The Oxfam Report is Important, But There's More to the Story
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The Oxfam Report is Important, But There’s More to the Story

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The Oxfam Report is Important, But There's More to the Story

The Oxfam Report is Important, But There’s More to the Story

The Chart of the Week is a weekly Visual Capitalist feature on Fridays.

Prior to the opening day of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Oxfam International made waves with its latest report on global inequality. In particular, one “shock value” finding made headlines: eight men now combine to have the same wealth as half of the world’s population, or 3.6 billion people.

Today’s chart breaks down who these men are and how much they own in terms of assets. But, it also serves as a springboard to dive into a few other thoughts on the Oxfam report, inequality, philanthropy, and eradicating poverty.

The Giving Pledge

When I saw the headline from the Oxfam report, one of my first thoughts was: how many of these billionaires have signed The Giving Pledge?

The Giving Pledge was launched in 2010 by Bill and Melinda Gates and Warren Buffett. It’s stated goal is to “help address society’s most pressing problems” by inviting “the world’s wealthiest individuals and families to commit to giving more than half of their wealth to philanthropy”. So far, it’s been signed by 139 individuals with commitments of $732 billion.

Of the eight people at the top of the wealth pyramid, the majority has signed The Giving Pledge including: Bill Gates (co-founder), Warren Buffett (co-founder), Mark Zuckerberg, Larry Ellison, and Michael Bloomberg.

Three of the eight billionaires haven’t signed the pledge. Jeff Bezos is included in that mix, and he has faced some criticism over the fact. The other two that have not signed yet are Spanish billionaire Amancio Ortega and Mexican business magnate Carlos Slim Helú.

At the end of the day, signing the Giving Pledge is not yet equivalent to “walking the walk” in helping to solve pressing problems like poverty or inequality. However, people like Gates and Buffett have already made a huge difference to charitable causes.

Here’s what Warren Buffett recently said about his fortune:

In my entire lifetime, everything that I’ve spent will be quite a bit less than 1 percent of everything I make. The other 99 percent plus will go to others because it has no utility to me. So it’s silly for me to not transfer that utility to people who can use it.

Buffett is one of the world’s best investors – and if he continues to invest his money wisely into philanthropy, the result will likely be something that even Oxfam can be proud of.

The Poor Are Actually Getting Richer

While the sensational fact that headlined the Oxfam report is certainly alarming and important, it also misses some noteworthy context.

People in many of the world’s poorest nations aren’t getting poorer – they are actually getting much richer. The number of people living in extreme poverty has been cut in half since 1990.

Here’s another way to show it – and perhaps this is where the emotional pain points arise:

Courtesy of: Harvard Business Review, h/t Ian Bremmer

The poorest and richest cohorts of the global population, along with the Asian middle class, all got much richer over the last two decades.

The American middle class, however, was not so lucky. Median income for 81% of U.S. counties actually peaked back in 1999, and other Western countries are facing similar inequality challenges.

One Last Chart

The final chart here is courtesy of Swedish author and historian Johan Norberg, who wrote a sarcastic response to the Oxfam report:

Oxfam and many others are rightly concerned about inequality. But, for the people that need it most, things continue to get better. Such a narrative is not sexy enough for a click-driven media that thrives on sensational or emotional soundbites.

For more information about the metrics that are continuing to improve, see this post by Peter Diamandis, or this one in Reason.

Here’s one final quote from Norberg worth considering:

Part of our problem is one of success. As we get richer, our tolerance for global poverty diminishes. So we get angrier about injustices. Charities quite rightly wish to raise funds, so they draw our attention to the plight of the world’s poorest. But since the Cold War ended, extreme poverty has decreased from 37 per cent to 9.6 per cent — in single digits for the first time in history.

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Personal Finance

Mapped: Personal Finance Education Requirements, by State

Only 22.7% of U.S. students are required to take a personal finance course. Which states have the highest levels of personal finance education?

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The Percentage of Students Receiving Personal Finance Education

When you graduated from high school, did you know how to create a budget? Did you have an understanding of what stocks and bonds were? Did you know how to do your own taxes?

For many Americans, the answer to these questions is probably a “no”. Only 22.7% of U.S. high school students are guaranteed to receive a personal finance education. While this is up from 16.4% in 2018, this still represents a small fraction of students.

This graphic uses data from Next Gen Personal Finance (NGPF) to show the percentage of high school students required to take a personal finance course by state.

A Closer Look at State-level Personal Finance Education

A standalone personal finance course was defined as a course that was at least one semester, which is equivalent to 60 consecutive instructional hours. Here’s the percentage of students in each state who have a required (not optional) personal finance course.

