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The 22 richest men in the world have more wealth than all the women in Africa

By Oxfam
Rowena is a full-time day care teacher and mother in the Philippines who also handles all of her family’s care and chore work, leaving her exhausted and taking a toll on her health. Women and girls put in more than 12 billion hours of unpaid care work every day—a contribution to the global economy of almost $11 trillion a year. Photo: Jed Regala/Oxfam

Oxfam’s new report, Time To Care, warns that today’s levels of extreme wealth concentration are not sustainable, and that so many billionaires are a sign of economic sickness, not health.

Income inequality is out of control —the world’s billionaires have more wealth than 4.6 billion people, according to a new report released by Oxfam ahead of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. At the same time, nearly half the world is struggling to survive on $5.50 a day.

The growing gap between rich and poor is undermining the fight against poverty, damaging our economies and fueling public anger across the globe. Unfortunately, repeated warnings about the explosion of inequality have not worked to reverse its course.

Some governments, including the US, are actually exacerbating inequality by cutting taxes for the richest and for corporations while cutting public services – such as healthcare and education – that actually fight inequality. The poorest people in our societies have been hit hardest – particularly women who suffer high levels of economic discrimination, work in the lowest paid jobs, and take on the lion’s share of unpaid care work.

Care work is crucial to our societies and to the economy. It includes looking after children, elderly people, and those with physical and mental illnesses or disabilities, as well as domestic work such as cooking, cleaning, washing, and other household chores. Across the world, this unpaid and underpaid care work is disproportionately done by women and girls, especially those living in poverty and from groups who, as well as gender discrimination, experience discrimination based on race, ethnicity, nationality, and sexuality.

Women around the world undertake more than three-quarters of all unpaid care work, adding up to 12.5 billion hours of unpaid care work every single day. The monetary value of these billions of hours on unpaid care work done by women and girls is estimated conservatively of at least $10.8 trillion annually, over three times the size of the world’s tech industry.

The United States is no exception. Women in the US, like their counterparts around the world, spend considerably more time than men over their lifetime doing unpaid household and care work. On an average day, women in the United States spend 37 percent more time on such unpaid care than men. That’s an extra two hours per day more than men doing unpaid care work, equivalent of more than 95 extra eight-hour workdays per year— for zero pay.

Care work provides a huge subsidy to an economy that systematically undervalues women’s work, paying women less for the same job and pushing them into jobs that pay less. Oxfam estimates that the value of women and girls’ unpaid work in the United States is $1.48 trillion annually—more than twice the US defense budget or about double the combined annual revenue of America’s top five technology companies.

It’s no accident that while most billionaires are men, women dominate the least secure and lowest-paid jobs. Poor women and girls are subsidizing our sexist economies, enabling rich while males to accumulate vast fortunes at the expense of the poorest.

Governments, including the US, have created the inequality crisis —they must act now to end it. They must ensure wealthy individuals and corporations pay their fair share of tax and increase investment in public services and infrastructure to tackle the huge amount of care work done by women and girls.

A less unequal and sexist economy is possible, but it will take concerted effort and bold policy action to build an economic system that offers opportunity—and care—for all people. Policies like guaranteed paid family and medical leave, paid sick days, and elimination of the gender wage gap would recognize and affirm the value of unpaid household and care work and contribute to the well-being of households, communities, and societies.

The ability to work hard and rise up from humble beginnings—the American Dream—is becoming a myth. But we can tackle extreme inequality by demanding action from our elected leaders to reverse the capture of our government by wealthy interests.

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