Some 650 million workers around the world earn less than 1 percent of global income—a figure that has barely changed in 13 years, according to a new International Labor Organization (ILO) report. At the national level, the share of income going to workers is actually falling, decreasing from 53.7 percent in 2004 to 51.4 percent in 2017.
“The average pay of the bottom half of the world’s workers is just $198 per month and the poorest 10 percent would need to work more than three centuries to earn the same as the richest 10 percent do in one year,” says Roger Gomis, an economist in the ILO Department of Statistics.
The report pushes back on the widely held view that overall income inequality is declining in the global south. Rather, increasing prosperity in China and India is skewing the data, which indicate pervasive income inequality in jobs around the world.
Overall, 10 percent of workers receive 48.9 percent of total global pay, while the lowest-paid 50 percent of workers receive just 6.4 percent, a new ILO dataset reveals, the ILO Labor Income Share and Distribution finds.
And the more top earners make, the less everyone else is paid, according to the report. But when income of middle- and lower-paid workers rises, everyone but the top earners gain.
The pay gap is especially large in struggling economies. In sub-Saharan Africa, the bottom 50 percent of workers earn only 3.3 percent of labor income, compared with the European Union, where the same group receives 22.9 percent of the total income.
“The majority of the global workforce endures strikingly low pay and for many having a job does not mean having enough to live on,” Gomis says.
Get Involved with Sustainable Development Campaign
The ILO data, requested by the ILO Global Commission on the Future of Work, will be used to monitor progress toward the United National Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs.) Representatives from around the world are set to meet this month for the High-Level Political Forum on some of the sustainable development goals, including SDG 8, which focuses on promoting sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full employment and decent work for all.
(The International Trade Union Confederation has launched a #Timefor8 campaign. Find out how you can take part.)
The ILO Labor Income Share and Distribution dataset includes 189 countries and provides the first internationally comparable figures of the share of GDP that goes to workers—rather than capital—through wages and earnings. It also looks at how labor income is distributed.
A vigil tonight at the United Nations kicks off events around the world body’s broad new 17-point agenda that aims in part to end extreme poverty, eradicate hunger and ensure clean water and sanitation. The 193 UN member states have debated the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) over past three years and in coming days likely will commit to work toward achieving them by 2030.
The 17 goals include 169 targets, an ambitious agenda whose success will depend upon governments and civil society working together, according to UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon. But fundamental to the entire plan is Goal No. 8, “Decent Work and Economic Growth,” says Shawna Bader-Blau, Solidarity Center executive director.
“Pernicious economic and social inequality is most obvious where the rights of working people are most denied,” Bader-Blau wrote in a recent Huffington Post article. “And no effort to mitigate inequality within and among countries will succeed without a committed movement to protect and bolster those rights.”
Key Goals in Decent Work and Economic Growth
Decent Work and Economic Growth includes the following key goals:
- By 2030, achieve full and productive employment and decent work for all women and men, including for young people and persons with disabilities, and equal pay for work of equal value.
- By 2020, substantially reduce the proportion of youth not in employment, education or training.
- Take immediate and effective measures to eradicate forced labor, end modern slavery and human trafficking and secure the prohibition and elimination of the worst forms of child labor, including recruitment and use of child soldiers, and by 2025 end child labor in all its forms.
Another critical target is protecting worker rights and promoting safe and secure working environments for all workers, “including migrant workers, in particular women migrants, and those in precarious employment.”
“People should not have to leave their human rights at the border when they migrate,” Bader-Blau said this week on the Kojo Nnamdi radio show in Washington, D.C.
Gender Equality Essential for Broad-Based Prosperity
Achieving gender equality, Goal No. 5, also is essential to attaining broad-based prosperity. A new study released today estimates that tackling gender inequality and boosting women’s job opportunities could add $12 trillion to the annual gross domestic product (GNP).
The “Gender Equality” goal includes as one of its top targets the elimination of all forms of violence against women and girls in the public and private sphere—a scourge that is prevalent even in the workplace, where 30 percent to 40 percent of workers report gender-based violence, a figure that rises to 90 percent in some jobs.
Building accountable institutions and ensuring access to justice (Goal No. 16 and Goal No. 17), and implementing social protections systems, one of the targets of Goal No. 1, also are essential components of the new 15-year plan.
The SDGs replace the eight UN Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), which included halving extreme poverty, halting the spread of HIV/AIDS and providing universal primary education by 2015.