State/Territory% of Students Required to Take Personal Finance Course
Mississippi100.0%
Missouri100.0%
Virginia100.0%
Tennessee99.7%
Alabama99.6%
Utah99.6%
Iowa91.3%
North Carolina89.2%
Oklahoma47.1%
New Jersey43.0%
Nebraska42.8%
Kansas40.8%
Wyoming38.3%
Arkansas34.6%
Wisconsin33.5%
South Dakota27.1%
Ohio23.5%
Pennsylvania16.2%
Maine15.6%
Rhode Island14.8%
Connecticut14.7%
Illinois13.9%
Maryland12.5%
North Dakota12.2%
Vermont12.1%
Nevada11.0%
Indiana10.9%
Oregon7.5%
Minnesota6.9%
Montana6.9%
New Hampshire6.0%
Kentucky5.5%
Colorado5.4%
Delaware5.0%
Massachusetts5.0%
West Virginia3.2%
Louisiana2.7%
Washington2.4%
Texas2.2%
New York2.0%
Michigan1.7%
Idaho1.4%
Arizona1.0%
California0.8%
South Carolina0.8%
Alaska0.6%
Florida0.4%
New Mexico0.4%
Georgia0.0%
Hawaii0.0%
Washington, D.C.0.0%

Eight states currently have state-wide requirements for a personal finance course: Alabama, Mississippi, Missouri, Iowa, North Carolina, Tennessee, Utah, and Virginia. Naturally, the level of personal finance education is highest in these states.

Five states have begun the process of implementing a requirement, with Florida being the most populous state yet to guarantee personal finance education for high schoolers. The state previously required schools to offer a personal finance course as an elective, but only 5% of students took the course.

Outside of the guarantee states, only 9.3% of students are required to take a personal finance course. That number drops to 5% for schools that have a high percentage of Black or Brown students, while students eligible for a free or reduced lunch program (i.e. lower income students) also hover at the 5% number.

Why is Personal Financial Education Important?

The majority of Americans believe parents are responsible for teaching their children about personal finance. However, nearly a third of parents say they never talk to their children about finances. Personal finance education at school is one way to help fill that gap.

People who have received a financial education tend to have a higher level of financial literacy. In turn, this can lead to people being less likely to face financial difficulties.

Chart showing that people with low financial literacy are more likely to face financial difficulties, such as being unable to cover an unexpected $2,000 expense, compared to people with high financial literacy

People with low levels of financial literacy were five times more likely to be unable to cover one month of living expenses, when compared to people with high financial literacy. Separate research has found that implementing a state mandate for personal finance education led to improved credit scores and reduced delinquency rates.

Not only that, financial education can play a key role in building wealth. One survey found that only one-third of millionaires averaged a six-figure income over the course of their career. Instead of relying on high salaries, the success of most millionaires came from employing basic personal finance principles: investing early and consistently, avoiding credit card debt, and spending carefully using tools like budgets and coupons.

Expanding Access to Financial Education

Once the in-progress state requirements have been fully implemented, more than a third of U.S. high school students will have guaranteed access to a personal finance course. Momentum is expanding beyond guarantee states, too. There are 48 personal finance bills pending in 18 states according to NGPF’s financial education bill tracker.

Importantly, 88% of surveyed adults support personal finance education mandates—and most wish they had also been required to take a personal finance course themselves.

When we ask the next generation of graduates if they understand how to build a budget, it’s more likely that they will confidently say “yes”.

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Markets

Charted: U.S. Consumer Debt Approaches $16 Trillion

Robust growth in mortgages has pushed U.S. consumer debt to nearly $16 trillion. Click to gain further insight into the situation.

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Charted: U.S. Consumer Debt Approaches $16 Trillion

According to the Federal Reserve (Fed), U.S. consumer debt is approaching a record-breaking $16 trillion. Critically, the rate of increase in consumer debt for the fourth quarter of 2021 was also the highest seen since 2007.

This graphic provides context into the consumer debt situation using data from the end of 2021.

Housing Vs. Non-Housing Debt

The following table includes the data used in the above graphic. Housing debt covers mortgages, while non-housing debt covers auto loans, student loans, and credit card balances.

