POLITICS: PennAve

Viral report: Top 85 billionaires worth more than bottom half of world's individuals

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PennAve,Joseph Lawler,Economy,Income Inequality

The top 85 billionaires are together worth more than the bottom 4.5 billion people in the world, according to a new report from the anti-poverty group Oxfam that has gone viral ahead of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.

Oxfam's report, widely disseminated across the Internet, decries global inequality and draws attention to dramatic statistics illustrating rising inequality, such as the fact that 1 percent of the world's population controls half of the world's wealth. Oxfam is calling on the government officials and business representatives gathering at Davos to promote measures aimed at correcting inequality, such as supporting progressive taxation, cracking down on tax havens and implementing living wages at companies they control.

The statistic that 85 billionaires are worth more than the bottom half of the world's people is taken from the list of world billionaires published by Forbes Magazine and a report on global wealth published by the research division of Credit Suisse.

Credit Suisse estimates that global wealth hit a record high of $241 trillion in 2013, only less than 1 percent of which, roughly $1.7 trillion, is controlled by the bottom 50 percent of humans. The top 85 billionaires on the Forbes list are worth the same amount.

Those individuals in the bottom half of wealth include many people who have net negative worth. Seventy million adults have overall negative net worth, with a combined debt of $949 billion, explained Anthony Shorrocks, an economist who helped assemble the data for the Credit Suisse report. Youths have zero wealth for the purpose of the presentation of Credit Suisse's data.

Those debts are canceled out by many others in the bottom half of the distribution, who are very low-wealth individuals. Two-thirds of everyone in the world has less than $10,000 in assets. Wealth of just $753,000 is enough to place an individual in the top 1 percent globally, according to Credit Suisse.

Half of all the world's debtors, 34.5 million, live in the U.S., Shorrocks told the Washington Examiner.

"Negative wealth holdings is a rich world phenomenon, especially associated with countries with high levels of student debt and sophisticated financial markets," Shorrocks wrote in an email, cautioning against reading too much into numbers regarding net-negative individuals. Many are students with student loans or new homeowners.

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