Personal Income

US billionaire wealth increased 70 percent since the start of the pandemic

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The wealth of US billionaires has increased by a massive $2.1 trillion, or 70 percent, since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, while tens of millions of working people have faced unemployment and illness, and 724,000 have died from COVID-19. Additionally, the list of American billionaires grew by 131 individuals—going from 614 to 745—during the same period.

According to an analysis of Forbes data about US billionaires by Americans for Tax Fairness (ATF) and the Institute for Policy Studies (IPS) Program on Inequality, the wealth of the richest people in the country increased from “just short of $3 trillion at the start of the COVID crisis on March 18, 2020, to over $5 trillion on October 15 of this year,” and this wealth is “two-thirds more than the $3 trillion in wealth held by the bottom 50 percent of U.S. households estimated by the Federal Reserve Board.”

Left: Elon Musk at the 2015 Vanity Fair Oscar Party in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by Evan Agostini/Invision/AP); Right: A newly opened cemetery for the victims of COVID-19 in Medan, North Sumatra, Indonesia, November 16, 2020. (AP Photo/Binsar Bakkara)

In an accompanying press release, the ATF and IPS state that the “great good fortune of these billionaires over the past 19 months” is in stark contrast with the “89 million Americans [who] have lost jobs, over 44.9 million [who] have been sickened by the virus” and the nearly three-quarters of a million who have died from it.

The billionaire who increased his wealth the most is Elon Musk. The wealth of the CEO of Tesla and SpaceX grew by an incredible 751 percent during the pandemic, from $24.6 billion to $209.4 billion. Musk became the wealthiest individual in the country, beating out Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, who went from $113 billion to $192 billion, or a 70 percent increase over the 19-month period.

Other top billionaires who increased their wealth significantly during the pandemic include the founders of Google (now Alphabet, Inc.) Larry Page and Sergey Brin, who saw their fortunes rise by 137.2 percent to $120.7 billion and 136.9 percent to $116.2 billion, respectively. Phil Knight, founder and chairman emeritus of Nike, Inc., nearly doubled his wealth since March 2020 from $29.5 billion to $57.9 billion.

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