Looking at global inequality, what it means for both extremes of the spectrum, why it needs to change and practical steps towards a more equitable society.

A visual excerpt based on Oxfam's 2019 annual report Reward Work not Wealth

By Bibliotec, with special editing assistance from Robyn Bowden

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Last year saw the biggest increase in the number of billionaires in history, one more every two days. Billionaires saw their wealth increase by $762bn in 12 months. This huge increase could have ended global extreme poverty seven times over.

Economic Growth, the metric that we use to measure a nation's health, is broken.

Considering the extent to which wealth is unevenly distributed, economic growth does not reflect overall prosperity. Instead, it reflects a system where wealth is concentrated and enjoyed by a very small percentage of the population, who are often complicit or directly involved in exploiting the majority. On the other hand, the majority are trapped in poverty as a result of their limited wages. The concentration of power has also led to workers' rights being significantly diminished and undermined; the space for citizens to speak out is being closed, and freedom of speech suppressed. CIVICUS has found that serious threats to civic freedoms now exist in more than 100 countries.

"We can have democracy in this country, or we can have great wealth concentrated in the hands of a few, but we can't have both."

US Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis famously said, "We can have democracy in this country, or we can have great wealth concentrated in the hands of a few, but we can't have both." Our leaders know this, but rather than act to reduce wealth concentration and inequality, they are instead choosing to suppress democracy and the freedom to demand a fairer society.

Unless we can fix our economy and decrease inequality, poverty with all its direct and indirect effects can never meaningfully end.

Economic Rewards Concentrated

You are probably aware that there is a yawning gap between how much is earned by the wealthiest parts of the population vs. the amount earned by anyone else. This gap has been widening exponentially due to uneven income growth (i.e. how much the amount someone earns increases over time) over the last several decades, according to the World Inequality Report.

Between 1980 and 2016, 31% of the total income growth went to the middle 40%*

The remaining 69% was distributed between the top 10% and the bottom 50% of the earners.

We can see that the most growth was divided amongst the smallest number of people (top 10%) and for the bottom 90%, the opposite is true.

(it could be helpful to think of the number in the coins as that group's share of the total pay raises in that time)

*World Inequality Database





Middle 40%

Bottom 50%

Bottom 90%

Top 10%



If income in 1980 looked liked this:

For the bottom 50%'s income to have doubled from 1980 to 2016

The middle 40%'s will have risen eleven times

And the top 10%'s by a factor of 48

If we compare the bottom 50% to the top 1%, it's 226 times

For the 0.1%, an astounding 1092 times

With hypothetical incomes for context

Top 0.1%



Top 1%



Top 10%



Middle 40%



Bottom 50%



Bottom 50%

Middle 40%

Top 10%

Top 1%

Top 0.1%

In 2016, annual share dividends from the parent company of fashion chain Zara to the world's fourth-richest man, Amancio Ortega, were worth approximately 1.3bn Euros. Stefan Persson, whose father founded H&M, is ranked 43 in the Forbes list of the richest people in the world, and received 658m Euros in share dividends last year. People like Persson and Ortega could not have gained this sort of wealth on their own. This type of wealth relies heavily on the backs of invisible workers.

Who are these invisible workers?

Click to reveal

Workers like Anju, Dolores, and Myint are subjected to atrocious working conditions and poverty wages despite significant economic growth in most countries in recent decades. While the value of what workers produce has grown dramatically, they have seen little or any correlation in their wages or working conditions. The International Labour Organisation (ILO) surveyed 133 rich and developing countries between 1995 and 2014, and found that in 91 countries, wages had not reflected increased productivity and economic growth.

Meanwhile, returns for shareholders and senior executives have risen to unfathomable numbers. The richest 1% continue to own more wealth than the whole of the rest of humanity. On average, it takes just over 4 days for a CEO to earn what one Bangladeshi does her entire lifetime.

A visual excerpt based on Oxfam's report Reward Work not Wealth