Global Poverty Said to Be on Rise: Conditions Found Worse Than in '80S

Article excerpt

NEW YORK - The assets of 358 billionaires exceeds the combined annual incomes of countries with 45 percent of the world's population, according to a new U.N. survey that warns of dangerously widening global income gaps.

The annual Human Development Report, which will be issued by the U.N. Development Program (UNDP) today, warns that inequities around the globe mean that economic gains benefit only a few countries - at the expense of many others.

The survey showed that despite dramatic economic growth in 15 countries over the past 30 years, 1.6 billion people in 100 countries are living in stagnant economies and are worse off than they were 15 years ago. Nineteen of those 100 countries have per capita incomes less than 1960s levels, said the report.

"If present trends continue, economic disparities between industrial and developing nations will move from inequitable to inhuman," UNDP Administrator James Gustave Speth said in a statement before the report was released.

Mr. Speth said 3 billion people - more than half the world's population - still earn $2 or less a day. He said the polarization between haves and have nots is shaping a "two-class world" that is a breeding ground for hopelessness, anger and frustration.

The United States is among three rich countries with the biggest earning gaps. Between 1975 and 1990, the wealthiest 1 percent of the population increased its share of total assets from 20 percent to 36 percent.

The report also said the number of poor people in America is rising, with the bottom 20 percent earning only one-fourth of the country's average income. …