BANGKOK, Thailand—The shrinking numbers of visitors still coming to protest-riven Thailand may well be surprised to hear that this troubled nation remains one of the most unequal places in Asia. But in many ways that inequality—and most critically unequal access to essential infrastructure, education and opportunity—lies at the heart of the challenges facing not just Thailand but nations across the Asia and Pacific region.
Thailand is only surpassed in Asia by Hong Kong in terms of income inequality, according to the CIA World Factbook’s latest rankings by Gini Coefficient—a common measure of inequality.
By some measures, Thailand ranks as the 12th most unequal place worldwide. Among other Asian nations or regions for which data is available, the worldwide rankings in order of most unequal to least unequal distribution of family income include Hong Kong (11th), Papua New Guinea (18th), Singapore (26th), China (29th), Malaysia (33rd) and the Philippines (42nd).
Drill down further into the data and it is clear that although Asia’s ascent has helped drive the global economy in recent years, the region remains home to two-thirds of the world’s poor. An estimated 1.7 billion people struggle to live on less than two dollars a day, according to the Asian Development Bank.
But someone living outside of the region would have to skip the tourism promotions airing on CNN and other international channels to see this.
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