Hong Kong’s richest earn 47 times that of the poorest as wealth gap widens during pandemic: Oxfam

Stock photo. Photo: Wikimedia Commons/theblueli
Stock photo. Photo: Wikimedia Commons/theblueli

Hong Kong’s richest earn 47 times that of the poorest, according to a study released by Oxfam on Wednesday, revealing a significant widening of the city’s wealth gap during the Covid-19 pandemic.

The study looked at official data and found that the median monthly household income of the richest was 47.3 times that of the poorest in the first quarter of 2022, up from 34.3 in 2019. 

“It reflects the growing disparity between the rich and the poor during the pandemic,” noted the report from Oxfam, which is a confederation of charitable organizations focused on the alleviation of global poverty. 

The median monthly household income in Hong Kong dropped by 2.4 percent from HK$29,000 (US$3,695) in 2019 to HK$28,300 in the first quarter of 2022.

But the decline was more serious among lower-income families.

The median monthly household income for the poorest fell by 22.9 percent from HK$3,500 in 2019 to HK$2,700 in the first quarter of 2022. 

On the flip side, the median monthly household income for the richest rose 6.3 percent from HK$120,000 in 2019 to HK$127,600 in the first quarter of 2022. 

Oxfam said the reasons for the current situation are closely related to the salary structure of the labor market, particularly the minimum wage. 

“The minimum wage was supposed to be reviewed in May 2019, but in the end the relevant authorities proposed to freeze the relevant adjustment, resulting in no salary adjustment for the low-income groups for four years,” the report noted.

“On the other hand, inflation has continued despite the pandemic… Even though low-income workers can continue to work, their wages or working hours have been reduced due to the pandemic, which undoubtedly makes the lives of low-income workers worse.”

Oxfam pointed out some countries have increased their minimum wages during the pandemic, such as the UK, which raised its by 6.6 percent from 2021 to 2022. 

The confederation of NGOs provided some recommendations to authorities to improve the situation, including implementing an annual review of the minimum wage in Hong Kong. 

Referencing the city’s social security scheme, it suggested a new minimum wage of no fewer than HK$45.40 per hour and an annual review to ensure that the minimum wage can catch up with inflation. 

The current minimum wage in Hong Kong is HK$37.50 per hour.

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