Nearly half of all global pay is scooped up by just 10% of workers, according to the International Labour Organization (ILO), while the lowest-paid 50% receive just 6.4%.
The lowest 20% – around 650 million workers – earn less than 1% of total pay, a figure that has barely moved in 13 years, the ILO analysis found. It used labour income figures from 2004 to 2017, the latest available data.
A worker in the top 10% earns $7,445 a month (£5,866), while a worker in the bottom 10% earns just $22.
Roger Gomis, economist in the ILO statistics department, said: “The majority of the global workforce endures strikingly low pay and for many having a job does not mean having enough to live on.
“The average pay of the bottom half of the world’s workers is just $198 per month and the poorest 10% would need to work more than three centuries to earn the same as the richest 10% do in one year.”
Growing prosperity in China and India has brought those large emerging economies closer to higher-income countries, but income inequality has not been reduced within either country.
Poorer countries tend to have much higher levels of pay inequality. In Sub-Saharan Africa, the bottom 50% of workers receive only 3.3% of total pay, compared with the European Union, where the same group receives 22.9% of the total income paid to workers.
The ILO found a “hockey stick” pattern in several high-income countries, including the UK, US and Germany between 2004 and 2017: substantial losses in earnings for the middle and lower-middle class, and large gains for the top.
The share of pay going to the middle class – the middle 60% of workers – declined during this period, from 44.8% to 43%. At the same time, the share held by the top 20% of earners increased, from 51.3% to 53.5%.
Countries where the top earners’ share of national pay rose by at least one percentage point include Germany, Indonesia, Italy, Pakistan, the UK and the US.
“The data show that in relative terms, increases in the top labour incomes are associated with losses for everyone else, with both middle-class and lower-income workers seeing their share of income decline,” said Steven Kapsos, head of data production and analysis at the ILO.
“However, when the labour income shares of the middle- or lower-income workers increase, the gains tend to be widespread, favouring everyone except the top earners.”