(Huffington Post) -- A study just released by UBS, a major global financial services company, has revealed that, during 2016, the total wealth of the world’s billionaires rose by 17 percent―from $5.1 trillion to $6.0 trillion. Furthermore, the number of billionaires grew by 10 percent to 1,542, with more than a third of them located in the United States. As of late October 2017, the five wealthiest Americans were Jeff Bezos ($93.8 billion), Bill Gates ($88.7 billion), Warren Buffet ($81.0 billion), Mark Zuckerberg ($75.4 billion), and Larry Ellison ($56.0 billion).
There is a very substantial gap between the circumstances of what Senator Bernie Sanders calls “the billionaire class” and average Americans, including the nearly 28 million Americans working for companies these billionaires own or partly own. The five members of the Walton family who are heirs to the Walmart fortune now have a collective net worth of $140 billion. Recently, in fact, their wealth jumped $5 billion in one day. Walmart workers, though, are unlikely to ever amass any wealth―indeed, many find it necessary to apply for government food stamps to feed themselves and their families―for their wages are pathetic. Walmart sales associates earn an average of $9.41 an hour, while Walmart cashiers average $9.36 an hour.
Given these wealth disparities in what has been called “a new Gilded Age,” you might think that government action would be taken to redress the balance. But you would be wrong. Despite rising economic inequality in the United States, Congress has kept the minimum wage stuck at $7.25 an hour since 2009. If anyone thinks this is a living wage, he or she should try living on it some time. Meanwhile, as Senator Sanders pointed out, the Republican tax plan moving through Congress provides $1.9 trillion in tax breaks for the richest Americans and the largest corporations. About 80 percent of the tax breaks would go to the top 1 percent, with 40 percent going to the top 1/10 of 1 percent.
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