Global inequality is on the rise – but at vastly different rates across the world

From The Conversation.

Inequality is rising almost everywhere across the world – that’s the clear finding of the first ever World Inequality Report. In particular, it has grown fastest in Russia, India and China – places where this was long suspected but there was little accurate data to paint a reliable picture.

Until now, it was actually very difficult to compare inequality in different regions of the world because of sparse or inconsistent data, which lacked credibility. But, attempting to overcome this gap, the new World Inequality Report is built on data collection work carried out by more than a hundred researchers located across every continent and contributing to the World Wealth and Income Database.

Europe is the least unequal region of the world, having experienced a milder increase in inequality. At the bottom half of the table are Sub-Saharan Africa, Brazil and India, with the Middle East as the most unequal region.

Since 1980, the report shows that there has been rising inequality occurring at different speeds in most parts of the world. This is measured by the top 10% share of income distribution – how much of the nation’s income the top 10% of earners hold.

Places where inequality has remained stable are those where it was already at very high levels. In line with this trend, we observe that the Middle East is perhaps the most unequal region, where the top 10% of income earners have consistently captured over 60% of the nation’s income.

Inequality is always a concern

Even in Europe, where it is less pronounced, equality always raises ethical concerns. For example, in Western Europe, many do not receive a real living wage, despite working hard, often in full-time employment. Plus, the data shows that the top 10% of earners in Europe as a whole still hold 37% of the total national income in 2016.

Rising income inequality should be focal to public debate because it is also a factor which motivates human behaviour. It affects how we consume, save and invest. For many, it determines whether one can access the credit market or a good school for our children

This, in turn, may affect economic growth, raising the question of whether it is economically efficient to have unequal societies.

Going into the details of what drives the rise in income inequality, the report shows that unequal ownership of national wealth is an important force. National wealth can be either publicly owned (for example, the value of schools, hospitals and public infrastructure) or privately owned (the value of private assets).

Since 1980, very large transfers of public to private wealth occurred in nearly all countries, whether rich or emerging. While national wealth has substantially increased, public wealth is now negative or close to zero in rich countries. In particular, the UK and the US are countries with the lowest levels of public capital.

Arguably, this limits the ability of governments to tackle inequality. Certainly, it has important implications for wealth inequality among citizens. It also indicates that national policies shaping ownership of capital have been a major factor contributing to the rise of inequality since 1980.

Inequality in the developing world

Resource rich economies are traditionally considered to be prone to conflict or more authoritarian in terms of how they are governed. What this new report tells us is that some resource rich economies, such as “oil economies”, are also extremely unequal. This was often suspected because natural resources are often concentrated in the hands of a minority. Until this report, however, there was no clear evidence.

The World Inequality Report appears to show us that the Middle East region may be even more unequal than Central and South America, which have long been held up as some of the most unequal places on Earth.

Another significant finding is that countries at similar stages of development have seen different patterns of rising inequality. This suggests that national policies and institutions can make the difference. The trajectories of three major emerging economies are illustrative. Russia has an abrupt increase, China a moderate pace and India a gradual one.

The comparison between Europe and the US provides an even more striking example – Western Europe remains the place with the lowest concentration of national income among the top 10% of earners.

Compared with the US, the divergence in inequality has been spectacular. While the top 1% income share was close to 10% in both regions in 1980, it rose only slightly to 12% in 2016 in Western Europe, while it shot up to 20% in the US. This might help explain the rise in populism. Those left behind grow impatient when they do not see any tangible improvement (or even a worsening) in their living conditions.

It is not just important to reduce inequality to make society more fair. Equal societies are associated with other important outcomes. As well as political and social stability, education, crime and financial stability may all suffer when inequality is high.

With this new data at our fingertips, we can now act to learn from the policies of more equal regions and implement them to reduce inequality across the world.

Author: Antonio Savoia, Lecturer in Development Economics, University of Manchester

Digital Transformation IS Revolutionary

An excellent article from Mckinsey which makes the point that if Digital Transformation this isn’t on your agenda, then you’ve got the wrong agenda! Its not about new shiny tech things.  Rather, all value chains will be disrupted, it is revolutionary. The benefits are breathtaking.

