The U.S. was absent from the report’s section highlighting measures fighting pandemic-induced inequality.
The pandemic has triggered the biggest rise in global inequality “since records began,” according to a new Oxfam report. And the U.S. isn’t helping.
“Our report is about a deeply unfair economic system that enables super rich elites to amass huge fortunes while making it hard for billions of poor people to make it through,” said Oxfam senior researcher and report co-author Nick Galasso. “The U.S., in many respects, drives a lot of the problems we see.”
The money made since March by the 10 richest people in the world — eight of whom are U.S.-based — could prevent anyone on Earth from falling into poverty because of the virus and provide vaccines for all, according to the report, which surveyed experts and analyzed bank data from around the world.
But while billionaires were recovering from early pandemic losses to new financial heights, for the poor it could take over a decade to recover, the report said.
“The deep divide between the rich and poor is proving as deadly as the virus,” said Oxfam International executive director Gabriela Bucher in a statement. Oxfam is a coalition of nonprofits from around the world focused on fighting global poverty.
The survey found that 87 percent of the 295 economists surveyed, including UC Berkeley professor and wealth gap expert Gabriel Zucman, believe that income inequality will “increase or strongly increase” in their country as a result of the pandemic.
The report makes recommendations based on an analysis of existing policies throughout the world that attempt to address COVID-induced inequalities. While it highlights, among others, efforts in Sierra Leone, South Korea, and Argentina, where a one-time tax levy on the super rich helped pay for COVID-19 relief, U.S. policies aren’t mentioned once.
The lack of U.S. policies aimed at curbing pandemic-induced inequality “contrasts a lot with other countries,” said Audrey Guo, an assistant professor of economics for Santa Clara University.“The U.S. isn’t doing enough to offset that increase in inequality.”
The report does mention, however, that in the past 40 years the U.S. tax rates for top earners have dropped by almost half; that women in the U.S. were 1.8 times more likely to have lost their job because of the pandemic; and that hunger had spiked “even in high-income countries like the U.S.”
The crisis will also further widen the racial economic gap, the Oxfam report said. The Black poverty rate in the U.S. is expected to increase by 12.6 percent, while the increase projected for Whites is 4.2 percent. For Latinx people, it’s 9.4 percent. Researchers calculated that if people of color and Whites had died at the same rate, “we’d have 22,000 more Black and Latino souls with us today,” Galasso said.
Governments are the ones that must take on the responsibility to “build more equal, more inclusive economies that end poverty and protect the planet,” Bucher said. “Extreme inequality is not inevitable, but a policy choice.”
This article is part of the California Divide, a collaboration among newsrooms examining income inequality and economic survival in California.