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As Over a Million Have Died of COVID, US Billionaires Have Gained $1.7 Trillion

The $1.71 trillion wealth gain alone could pay off nearly the entirety of student loans owed by the public.

Elon Musk and his mother Maye Musk arrive for the 2022 Met Gala at the Metropolitan Museum of Art on May 2, 2022, in New York.

While the U.S. public has witnessed and experienced an unfathomable amount of death and tragedy over the course of the pandemic, U.S. billionaires have made out like kings and massively increased their wealth over the course of just over two years, new data shows.

According to an analysis by the Institute for Policy Studies (IPS), American billionaires have added a colossal $1.71 trillion to their wealth since March of 2020. With an over 58 percent growth in their wealth, U.S. billionaires are now worth a collective $4.67 trillion. This is a towering figure — it amounts to nearly 25 percent of the U.S. GDP — $19.74 trillion — split between 727 people.

The $1.71 trillion that billionaires have accumulated over the pandemic could pay for the entirety of the Build Back Better Act, congressional Democrats’ reconciliation bill that was slated to implement President Joe Biden’s social safety net and climate program last year. Alternatively, their wealth gain alone could pay off nearly all student loans, which are burdening 45 million Americans.

IPS’s report comes as the U.S. has hit 1 million deaths due to COVID-19, according to an NBC analysis, though the real death toll is likely higher. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), a large portion of COVID deaths were uncounted, meaning the total could be closer to 1.29 million deaths or more. When 100,000 people had died due to COVID in May 2020, The New York Times labeled the milestone as “incalculable” — 10 times that amount represents a loss beyond words.

But perhaps not for billionaires, especially those who have seen their wealth skyrocket over the past two years. Elon Musk’s wealth multiplied by over 10 times during the pandemic; in March 2020, he was worth $24.6 billion, an already huge amount for any individual. As of Wednesday, he is worth $255 billion, and is the richest person in the world among those whose net worth is publicly available.

“This jarring juxtaposition clearly illustrates that the work and strength of the working-class have made U.S. billionaires wealthier yet continue to bear the brunt of the pandemic,” Omar Ocampo, a co-author of the IPS report, told Truthout. “A strengthened labor movement and progressive taxation are both necessary to strengthen workers’ rights and make available to us the resources needed to increase investment in our healthcare system.”

Others who were already shockingly wealthy also accumulated even more money during the pandemic. Jeff Bezos’s wealth shot up by nearly a third, from $113 billion to $150 billion; Bill Gates also gained about a third of his previous net worth with his wealth growing from $98 billion to $130 billion.

Three members of the Walton family, who control more than 50 percent of Walmart, have seen their collective wealth grow by about 27 percent to $207.7 billion.

Some lawmakers have made attempts to reign in billionaires’ wealth, which they can accumulate largely tax-free. President Joe Biden included a minimum tax on the country’s wealthiest people in his budget request for the 2023 fiscal year, and people like Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont) and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Massachusetts) have introduced taxes specifically targeted at the ultra-wealthy to hack away at the growing wealth gap in the country.

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