Digital transformation is about sweeping change. It changes everything about how products are designed, manufactured, sold, delivered, and serviced—and it forces CEOs to rethink how companies execute, with new business processes, management practices, and information systems, as well as everything about the nature of customer relationships. I’m seeing leaders who get this. They’re all over it: they want to launch five transformation initiatives right now; they’re talking to me and every digital leader they know about where the technology threats are coming from; and they’re hiring the best people to advise them. Yet I’m shocked by—even fearful for—the many CEOs I know who seem to be asleep at the switch. They just don’t see the massive disruption headed their way from digital threats, seen or unseen, and they don’t seem to understand it will happen very quickly.

So when I see CEOs who may be experimenting here and there with AI or the cloud, I tell them that’s not enough. It’s not about shiny objects. Tinkering is insufficient. My advice is that they should be talking about this all the time, with their boards, in the C-suite—and mobilizing the entire company. The threat is existential. For boards, if this isn’t on your agenda, then you’ve got the wrong agenda. If your CEO isn’t talking about how to ensure the survival of the enterprise amid digital disruption, well, maybe you’ve got the wrong person in the job. This may sound extreme, but it’s not.

It’s increasingly clear that we’re entering a highly disruptive extinction event. Many enterprises that fail to transform themselves will disappear. But as in evolutionary speciation, many new and unanticipated enterprises will emerge, and existing ones will be transformed with new business models. The existential threat is exceeded only by the opportunity.

When Holding Cash Beats Paying Debt

From The US On The Economy Blog.

For families who are struggling financially, there are times when it is better to keep some cash on hand, even if they hold high-interest debt.

A recent In the Balance article highlights the importance of emergency savings to the financial stability of struggling households. It was authored by Emily Gallagher, a visiting scholar at the St. Louis Fed’s Center for Household Financial Stability, and Jorge Sabat, a research fellow at the Center for Social Development at Washington University in St. Louis.

The Struggle to Make Ends Meet

Many families continue to struggle to make ends meet, the authors said, noting a recent Federal Reserve survey that estimated that almost half of U.S. households could not easily handle an emergency expense of just $400.

Given this, they asked: “Should more families be encouraged to hold a liquidity buffer even if it means incurring more debt in the short-term?”

In explaining why it might make sense, for example, to keep $1,000 in a low-earning bank account while owing $2,000 on a high-interest-rate credit card, Gallagher and Sabat’s research suggests this type of cash buffer greatly reduces the risk that a family will:

  • Miss a rent, mortgage or recurring bill payment
  • Be unable to afford enough food to eat
  • Be forced to skip needed medical care within the next six months

Linking Balance Sheets and Financial Hardship

Gallagher and Sabat investigated which types of assets and liabilities predicted whether a household would experience financial hardship over a six-month period.

Their survey encompassed detailed financial and demographic results that covered two time-period observations for the same household: one at tax time, and the other six months after tax time.

“This feature of our data set is ideal for capturing the probability that a household that is currently financially stable falls into financial hardship in the near term,” the authors explained. “Furthermore, the survey samples only from low-to-middle income households, our population of interest for understanding the antecedents of financial hardship.”

They tracked families in the first survey who said they hadn’t recently experienced any of these four main types of financial hardship:

  • Delinquency on rent or mortgage payments
  • Delinquency on regular bills, such as utility bills
  • Skipped medical care
  • Food hardship (going without needed food)

Gallagher and Sabat also asked if the family had any balances in:

  • Liquid assets, such as checking and saving accounts, money market funds and prepaid cards
  • Other assets, including businesses, real estate, retirement or education savings accounts
  • High-interest debt, such as that from credit cards or payday loans
  • Other unsecured debt, such as student loans, unpaid bills and overdrafts
  • Secured debt, including mortgages or debts secured by businesses, farms or vehicles

Controlling for factors such as income and demographics, they then tracked whether the 5,000 families in the survey had suffered a financial shock that would affect the results.

Cash on Hand Matters Most

The authors found that having liquid assets or other assets always predicted lower risk of encountering hardship of any kind, while having debts generally increased the risk of hardship.

Liquid assets had the most predictive power, Gallagher and Sabat said. They noted that a $100 increase (from a mean of $6) was associated with a 4.6 percentage point reduction in a household’s probability of rent or mortgage delinquency.

Liquid assets also significantly reduced the likelihood of entering into more common forms of hardship. A $100 increase in liquidity was associated with declines in the rates of:

  • Regular bill delinquency (by 8.3 percentage points)
  • Skipped medical care (by 6.3 percentage points)
  • Food hardship (by 5.2 percent percentage points)

“These estimated effects are substantial relative to the probability of encountering each hardship,” they said.


