42 people now own the same amount of wealth as the bottom 3.7 billion people in the world

A new report details the ways inequality thrived in 2017.

CREDIT: Getty Images
CREDIT: Getty Images

Last year saw the biggest increase in the number of billionaires in history — a new one every two days — bringing the number of global billionaires to 2,043. Nine out of 10 of them are men, according to new report from Oxfam released Monday, which details the ways global inequality thrived in 2017.

Last year, the wealth of that elite group increased by $762 billion, enough to end global poverty seven times over, and between 2006 and 2015, according to Oxfam, ordinary workers saw their incomes rise by an average of just 2 percent per year. During that same time period, billionaire wealth rose six times as fast, about 13 percent per year.

According to the report, 82 percent of all growth in global wealth last year went to the top 1 percent, while the bottom half of people worldwide saw no increase at all. Oxfam also found that women provide about $10 trillion in unpaid care each year to support the global economy.

That means the richest 1 percent of people continue to own more wealth than the rest of humanity combined.

To put things in perspective, think of it this way: New York City has a population of a little more than 8.5 million people. Now double the number of people, and then double it again and again and again and again until you get 3.7 billion people — or about 400 New York Cities-worth of people.


Last year, in 2017, those 400 New York Cities made no progress toward greater economic security. The 3.7 billion people who make up those 400 New York Cities-worth of people gained zero percent of the wealth generated by the human race last year.

Meanwhile, 42 people — about one busy New York City diner full of people — now own the same amount of wealth as the bottom 3.7 billion people who make up those 400 New York Cities. Sixty-one people own the same wealth as the entire bottom 50 percent of humanity.

Such extreme wealth is rarely earned. According to Oxfam, approximately one third of billionaires become billionaires via inheritance, and another third are due to monopolies and chronyism. While some billionaires do make their fortunes in competitive markets, they often do so by driving down the wages and ignoring working conditions.

As the authors of the Oxfam report write, “At the same time, the poorest children, and especially the poorest girls, are condemned to die poor, as opportunities go to the children of richer families.”

There are ways to remedy this: governments around the world can commit to providing education, health care, and social protection for all — and pay for those necessities by ensuring rich individuals and corporations pay their fair share of taxes. Oxfam also recommends that governments work to implement policies aimed at ending all forms of gender discrimination, limit returns to shareholders, transition from minimum wages to living wages, publicly commit to achieving universal free public services, ensure worker representation on company boards, and use taxes to reduce extreme wealth.


“Governments have another key role to play in further reducing inequality by using taxation and spending to redistribute,” the report’s author’s write. “Far more can be done to use tax to redistribute the excessive returns currently enjoyed by the wealthy. Both rich individuals and rich corporations should pay more in taxation, and they must no longer be able to avoid paying the tax that they owe.”

In 2017, the United States, led by President Trump, did the opposite. The Trump administration’s crowning achievement last year was a tax overhaul that raises taxes on middle class people making between $40,000 and $50,000 a year by more than $5 billion, all while cutting taxes by more than $5.5 billion for people making more than $1 million a year. The plan punishes wage-earning employees, creates a litany of loopholes for corporations, and repealed the Affordable Care Act’s individual mandate, a move that will kill 10,000 people every year.