Almost half of the world's wealth is owned by just 1 percent of the world's population, according to the authors of a report published just days before the start of the World Economic Forum's annual meeting in Davos, Switzerland, where the topic of rapidly increasing income disparities will be a major focus.

In its study titled Working for the Few, the British-founded development charity Oxfam concludes that the $110 trillion wealth of the 1 percent richest people on the planet is some 65 times the total wealth of those floundering at the bottom half of the world's population.

Further, this bottom half now owns the same as the richest 85 people in the world and the wealthiest grew their share of bounty in 24 out of 26 countries surveyed between 1980 and 2012, the study says. The research was compiled using data from Credit Suisse's World Wealth report and the Forbes' billionaires list.

In the last 30 thirty years seven out of 10 people have been living in countries where economic inequality has increased, Nick Galasso, one of the co-authors of the study, told USA TODAY. This a trend that has been unfolding globally for the last two or three decades. What we've not seen is any political will toward curbing it.

President Obama has identified economic equality as one of the defining issues of our time and in a speech in Dec. last year he said that increasing inequality challenges the very essence of who we are as a people. In the U.S., the financially privileged the wealthiest 1 percent have captured 95 percent of post-financial crisis growth since 2009, while the bottom 90 percent became poorer, the Oxfam report notes.

This massive concentration of economic resources in the hands of fewer people presents a significant threat to inclusive political and economic systems. Instead of moving forward together, people are increasingly separated by economic and political power, inevitably heightening social tensions and increasing the risk of societal breakdown, the report says.

The WEF has identified income inequality as one of the greatest risks facing the world in 2014, and it will be a big topic of discussion during the organization's annual meeting that runs from Jan. 22 to Jan. 25.

(Oxfam's report) is a further confirmation that the global economy is twisted out of shape, says Philip J. Jennings, the general secretary of the UNI Global Union, an international federation of unions based in Geneva. These are levels of inequality that we have not seen since the 1920s.

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