“Our findings suggest that households should be encouraged to maintain at least a small buffer of liquid savings, even if the cash in that buffer is not being used to pay down high-interest debt,” Gallagher and Sabat concluded.

Unemployment Remained Steady In November 2017

The ABS released the November 2017 employment data today. Overall, the rates remained steady at 5.4% but in trend and seasonally adjusted terms.  But there are considerable differences across the states, and age groups. Female part-time work grew, while younger persons continued to struggle to find work.

Full-time employment grew by a further 15,000 persons in November, while part-time employment increased by 7,000 persons, underpinning a total increase in employment of 22,000 persons. Over the past year, trend employment increased by 3.1 per cent, which is above the average year-on-year growth over the past 20 years (1.9 per cent).

Trend underemployment rate decreased by 0.2 pts to 8.4% over the quarter and the underutilisation rate decreased by 0.3 pts to 13.8%; both quite high.

The unemployment rate was highest in WA at 6.2% and is still rising, while the lowest was in the ACT at 3.8% and falling.  The rate was 4.6% in NSW, 5.7% in VIC,  5.8% in QLD and SA. TAS was 5.9% and NT 4.6%; all in trend terms.

The ABS said that overall employment increased 22,200 to 12,380,100, unemployment decreased 2,900 to 707,300, the participation rate increased less than 0.1 pts to 65.4% and the monthly hours worked in all jobs increased 3.8 million hours (0.2%) to 1,734.4 million hours.

Home Renovation Spending On The Slide Too

According to the HIA, in the December 2017 edition of their Renovations Roundup report which is released today, low wage growth and fewer home sales resulted in a slowing in renovations activity in 2017.

The HIA Renovations Roundup is the most comprehensive regular review of Australia’s $33 billion home renovations market. The report also includes the exclusive results of a survey of 595 renovations firms right across the country.

“The near term outlook for home renovations demand is being held back by sluggish wages growth. Because renovations activity is often initiated by the new owners of older homes, the dip in established house turnover over the past 12 months has not accelerated renovations activity this year,”

“During 2017, home renovations work contracted by 3.1 per cent. A further decline of similar magnitude is projected for 2018.

“The medium term holds better prospects for renovations activity. Interest rates are set to remain lower for longer than previously expected. The ageing of Australia’s dwelling stock will also work in favour of renovations demand – the number of houses in the key renovations age bracket of 30-35 years is going to rise substantially until the early part of the 2020s decade.

“Even though current conditions in the renovations market are marking time, the HIA renovations market survey suggests that 40 per cent of firms still intend to take on extra employees over the next 12 months.” said Shane Garrett, HIA’s Senior Economist.

HIA forecasts that renovations activity will suffer a 3.1 per cent decline during 2018 but that a 3.2 per cent recovery will take hold during 2019. In 2020, the pace of expansion is set to accelerate to 5.7 per cent.

Further growth of 0.9 per cent in 2021 is expected to bring the value of the home renovations market to $35.57 billion – compared with $33.36 billion in 2017.

Greater Perth Mortgage Stress Mapping – Nov 2017

We continue our series featuring the results of our November Mortgage stress update. Today we look at Greater Perth and Western Australia. In WA we estimate there are 124,000 households in mortgage stress, which equates to 30.2% of borrowing households in the state, up 2,500 from last month.  We estimate that 9,800 households risk 30-day default in the next 12 months.

Here is the mortgage stress map for Perth and the surrounding area.

The most stressed WA post code (and second highest nationally) is 6065. This is the area around Wanneroo, including Tapping, Hocking and Landsdale and is located about 25 kilometres north of Perth. It is an area of high population growth and residential construction mainly on smallish lots.  There are more than 6,617 households in mortgage stress in the region. The average home price is $635,000 compared with $529,000 in 2010, and down from a peak of $813,000 in 2014. There are about 17,000 households in the district, with an average age of 33. The average income is $8,300 a month, and 58% have a mortgage with average repayments of $2,170, well above the WA and national averages.

6065 is ranked 4th nationally in terms of prospective mortgage defaults. 6210, including Mandurah and Meadow Springs in the 10th most stressed post code in WA, based on the number of households, but ranks first nationally in terms of potential risk of default.

Greater Adelaide Mortgage Stress Mapping – Nov 2017

We continue our series featuring the results of our November Mortgage stress update. Today we look at Greater Adelaide and South Australia. In SA we estimate there are 80,530 households in mortgage stress, which equates to 28.3% of borrowing households in the state.  We estimate that 3,900 risk 30-day default in the next 12 months.

