American billionaires added $2 trillion to their wealth during pandemic

‘Billionaire bonanza’ surges during public health crisis, analysis finds

Alex Woodward
New York
Monday 18 October 2021 19:22
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America’s billionaires got more than $2 trillion richer during the coronavirus pandemic, with their combined wealth nearly doubling over the last 19 months alone, according to a new analysis of Forbes data.

The collective fortunes of US billionaires has topped more than $5 trillion, from just short of $3 trillion in March 2020 to $5 trillion by 15 October, according to the report from Americans for Tax Fairness and the Institute for Policy Studies Program on Inequality released on 18 October.

The pandemic also has produced more than 100 new billionaires. There were 614 people in the US with 10-figure bank accounts as of March 2020, the report found. Now there are 745.

Those billionaires now hold two-thirds more combined wealth than the $3 trillion held by the bottom 50 per cent of US households, according to the report.

Topping the list is Tesla and SpaceX CEO Elon Musk, whose wealth climbed from $24.6bn in 2020 to $209.4bn in October 2021 – a 751 per cent increase, the report found.

Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, who moved to an “executive chairman” role at the retail giant this year, saw his pre-pandemic wealth surge from $113bn to $192 by mid-October.

Microsoft’s Bill Gates grew his wealth by $34.4bn, from $98bn to $132.4bn.

The annual billionaires list compiled by Forbes and published earlier this year found that the world’s wealthiest people have amassed more than $13 trillion combined, growing by 30 per cent from the previous year.

A vast majority of the hundreds of people on the list are wealthier today than they were one year ago, at the onset of the global health crisis and its economic fallout that left millions of people jobless in the months that followed.

“The great good fortune of these billionaires over the past 19 months is all the more stark when contrasted with the devastating impact of coronavirus on working people,” according to the report.

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Release of the report follows congressional debate over President Joe Biden’s Build Back Better plan, a centerpiece of his domestic agenda proposing $3.5 trillion to combat the climate crisis and extend social policies and safety nets, paid through a combination of tax increases for the nation’s wealthiest individuals and corporations and a repeal of Donald Trump-era cuts.

“America’s billionaire bonanza demonstrates the structural flaws in our current economic and tax systems President Biden and Democrats in Congress are trying to remedy by advancing a $3.5 trillion package of investments in working families and communities, paid for with fairer taxes on the rich and corporations,” the report states.

The pandemic has revived debate among lawmakers mulling proposals to raise taxes on the nation’s wealthy, which also enjoys widespread popular support.

A 2020 Reuters/Ipsos poll found that nearly two-thirds of respondents believe America’s rich should pay more, and another 2021 poll from Hill-HarrisX found that a majority of voters support a “wealth tax” on the nation’s billionaires.

A group of civil rights and labour organisations has urged Congress to include a Billionaires Income Tax as part of the Build Back Better legislation.

A recent investigation from ProPublica revealed that more than two dozen people paid a “true tax rate” of less than 4 per cent on a combined $400bn increase in their wealth between 2014 and 2018, while the median American household earned roughly $70,000 annually and paid 14 per cent in federal taxes.

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