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Billionaire wealth surged over $584 billion as $6.5 trillion in household wealth vanishes during first Quarter.
As the Federal Reserve reported during the week of June 10th, more than $6.5 trillion in household wealth vanished during the first three months of this year as the pandemic tightened its hold on the global economy.
“This is the biggest economic shock in the U.S. and in the world, really, in living memory,” Fed Chair Jerome H. Powell told reporters on June 10th. “We went from the lowest level of unemployment in 50 years to the highest level in close to 90 years, and we did it in two months.”
Since March 18th, the US Billionaire class has seen their wealth increase by 20%, or $584 billion, since the rough beginning of the pandemic, as 45.5 million Americans filed for unemployment and the economy cratered, according to a new analysis by Americans for Tax Fairness (ATF) and the Institute for Policy Studies – Program on Inequality (IPS), building on the IPS Billionaire Bonanza 2020 report.
Overall, between March 18—the rough start date of the pandemic shutdown, when most federal and state economic restrictions were in place—and June 17, the total net worth of the 640-plus U.S. billionaires jumped from $2.948 trillion to $3.531 trillion, based on the two groups’ analysis of Forbes data. Since March 18, the date Forbes released its annual report on billionaires’ wealth, the U.S. added 29 more billionaires, increasing from 614 to 643. During the same three months, over 45.5 million people filed for unemployment, according to the Department of Labor.
The top five billionaires—Jeff Bezos, Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, Warren Buffett and Larry Ellison—saw their wealth grow by a total of $101.7 billion, or 26%. They captured 17.4% of the total wealth growth of all 600-plus billionaires in the last three months. The fortunes of Bezos and Zuckerberg together grew by nearly $76 billion, or 13% of the $584 billion total.
“This orgy of wealth shows how fundamentally flawed our economic system is,” said Frank Clemente, ATF’s executive director. “In three months about 600 billionaires increased their wealth by far more than the nation’s governors say their states need in fiscal assistance to keep delivering services to 330 million residents. Their wealth increased twice as much as the federal government paid out in one-time checks to more than 150 million Americans. If this pandemic reveals anything, it’s how unequal our society has become and how drastically it must change.”
“The last thing U.S. society needs is more economic and racial polarization,” said Chuck Collins, director of the Institute for Policy Studies Program on Inequality and co-author of the Billionaire Bonanza 2020 report. “The surge in billionaire wealth and pandemic profiteering undermines the unity and solidarity that the American people will require to recover and grow together, not pull further apart.”
During the same approximate three-month period nearly 2.1 million Americans fell ill with the virus and about 118,000 died from it. Among other pandemic victims are 27 million Americans who may lose their employer-provided healthcare coverage. Low-wage workers, people of color and women have suffered disproportionately in the combined medical and economic crises. Billionaires are overwhelmingly white men.
Wealth growth of other select billionaires in the top 30 on the Forbes June 17 list is below.
Remarkably, 12 billionaires more than doubled their wealth over the last three months. One of them, Trevor Milton, the founder of Nikola Motor that is building semi-trucks powered by batteries and hydrogen, increased his wealth more than five times.
Decades of tax cuts for the rich have fueled the growth of billionaires and their wealth. Even in the midst of the greatest national emergency since World War II, tax handouts to the wealthy have continued—most recently in the form of the “Millionaire Giveaways” slipped into the CARES pandemic relief law enacted in late March.
The recently passed House HEROES Act would repeal this tax break that is giving an average tax cut of $1.6 million this year to 43,000 millionaires and billionaires, according to the Joint Committee on Taxation. JCT estimates closing this loophole would raise $246 billion, a huge sum that could be used for pandemic relief.