Oxfam America, said in a statement.

Economists in 79 countries who were surveyed by Oxfam said they projected their countries would experience an “increase” to a “major increase” in income inequality due to the pandemic. The economists who were surveyed included Jeffrey Sachs of Columbia University, Jayati Ghosh of the at University of Massachusetts Amherst and Gabriel Zucman of the University of California at Berkeley. 

Higher unemployment for women and people of colour

The pandemic has especially exposed inequalities faced by women and people of colour, who have suffered higher rates of unemployment during the pandemic. They are also more likely to work in industries with higher exposure to COVID-19 risks, such as service-based jobs in health care and restaurants. Women comprise 7 out of 10 workers in the global health and social care workforce, Oxfam noted.  

“Women and marginalized racial and ethnic groups are bearing the brunt of this crisis. They are more likely to be pushed into poverty, more likely to go hungry, and more likely to be excluded from healthcare,” Gabriela Bucher, executive director of Oxfam International, said in the statement. 

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