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Report: Growing Wealth Inequality Hurting Workers

The head of the company that owns Victoria's Secret, Les Wexner, is the richest person in Ohio (Steven Pisano/Flickr)
The head of the company that owns Victoria's Secret, Les Wexner, is the richest person in Ohio (Steven Pisano/Flickr)
January 30, 2018

COLUMBUS, Ohio – Last year, billionaires saw their wealth increase enough to end extreme poverty around the world seven times over. That's according to the "Reward Work, Not Wealth" report from the global charity organization Oxfam. It says 82 percent of the wealth created in 2017 went to the top one percent, and that a new billionaire was created every two days.

Paul O'Brien, Oxfam America's vice president for policy and advocacy, says this growing inequality isn't good news for workers.

"It's not a good time to be a worker on the wrong end of the economic chain," he says. "What we essentially have are market economies where the markets aren't being regulated and the rules are essentially being rigged by those who can afford to do so, and that's where you see extreme wealth emerging and people getting stuck."

Some have criticized the report, saying it buries the good news that the bottom 50 percent of income earners around the world actually are doing better than previously thought. The report focuses on the inequality women face in the workplace. It says women provided an estimated $10 trillion in unpaid work caring for someone else in 2017.

Les Wexner, chairman and CEO of 'L' Brands, is Ohio's richest person with a fortune estimated at $6.4 billion. The company owns Victoria's Secret and other retail stores. O'Brien says a lot of wealthy people contribute substantially to charities but adds that the wealthy also have the power to hurt the rest of society when they don't share their prosperity.

"If human dignity is dependent on everybody having enough power and rights to be able to lift themselves out of poverty, to live with dignity, should any individual have that much power?" he asks.

The Oxfam report also has been chided as overly critical of capitalism and free markets. O'Brien says it's the opposite - that the organization actually wants to see markets work for everyone.

"How do we actually create incentives for companies to grow, markets to work, without creating these extreme realities for people on both ends of the equation?" O'Brien queries.

O'Brien says governments should incentivize business structures that are more beneficial to workers, such as cooperatives, and find a way to compensate people who work in the care economy.

Mary Kuhlman, Public News Service - OH