American billionaires have accumulated an enormous amount of wealth during the pandemic as the rest of the public has suffered due to an unstable economy, a new analysis shows.
In an analysis released last week, Americans for Tax Fairness found that billionaires have accumulated $1.7 trillion in wealth during the last two years alone, meaning that they are now 57 percent richer than they were in March of 2020. U.S. billionaires are now worth a collective $4.6 trillion, and the amount of wealth that they’ve hoarded over the past two years alone could have paid for nearly the entire Build Back Better Act.
There are also more billionaires in the U.S. than at the beginning of the pandemic, according to the analysis of Forbes data. In March of 2020, there were 614 billionaires; there are now 704, marking an increase of 15 percent.
The 15 richest billionaires in the country have contributed hugely to billionaires’ cumulative wealth gain. The top billionaires each gained at least $10 billion during the pandemic, with people like Jeff Bezos and Bill Gates gaining over $52 billion and $31 billion, respectively. Some billionaires more than doubled their wealth, like Google co-founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin.
Elon Musk saw the highest gains of the top 15 billionaires, both in proportion to his previous wealth and in sheer dollar amounts. In March of 2020, Musk was worth an already towering $24.6 billion. Over the pandemic, he added a whopping $209.4 billion to his wealth, bringing his net worth to $234 billion. This is a gain of 851 percent.
Meanwhile, in 2020 and in 2021, wages and salaries for workers only increased by 2.6 percent and 4.5 percent respectively. Together, billionaires hold more than the bottom 50 percent of the American public — made up of 65 million households — who own $3.4 trillion total.
It’s likely that none of these wealth gains will ever be taxed, the report found. Without regulations to rein in billionaire wealth, this gap continues to get worse; a RAND corporation report from 2020 found that the bottom 90 percent of the public would have $50 trillion more in 2018 if income growth had stayed as equitable as it was in the 1970s.
Still, the report advocates for the implementation of a billionaires income tax, which would capture a portion of billionaires’ investment incomes, which are not taxed. Measures like a wealth tax could also help stem the explosive and inequitable growth of billionaires’ wealth. Polling has found that the concept of taxing billionaires is popular with voters from across the political spectrum.
The pandemic has especially accelerated billionaires’ wealth gains; Amazon’s profits grew precipitously early in the pandemic and have only continued growing since, with sales growing 22 percent last year over 2020. While Bezos reaps the gains from that revenue growth, his company fiercely union busts and places severe quotas on its workers while, in some cases, not paying them enough to afford rent.
“For billionaires, it’s been two years of raking in the riches, while for most families it’s been two years of fear, frustration and financial worry,” said Frank Clemente, executive director of Americans for Tax Fairness.
“Working families pay what they owe in taxes each paycheck. Billionaires generally pay little or nothing in taxes on these extraordinary gains in wealth,” Clemente continued. “Congress should enact a Billionaires Income Tax to directly tax these wealth gains as income each year, so that billionaires begin to pay their fair share of taxes.”
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