The COVID-19 pandemic is exacerbating income inequality, with the ultra-wealthy recouping losses experienced in the spring even as the number of those living in poverty continues to grow, a report from Oxfam International finds.
Based on a survey of nearly three hundred economists from seventy-nine countries, the report, The Inequality Virus (83 pages), found that 87 percent of respondents expect the pandemic to result in an "increase" or a "major increase" in income inequality in their country and 56 percent saying it would "likely" or "very likely" lead to an increase in gender inequality. According to the report, the world's thousand richest individuals had seen their wealth return to pre-pandemic levels by November, while the ten richest — all men — have seen their combined wealth increase by half a trillion dollars since February. By contrast, the report projects it will take more than ten years for the number of people living in poverty globally to return to pre-pandemic levels.
The report also found that infection and mortality rates are higher in poorer areas of France and Spain; that England's poorest regions have experienced mortality rates double that of the wealthiest areas of the country; that, across the European Union, 74 percent of the highest-paid employees are able to work from home, compared with only 3 percent of the lowest-paid workers; and that women, who make up roughly 70 percent of the global health and social care workforce, are overrepresented in precarious, low-paid professions and have been hardest hit by the pandemic.
According to a note put out by the World Bank, if countries were to act now to reduce inequality, poverty levels could return to pre-crisis levels in three years instead of more than ten.
"The fight against inequality must be at the heart of economic rescue and recovery efforts," said Oxfam International executive director Gabriela Bucher. "Governments must ensure everyone has access to a COVID-19 vaccine and financial support if they lose their job. They must invest in public services and low-carbon sectors to create millions of new jobs and ensure everyone has access to a decent education, health, and social care, and they must ensure the richest individuals and corporations contribute their fair share of tax to pay for it....These measures must not be Band-Aid solutions for desperate times but a 'new normal' in economies that work for the benefit of all people, not just the privileged few."