By Chuck Collins, Inequality.org
April 15, 2021
Update: U.S. Billionaire Pandemic Wealth Increases by $1.6 Trillion, or 55%; Represents One-third of Gains over the Last 31 Years.
Whether measured over 13 months or 31 years, the growth of U.S. billionaire wealth is both astounding and troubling based on Forbes data as of April 12, 2021. Billionaire wealth growth has perversely accelerated over the 13 months of global pandemic. But the piling up of fortunes at the top has proceeded at a rapid clip for decades even as the net worth of working Americans lagged and public services deteriorated.
Our full analysis, in collaboration with Americans for Tax Fairness, including a table of top billionaires and illustrative charts can be found here. Here are some of the key findings:
• Between March 18, 2020, and April 12, 2021,the collective wealth of American billionaires leapt by $1.62 trillion, or 55%, from $2.95 trillion to $4.56 trillion.
• On April 12, America’s 719 billionaires held over four times more wealth ($4.56 trillion) than all the roughly 165 million Americans in society’s bottom half ($1.01 trillion). In 1990, the situation was reversed — billionaires were worth $240 billion and the bottom 50 percent had $380 billion in combined wealth.
• U.S. billionaires’ pandemic-era wealth growth comes on top of a 19-fold increase in billionaire wealth over 31 years—from an inflation-adjusted $240 billion in 1990 to $4.56 trillion in 2021.
• One-third of U.S. billionaires’ wealth growth over the last 31 years came during the pandemic.
• There are about 11 times the number of billionaires now (719) as there were in 1990 (66).
• As of April 12, there were six American “centi-billionaires”—individuals each worth at least $100 billion. That’s bigger than the size of the economy of each of 13 of the nation’s states.
Here’s how the wealth of these ultra-billionaires grew during the pandemic:
◦ Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, almost a “double-centi-billionaire” with a net worth of nearly $197 billion, is up 74% over the last 13 months. If he was still married to his ex-wife, MacKenzie Scott, together they would be worth another $60 billion or so—giving the couple a net worth of a quarter trillion dollars.
◦ Elon Musk, founder of Tesla and Space-X, with $172 billion, up an astounding 599% during the pandemic.
◦ Bill Gates, founder of Microsoft, worth $130 billion, up 33% since March 2020.
◦ Mark Zuckerberg, CEO of Facebook, has $113.5 billion, a fortune that more than doubled (up 108%) in 13 months.
◦ Berkshire Hathaway’s Warren Buffett is worth $101 billion, an increase of 50% during the pandemic.
◦ Larry Ellison, founder of Oracle, is also worth $101 billion, up 71% since March 2020.
March 18, 2020 is used as the unofficial beginning of the crisis because by then most federal and state economic restrictions responding to the virus were in place. March 18 was also the date that Forbes picked to measure billionaire wealth for the 2020 edition of its annual billionaires report, which provided a baseline that we and Americans for Tax Fairness compare periodically with real-time data from the Forbes website. PolitiFact has favorably reviewed this methodology.
-For the full report with charts and tables and previous updates in the series go to Inequality.org