Here is the mortgage stress map for Adelaide and the surrounding area.

The post code with the highest number of households in stress is 5108, Paralowie and Salisbury with 2,821; a suburb of Adelaide, North & North East Suburbs about 19 kms from the CBD.  There are around 10,500 households in the area, and the average age is 34 years. The ABS Census says children aged 0 – 14 years made up 20.8% of the population and people aged 65 years and over made up 12.3% of the population.

80% of households here live in separate houses. Around 40% have property with a mortgage. The average mortgage repayment is $1,300 a month. The average monthly household income is around $4,440 giving an average loan to income ratio of 29.1%.  The SA income average is higher at $5,250.  In 2010, the average home price was around $210,000 compared with 285,000 today, reflecting average annual growth of around $12,000, well below the national average.

5108 is ranked 90 on our national default ranking.

Next time we look at Perth and WA


Being middle class depends on where you live

From The Conversation.

Politicians are fond of pitching to the “average Australian” but judging by the income of Australians, whether you are middle class depends on where you live. And where we live tells a rich story of who we are as a nation – socially, culturally and economically.

Income is at the heart of access to services and opportunities, which are differing and unequal based on where you live.

Our ability to afford housing that meets our needs largely determines where we live. In turn, where we live influences access to other important features of our lives which shape lifelong and intergenerational opportunities. For example, student performance is associated with everything from where a student lives to their parent’s occupation.

Household incomes in capital cities are typically among the highest, with incomes declining the further you live from major cities. So it’s understandable why Australians living outside or on the fringes of cities might feel somewhat left behind.

The Australian Bureau of Statistics presents “average” income as a range based on where you live. This range is marked by a lower number (30% of incomes) at the beginning and the higher number (80% of incomes) at the top.

This “average” income varies substantially between different rural areas from A$78,548 – A$163,265 in Forrest (ACT) to A$10,507 – A$26,431 in Thamarrurr (NT). This is actually an equivalised household income which factors in the economic resources like the number of people and their characteristics, between households.

The difference between the top and bottom of this range of “average” household income also shows greater inequality within areas.

Even within the greater Sydney metropolitan area, there’s significant differences in household income between areas. The average household equivalised income in Lavender Bay is around A$40,000 – A$95,000 higher than it is in Marayong.

The difference in income is marked, and there are other differences too. People in Marayong are on average younger than Lavendar Bay. Family size is smaller in Lavendar Bay. Over half of the Lavendar Bay residents hold university degrees, compared to a more skill-based workforce in Marayong.

Why there is no one “average” Australian

Cities offer access to myriad employment options. Industries associated with relatively high incomes are typically concentrated in cities to take advantage of global connections.

Sydney, Melbourne and Canberra are notable standouts based on household income. So if you live close to these major cities you’d be getting the most opportunities in terms of employment and income, given the you’re the right candidate.

But not everyone wants to live in the centre of cities. Housing, lifestyle and neighbourhood preferences also play a role in where we live, but are still influenced by income and proximity to such things as employment and family and friends.

Also, infrastructure which supports social and economic wellbeing is essential in communities, regardless of where we live.

What politicians should be talking about instead

Improving the different and unequal access across areas requires better internet connectivity and advances in the way we work. Policies around housing and family-friendly workplaces go some way to supporting Australians in work.

Any measures to redress inequalities require understanding the needs and wants of communities. Proposed planning to reconfigure the greater city of Sydney around population and socioeconomic infrastructure offers an example of a data-driven approach to planning. Whether the proposed reconfiguration of Sydney leads to improvements or greater segmentation will be revealed in practice.

Politicians rarely reflect the characteristics of the people they represent, particularly when we consider the remuneration, entitlements and perks of political office. The longer politicians are in office, and somewhat removed from the people they represent, the further they potentially become from gauging their electorate.

Yet politicians profess to know what the average Australians they represent needs and wants. They apply this to a range of things from service delivery to representation on political matters. And this is within reason.

But without current experience we struggle to see things from perspectives other than our own. Take for example the way some have come to label themselves outsiders from the social and political elite to advance their credibility with average Australians.

Bringing politicians in touch with the diversity of needs and wants of Australians starts with a self-check and recognition of individual bias (conscious or unconscious). This is the first step toward really understanding and connecting with Australians – be it in the “average” or otherwise.

