As US Mourns 500,000 Lives, Billionaires Gained $1.3 Trillion During Pandemic

As the United States this week mourned the devastating milestone of 500,000 lives lost to the coronavirus, a report out Wednesday shows that the nation’s billionaires have seen their collective wealth grow by $1.3 trillion since the deadly pandemic began last year.

According to the new analysis by the Institute for Policy Studies (IPS) and Americans for Tax Fairness (ATF), America’s 664 billionaires now have a combined net worth of $4.2 trillion — a figure that stands in staggering contrast to the economic pain being felt by countless families across the U.S. as joblessness, uninsurance, and hunger remain sky-high.

“It is unseemly that billionaires have experienced such gains as we mark a half a million lives lost and millions more who have lost their health, wealth and jobs,” Chuck Collins, director of the Program on Inequality at IPS, said in a statement. “Taxing those who have experienced windfall wealth gains to pay for Covid relief and recovery is a matter of equity and justice.”

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos — the richest man in the world — and SpaceX founder Elon Musk saw their wealth grow by $76.3 billion and $158 billion respectively between March 18, 2020 and February 19, 2021 — bigger gains than any other U.S. billionaire. Mark Zuckerberg, the CEO of Facebook, saw his net worth jump by $41 billion during that period.

“Even as congressional Republicans try to nickel-and-dime suffering Americans by opposing President Biden’s American Rescue Plan, including its $1,400 relief checks, American billionaires have reaped $1.3 trillion in pandemic profits,” said ATF executive director Frank Clemente. “The need for the kind of fair-share tax program Biden ran and won on becomes clearer every day, as billionaire wealth balloons while working-family hopes deflate.”

The U.S., which has the highest coronavirus death toll in the world, reached 500,000 lives lost to Covid-19 on Monday. “About one in 670 Americans has died of Covid-19, which has become a leading cause of death in the country, along with heart disease and cancer, and has driven down life expectancy more sharply than in decades,” the New York Times noted.

While declining cases and an improving vaccine rollout have prompted some optimism, the grim milestone and still-rising death toll served as urgent reminders of how much work remains to be done to bring the catastrophic pandemic under control.

“We are still at about 100,000 cases a day. We are still at around 1,500 to 3,500 deaths per day. The cases are more than two-and-a-half-fold times what we saw over the summer,” Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, told NBC earlier this month. “It’s encouraging to see these trends coming down, but they’re coming down from an extraordinarily high place.”