Starting from the 1970s, when the tentacles of the neoliberal economic model slowly began to spread out, and most of the world embraced the concept of letting markets run free, it was hoped that equality would eventually find its way. Yet, decades later, a large portion of the world remains in the fierce grip of poverty. In the US alone – the most powerful country in the world – almost 12% of people live in poverty, which is less than $33 a day. Oxfams’s 2021 report, “The Inequality Virus,” predicts that the total number of people living in poverty has increased by 200 million-500 million in 2020.
When COVID-19 became global around March 2020, it revealed entrenched socio-economic and racial inequalities that continue to dominate our societies. It exposed the huge gulf between the rich and the poor, the one that has only gotten wider in the past one year of the pandemic. The total wealth of billionaires has increased by $3.9 trillion between March and December 2020, and is now estimated at $12 trillion. This is equal to the amount G20 countries have spent to manage the pandemic, both in terms of economics and health. The world’s 10 richest people have had their wealth increase by $450 billion during the pandemic. In contrast, 56% of the world lives on $2-$10 a day.
The global poverty standards have been low to begin with, but for the first time in 20 years, it is predicted to have increased due to job redundancies and pay cuts experienced by working-class people during the pandemic. However, billionaires have already regained the wealth they “lost” during the pandemic. Compared to the 2008 economic crisis, it took the billionaire elite five years to recover their wealth to pre-economic crisis levels.
So while the richest of the rich have escaped the worst of the pandemic’s economic effects, those on the lower rungs of the income ladder have seen their wealth decrease drastically. The Oxfam report estimated that in 2020, the number of people living on less than $5.50 a day has increased by 200 million to half a billion.
Even among the worst hit, women and racialized groups have experienced the pandemic’s economic brunt. Globally, 740 million women work in the informal economy, and during the first month of the pandemic along, their income plummeted by 60%. There’s a she-cession currently taking place, where women are experiencing the highest levels of unemployment since they mostly work in the service sector or have to stay at home to take care of children.
If there are two big lessons from the pandemic, then it’s that, contrary to popular opinion, COVID-19 has not affected everyone equally, and that inequality is set to rise for the first time since we have records of the beginnings of inequality. The Oxfam report highlighted that people want a different world with just metrics to measure equality and wellbeing. These metrics include a wealth tax, economies that put people’s wellbeing at the core, a world without exploitation and income security, and climate safety.
There’s a long way to go, but at least we have a few solutions to start building a different world.
Featured Image: iStock Photos
Wiki Production Code: A0525