A new report by global anti-poverty organization Oxfam says that 10 billionaires have made enough money during the coronavirus pandemic to bring vaccines to everyone on the planet.
The report, released Monday (February 8), shows the inequality sparked by the pandemic that has left millions worldwide food and housing insecure.
According to Oxfam, 1,000 billionaires lost a collective 30% of their wealth when COVID-19 restrictions were first imposed in the US in March. By the end of November, they’d made their money back, a feat that will take the world’s poorest individuals more than 10 years to do.
“While a wealthy minority have amassed vast fortunes before and during the pandemic, the majority of the world’s population have been struggling to survive on poverty wages and without access to decent healthcare or education,” Paul O’Brien, Oxfam America’s vice president, told the Huffington Post. “Today’s levels of extreme wealth concentration are not sustainable. Billionaires are a sign of economic sickness, not health. They are the symptoms of a broken economy.”
According to World Bank estimates, more than 200 million people may become impoverished as a direct result of the coronavirus pandemic’s economic fallout.
Oxfam used data from the World Bank and Credit Suisse, and the Forbes Billionaire list to estimate that the world’s richest people, including Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos and Tesla founder Elon Musk added about $540 billion to their total net worth during the last nine months of 2020. If the 10 of them gave $80 billion, Oxfam says that would be enough to prevent millions from going into poverty for an entire year.
That same group could pay for everyone in the world to get both vaccine doses and still have money leftover.
Bezos specifically, Oxfam says, “could have personally paid each of Amazon’s 876,000 employees a one-off $105,000 bonus… and still be as wealthy as he was at the beginning of the pandemic.” Amazon saw a surge in profits as most of the world was locked down, creating demand for deliveries. The company also had 20,000 workers contract COVID-19 between March and September of last year, highlighting the need for a structural change in how wages are distributed between its highest and lowest paid workers, which often follow racial lines in the US.
The wealth gap in America is a reflection of institutional economic oppression and exploitation, that continues to impact across generations, especially those on the frontlines working during the coronavirus pandemic. The financial impact of the pandemic has exacerbated gaps and inequality.
In terms of solutions, Oxfam says taxing companies is needed, not charitable donations.
“Asking the wealthy to be charitable is no substitute for taxing them and the companies whose profits have soared in past years,” O’Brien said. Oxfam proposed making investments in social services and guaranteed income, as well as shifting away from using gross domestic product as an economic growth measurement, and addressing inequality as a priority in pandemic recovery plans.
“The most effective way of getting people back on their feet in the wake of this pandemic is to build fairer, more sustainable economies that work for everyone and not just a fortunate few,” O’Brien said.
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