Author: Liz Allen, Demographer, ANU Centre for Social Research and Methods, Australian National University

Greater Brisbane Mortgage Stress Mapping – Nov 2017

Continuing our series on mortgage stress, we feature the results for Brisbane and QLD today. Overall, in the state, stress has fallen a little thanks to brighter employment prospects, especially in the south east. However, some regional areas are under severe pressure.

We estimate there are 157,019 households across the state, down from 162,726 last month. However, around 9,600 in QLD risk default over the next 12 months.

Here is the stress mapping for Greater Brisbane to November 2017.

The post code with the highest stress count is 4350, around Drayton and Toowoomba, about 100 kilometres from Brisbane. We estimate 5,975 households are in mortgage stress. The average home price is $490,000, compared with $382,000 in 2010. There are about 27,000 households in the region and the average age is 37. The average income is $5,300 a month. Around 30% have a mortgage and the average mortgage repayment is $1,510.

Here is the top 10 listing across the state, together with the national default ranking.

Next time we look at South Australia.




Greater Melbourne Mortgage Stress Mapping – Nov 2017 – Pressure Is Mounting

Continuing our series on mortgage stress, we feature the results for Melbourne and VIC today. In fact more than half the post codes nationally in the top 10 are in VIC, so risks are rising fast here (and prices are still rising too!).

In November another 3,000 households in VIC slipped into stress, reaching a new high of 253,000. 13,000 of these risk default in the next 12 months.

Next, here is the overall listing of the top 10 most stressed post codes across VIC as at the end of November 2017. We also show the relative default risk ranking across the country. Cranbourne has the 2nd highest default ranking nationally this month.

The most stressed post code in the state is 3805, which includes Narre Warren and Fountain Gate. This area is around 38 kilometers south east of Melbourne. Here 5,076 households are in mortgage stress. The average home price is $545,000 compared with $366,000 in 2010.  There are more than 15,000 families in the area, and the average age is 34 years. The average household income is just over $7,000 a month, which is higher than the national average. 54% of homes are mortgaged and the average monthly repayment is $1,700 slightly below the national average of $1,755.

Next is 3806, Berwick and Harkaway which is around 40 kilometers south east of Melbourne, with 4,923 households in mortgage stress. The average home price is $625,000 compared with $451,000 in 2010. There are around 13,000 families in the area, with an average age of 36. More than 47% of households here have a mortgage and the average repayment is $1,850 compared with the average income of $7,600.

Next is 3810, Packenham, with 4,693 households now in mortgage stress and in the same position as last month. It is around 54 kms south east of Melbourne. The average home price is around $435,000 compared with $290,000 in 2010. According to the latest census the average age is 32 years and there are more than 12,600 families in the district. The average monthly household income is $5,900, below the average in the state as well as nationally. 46% of homes have a mortgage, compared with the VIC average of 35%. The average monthly mortgage repayment is $1,700.

Then comes 3064 Craigieburn, Mickleham and Roxburgh Park.  It is about 24 kms North from Melbourne. Around 4,445 households in the area are in mortgage stress. There are about 19,300 households in the area and the average age is 30. The average home prices in 2010 was $335,500 and is now worth $489,400. The average income is around $6,400, which is slightly above the Victorian and Australian averages.  88% of properties in the area are separate houses, and most have three or more bedrooms. More than 56% of homes here are mortgaged and the average repayment each month is $1,733, which is close to the average in Victoria, but lower than the Australian average.

Next is post code 3350, which includes Ballarat and the surrounding area, It’s about 100 kilometres from Melbourne and is down one place from last month. In this region there are 4,429 households in mortgage stress. The average property value is $335,000, compared with $281,000 in 2010. There are more than 14,500 families in the area and the average age is 37, line ball with the average across the state. The average monthly income is $5,300, well below the national and state averages. Around 33% of households have a mortgage and the average repayment is $1,408 a month.

Finally is post code 3037, which includes areas around Delahey, Hillside and Sydenham; around 20 kms north west of Melbourne.  Here around 4,268 households are in mortgage stress. Of the 13,000 households in the district, more than half have a mortgage and the average age is 33. The average home price is around $530,000, up from $365,000 in 2010. The average monthly income is around $7,200 and the average mortgage repayment is $1,730.

We continue to see mortgage stress still strongly associated with fast growing suburbs, where households have bought property relatively recently, often on the urban fringe. The ranges of incomes and property prices vary, but note that it is not necessarily those on the lowest incomes who are most stretched. Banks have been more willing to lend to these perceived lower risk households but the leverage effect of larger mortgages has a significant impact and the risks are underestimated.

Next time we will look at Brisbane.