DateHousing Debt
(USD trillions)
Non-Housing Debt
(USD trillions)
Total Consumer Debt
(USD trillions)
Q1 20035.182.057.23
Q2 20035.342.047.38
Q3 20035.452.107.55
Q4 20035.962.108.06
Q1 20046.172.138.30
Q2 20046.342.128.46
Q3 20046.642.208.84
Q4 20046.832.229.05
Q1 20057.012.199.20
Q2 20057.232.269.49
Q3 20057.452.359.80
Q4 20057.672.3410.01
Q1 20068.022.3610.38
Q2 20068.352.4010.75
Q3 20068.652.4611.11
Q4 20068.832.4811.31
Q1 20079.032.4611.49
Q2 20079.332.5311.86
Q3 20079.562.5812.14
Q4 20079.752.6312.38
Q1 20089.892.6512.54
Q2 20089.952.6512.60
Q3 20089.982.6912.67
Q4 20089.972.7112.68
Q1 20099.852.6812.53
Q2 20099.772.6312.40
Q3 20099.652.6212.27
Q4 20099.552.6212.17
Q1 20109.532.5812.11
Q2 20109.382.5511.93
Q3 20109.282.5611.84
Q4 20109.122.5911.71
Q1 20119.182.5811.76
Q2 20119.142.5811.72
Q3 20119.042.6211.66
Q4 20118.902.6311.53
Q1 20128.802.6411.44
Q2 20128.742.6411.38
Q3 20128.602.7111.31
Q4 20128.592.7511.34
Q1 20138.482.7511.23
Q2 20138.382.7711.15
Q3 20138.442.8511.29
Q4 20138.582.9411.52
Q1 20148.702.9611.66
Q2 20148.623.0211.64
Q3 20148.643.0711.71
Q4 20148.683.1611.84
Q1 20158.683.1711.85
Q2 20158.623.2411.86
Q3 20158.753.3112.06
Q4 20158.743.3712.11
Q1 20168.863.3912.25
Q2 20168.843.4512.29
Q3 20168.823.5412.36
Q4 20168.953.6312.58
Q1 20179.093.6412.73
Q2 20179.143.6912.83
Q3 20179.193.7712.96
Q4 20179.323.8213.14
Q1 20189.383.8513.23
Q2 20189.433.8713.30
Q3 20189.563.9513.51
Q4 20189.534.0113.54
Q1 20199.654.0213.67
Q2 20199.814.0613.87
Q3 20199.844.1313.97
Q4 20199.954.2014.15
Q1 202010.104.2114.31
Q2 202010.154.1214.27
Q3 202010.224.1414.36
Q4 202010.394.1714.56
Q1 202110.504.1414.64
Q2 202110.764.2014.96
Q3 202110.994.2415.23
Q4 202111.254.3415.59

Source: Federal Reserve

Trends in Housing Debt

Home prices have experienced upward pressure since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. This is evidenced by the Case-Shiller U.S. National Home Price Index, which has increased by 34% since the start of the pandemic.

Driving this growth are various pandemic-related impacts. For example, the cost of materials such as lumber have seen enormous spikes. We’ve covered this story in a previous graphic, which showed how many homes could be built with $50,000 worth of lumber. In most cases, these higher costs are passed on to the consumer.

Another key factor here is mortgage rates, which fell to all-time lows in 2020. When rates are low, consumers are able to borrow in larger quantities. This increases the demand for homes, which in turn inflates prices.

Ultimately, higher home prices translate to more mortgage debt being incurred by families.

No Need to Worry, Though

Economists believe that today’s housing debt isn’t a cause for concern. This is because the quality of borrowers is much stronger than it was between 2003 and 2007, in the years leading up to the financial crisis and subsequent housing crash.

In the chart below, subprime borrowers (those with a credit score of 620 and below) are represented by the red-shaded bars:

Mortgage originations by Credit Score

We can see that subprime borrowers represent very little (2%) of today’s total originations compared to the period between 2003 to 2007 (12%). This suggests that American homeowners are, on average, less likely to default on their mortgage.

Economists have also noted a decline in the household debt service ratio, which measures the percentage of disposable income that goes towards a mortgage. This is shown in the table below, along with the average 30-year fixed mortgage rate.

YearMortgage Payments as a % of Disposable IncomeAverage 30-Year Fixed Mortgage Rate
200012.0%8.2%
200412.2%5.4%
200812.8%5.8%
20129.8%3.9%
20169.9%3.7%
20209.4%3.5%
20219.3%3.2%

Source: Federal Reserve

While it’s true that Americans are less burdened by their mortgages, we must acknowledge the decrease in mortgage rates that took place over the same period.

With the Fed now increasing rates to calm inflation, Americans could see their mortgages begin to eat up a larger chunk of their paycheck. In fact, mortgage rates have already risen for seven consecutive weeks.

Trends in Non-Housing Consumer Debt

The key stories in non-housing consumer debt are student loans and auto loans.

The former category of debt has grown substantially over the past two decades, with growth tapering off during the pandemic. This can be attributed to COVID relief measures which have temporarily lowered the interest rate on direct federal student loans to 0%.

Additionally, these loans were placed into forbearance, meaning 37 million borrowers have not been required to make payments. As of April 2022, the value of these waived payments has reached $195 billion.

Over the course of the pandemic, very few direct federal borrowers have made voluntary payments to reduce their loan principal. When payments eventually resume, and the 0% interest rate is reverted, economists believe that delinquencies could rise significantly.

Auto loans, on the other hand, are following a similar trajectory as mortgages. Both new and used car prices have risen due to the global chip shortage, which is hampering production across the entire industry.

To put this in numbers, the average price of a new car has climbed from $35,600 in 2019, to over $47,000 today. Over a similar timeframe, the average price of a used car has grown from $19,800, to over $28,000.

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