Growing Global Inequality Gap ‘Has Reached a Tipping Point’

‘When such a large group in the population gains so little from economic growth, the social fabric frays and trust in institutions is weakened.’

By Nadia Prupis

With the gap between the rich and poor growing worldwide, a new study by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) published Thursday suggests that the only way to reverse such rampant inequality is by implementing government measures aimed at balancing the playing field

Chief among those measures: Tax the rich and push for gender equality.

In its 34 member states, income inequality has reached record highs, the OECD found in its study, In It Together: Why Less Inequality Benefits All. The average income of the top 10 percent was 9.6 times higher than the bottom 10 percent, the OECD found. In the U.S., it was 19 times higher.

“We have reached a tipping point,” said OECD secretary-general Ángel Gurría. “The evidence shows that high inequality is bad for growth. The case for policy action is as much economic as social. By not addressing inequality, governments are cutting into the social fabric of their countries and hurting their long-term economic growth.”

“In recent decades, as much as 40% of the population at the lower end of the distribution has benefited little from economic growth in many countries,” the study found. “In some cases, low earners have even seen their incomes fall in real terms. When such a large group in the population gains so little from economic growth, the social fabric frays and trust in institutions is weakened.”

Working conditions have also deteriorated, largely due to the rise of a “non-standard” economy that incentivizes part-time work, self-employment, and temporary contracting.

“Between 1995 and 2013, more than 50 percent of all jobs created in OECD countries fell into these categories,” the OECD stated in a press release on Thursday. “Low-skilled temporary workers, in particular, have much lower and instable earnings than permanent workers.”

However, the study found that an increase in the number of women working “helped stem the rise in inequality, despite their being about 16% less likely to be in paid work and earn about 15% less than men.”

Inequality is highest in Chile, Mexico, the United States, Turkey, and Israel. It is lowest in Denmark, Slovenia, Slovak Republic and Norway.

Higher inequality also drags down economic growth by making opportunities more scant for the bottom 40 percent and often preventing low-income children from receiving quality education, or enough of it. The long-term rise of inequality “has indeed put a significant brake on long-term growth,” from developed nations to emerging economies, the OECD found.

“If the bottom loses ground, everyone is losing ground,” the report states.

The OECD recommends a wide range of solutions to reverse the growing wealth gap, including removing the obstacles that prevent mothers from working; doing more to provide youth with useful skills and allow workers to continue updating those skills over time; and redistribute wealth through taxes and transfers, which the report describes as a “powerful instrument to contribute to more equality and more growth.”

“In recent decades, the effectiveness of redistribution mechanisms has been weakened in many countries,” the OECD states. “To address this, policies need to ensure that wealthier individuals, but also multinational firms, pay their share of the tax burden.”

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