Income inequality, one of the issues that so troubled the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., is again front and center in today’s news.
A new report on the topic has come up with figures that even caught the financial community by surprise. For example, members of the “world’s richest” club earn half-a-million dollars per minute, the report found, and 7 out of 10 people live in countries where the gap between the rich and poor is worse than 30 years ago.
Wall Street barons, “predominantly white, male and graying,” include Berkshire Hathaway chief Warren Buffett, whose account increased 9 percent between 2013 and 2014 to $58.2 billion. He is at the top, followed by Bloomberg LP founder Michael Bloomberg, worth $33 billion, a 22 percent gain on the previous year. Carl Icahn is third, with a tally of $24.5 billion, up 23 percent.
It would take Microsoft founder Bill Gates 218 years to spend all his wealth, the researchers observed.
Prepared by Oxfam International, a U.K.-based development organization, the report states, “Today there are 16 billionaires in sub-Saharan Africa, alongside the 358 million people living in extreme poverty. … Every year, 100 million people are pushed into poverty because of the rising cost of health care.”
Oxfam said, “If this trend continues, of an increasing wealth share to the richest, the top 1 percent will have more wealth than the remaining 99 percent of the people in just two years.”
When King marched on Washington for jobs and freedom, the federal minimum wage was $1.25 an hour. In today’s dollars, that guaranteed base wage would be $9.54 an hour. But the federal minimum wage today is just $7.25 an hour.
In other words, low-wage workers are more than $2 behind where they were when King declared, “We refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt. We refuse to believe that there are insufficient funds in the great vaults of opportunity of this nation. So we’ve come to cash this check—a check that will give us upon demand the riches of freedom and the security of justice.”
Ugandan activist Winnie Byanyima, who heads Oxfam, wrote on her blog, “Extreme economic inequality is out of control and getting worse. From Ghana to Germany, South Africa to Spain, the gap between rich and poor is rapidly increasing.
“Across rich and poor countries alike, this inequality is fueling conflict, corroding democracies and damaging growth itself. Left unchecked, economic inequality will set back the fight against poverty and threaten global stability.”
Rep. Keith Ellison, D-Minn., concurred. “Workers are falling behind,” he said. “Income inequality threatens our democracy as Jim Crow segregation did in 1963.”