More than one in three people are within just three months’ wages of poverty, says a new report that urges governments to find new ways to engage with citizens and address their needs in order to restore trust in society and politics.
The Paris-based Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) surveyed its member countries, 35 of the wealthier countries in the world (to see the full list, click here).
It found that in these supposedly advanced and relatively affluent societies, deep fault lines exist that mean many are leading less fulfilled lives and feel alienated by the political processes that are supposed to be serving them.
The “fault lines” exposed by the report, called How’s Life?, operate along the areas of age, wealth, gender and education.
The report says that, while some aspects of well-being have improved since 2005, too many people are unable to share the benefits of the “modest recovery” that is underway in many OECD countries.
Average annual earnings have risen by a cumulative 7% across OECD countries since 2005, the report’s authors concede, but they point out that this is only about half the growth rate seen in the previous decade.
Other apparently positive findings include the fact that average life expectancy has gone up by nearly two years in the past decade.
The report also states that across the 35 OECD countries, more people now have jobs than in 2005.
However, despite these posities, the report notes that “other indicators are flashing warning lights”.
• Job insecurity – this has risen by a third since it was first measured in 2007.
• Long-term unemployment – higher than last recorded.
• Average life satisfaction – lower.
• Voter turnout is down.
• The number of people who feel supported by friends and family has fallen by 3%.
• Trust in public institutions has fallen, with only 38% of people saying they have confidence in their government, down 4% since 2006.
• Only one in three people feel they have an influence over what their government does.
• Politicians often come from a different background to the people they represent – one survey of 11 countries showed that, while manual, agricultural and service workers make up 44% of the population, only 13% of the relevant legislatures (parliaments) come from this background.
OECD secretary-general Angel Gurría, pictured left, called on governments to ensure that they represent all citizens, not just the wealthy and well-educated who are better able to articulate their concerns and have greater lobbying power.
“The latest How’s Life? report provides yet further evidence that the scars of the crisis have not healed,” said Gurría.
“Many people feel that the benefits unleashed by openness and globalisation are not reaching them and their governments are failing to respond to their needs.
“The urgent challenge for policy makers is to find ways to engage effectively with all citizens, work to improve their well-being and help restore their trust. We need to ensure that growth and development are truly inclusive and translate into better lives, without leaving anyone behind,” he added.
Those findings in greater detail
The report exposes how societies are divided by education:
- Men aged 25 who did not attain upper secondary education live nearly eight years less on average than university educated males. The gap is nearly five years for women.
- The poorly educated only have half the wealth and earnings of the well-educated; are less likely to vote; to have someone to count on for help when needed; or to feel satisfied with their lives.
… by income and wealth:
- A mere 10 percent of households in OECD countries own more than half (52%) of all household wealth on average,
- More than one in three people in 25 OECD countries surveyed are only three months’ income away from falling into poverty,
- The voter turnout rates among people in the top 20% income bracket is 14% higher than that of those in the lowest 20% bracket,
- Despite having higher rates of educational attainment than the generations before them, people under 25 are 60% more likely to be unemployed than the 25-54 age group,
- The under 25s are also 20% less likely to vote than those aged over 55, but middle-aged workers are almost twice as likely as those under 25 to work very long hours (50 hours or more per week)
…by birth location:
- The median income of migrant households is 25% lower on average than that of the native born,
- Migrants are less likely to report good health, to say they have someone to count on when in need, and to be satisfied with their lives than the native-born,
- Migrants are more likely to live in inadequate housing, to work anti-social hours and to feel depressed.
Well-being indicators for the 35 OECD countries as well as Brazil, Colombia, Costa Rica, Lithuania, the Russian Federation and South Africa are available at www.oecd.org/howslife. The link also includes the full How’s Life? report as well as information on the OECD’s Better Life Initiative. This initiative was launched in 2011 to measure well-being and progress beyond traditional metrics such as GDP. Another component of the Initiative, the Better Life Index, allows users to compare countries according to their own vision of what constitutes well-being.
And click here to see a video that presents the report’s key findings.