Everything is quiet along 5th Street in downtown Los Angeles, Calif. prior to the sweeps by Los Angeles police officers and sanitation workers who were clearing out the homeless and their belongings, then power washing the sidewalks and gutters, on April 18, 2016. (Mark Boster/Los Angeles Times/TNS)

Lee: Extreme poverty will never end without help from the top one percent

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The world’s billionaires are not in the habit of giving charitable donations, but without them, poverty is inevitable and inequality will persist.

By Ella Lee

ella-lee@uiowa.edu

As a child, I always wondered what it would be like to be a billionaire. Could I take my baths in a golden bathtub? Would I host the most epic sleepovers of all time, catered by Gordon Ramsay and headlined by Hannah Montana herself? These were the questions that kept me up at night.

I still sometimes wonder today what it would be like to be a billionaire, but now, asking different questions: Could my money make a difference for those less fortunate? Would I choose to use my money to make that difference?

These are questions I’ll likely never know the answer to, but many billionaires already do.

In a report by The Atlantic from 2011, it discovered that “the wealthiest Americans — those with earnings in the top 20 percent — contributed on average 1.3 percent of their income to charity. By comparison, Americans at the base of the income pyramid — those in the bottom 20 percent — donated 3.2 percent of their income.”

So why don’t the rich donate? The answer is rather simple. Although people who come from low-income backgrounds are not proven to be more generous than others, research shows that wealthy people tend to be less generous.

Although the wealthiest of the world tend to avoid charitable donations pertaining to religion and poverty, this is not to say they do not offer donations at all — it is just a matter of where they offer them. Billionaires are known to donate millions of dollars to universities, museums, and political campaigns.

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While I happen to believe that education, the arts, and civil engagement are vitally important, I also believe that everyone deserves to indulge in them.

Oxfam International, a charity organization for the impoverished, wrote in the same report that “eight men own as much wealth as the 3.6 billion people who make up the poorest in the world, and one in 10 people survive on less than $2 per day.” With billions living in exceptional poverty, it is simply absurd to imagine so few people having so much wealth and not using it to assist those in need.

Still, the top 1 percent includes far more people than just those eight.

It is wholly possible and entirely realistic for billionaires of such caliber to donate to programs they deem important and to assist in ending poverty; Oxfam wrote in the same report that with how much the world’s 2,043 billionaires earned last year alone, they could end extreme poverty seven times. By just donating a sliver of their overall wealth, the world’s wealthiest could end a problem that has plagued the Earth for longer than most like to consider.

Income inequality is nothing new, and neither is poverty. But with the top 1 percent on track to own two-thirds of the world’s wealth by 2030, it is hard to imagine a world in which poverty no longer dominates a majority of countries without assistance from those who retain almost all the money.

 

 

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