How the Getty and Walton Families Use Trusts To Dodge Taxes
Complexity is the bread and butter of the wealth defense industry.
Since the beginning of the pandemic, the Institute for Policy Studies has tracked the explosive growth of U.S. billionaire wealth — one of the most disturbing signs of inequality during a crisis that has devastated ordinary families.
US billionaires have seen their wealth gains roll up and down over the last year.
Here at Inequality.org we occasionally take a snapshot to see how the U.S. billionaire class is faring. While some billionaires have seen wealth evaporate, their combined assets are still 50 percent higher than March 18, 2020.
As of Monday, November 21, there are 728 billionaires with combined wealth of $4.48 trillion, an increase of $1.5 trillion compared to mid-March 2020, drawing on Forbes’ billionaire database. Combined U.S. billionaire wealth prior to the pandemic was just under $3 trillion.
A year ago, at the end of October 2021, U.S. billionaire wealth hit a high-water mark. The 745 billionaires had a combined $5.1 trillion, a gain of $2.1 trillion, more than 70 percent over pre-pandemic assets. Last May, that gain had declined to $1.7 trillion.
Tracking the fortunes of some of the wealthiest billionaires:
On March 18, 2020, Elon Musk had wealth valued just under $25 billion. By May 2022, his net worth had surged to $255 billion. As of Monday, November 21, 2022, Musk is at $183. billion.
Jeff Bezos saw his wealth rise from $113 billion to $150 billion between March 18, 2020 and May 4, 2022. As of Monday, November 21, 2022, Bezos is at $114 billion, pretty much where he started before the pandemic.
Three Walton family members – Jim, Alice and Rob – saw their combined asset rise from $161.1 billion to $207.7 billion between March 18, 2020 and May 4, 2022. As of Monday, November 21, 2022, their combined wealth is at $188 billion.
As the U.S. crosses the grim milestone of 1 million deaths from Covid-19, U.S. billionaires have seen their combined wealth rise over $1.7 trillion, a gain of over 58 percent during the pandemic.
This troubling juxtaposition underscores the story of unequal loss and sacrifice during the worst pandemic in a century. While billionaires have seen their wealth surge, millions have lost their lives and livelihoods.
On March 18, 2020, at the beginning of the formal lockdown, U.S. billionaires held a combined $2.947 trillion. On May 4, 2022, as the U.S. crossed the 1 million death mark, according to an analysis by NBC, 727 U.S. billionaires were worth $1.71 trillion more, according to Forbes.
Elon Musk, who had wealth valued just under $25 billion on March 18, 2020, has seen his wealth increase to $255 billion as of May 4, 2022.
Between March 18, 2020 and May 4, 2022, the following increases in wealth have occurred:
Total U.S. billionaire pandemic wealth gains are down slightly from their peak because of market losses in recent months. As of October 2021, the increase in their combined wealth stood at $2.1 trillion, according to a report by Americans for Tax Fairness and the Institute for Policy Studies.
See below for additional details on the trajectory of U.S. billionaire wealth during the pandemic.
America’s billionaires have grown $2.1 trillion richer during the pandemic, their collective fortune skyrocketing by 70 percent — 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, according to Forbes data analyzed by Americans for Tax Fairness (ATF) and the Institute for Policy Studies Program on Inequality (IPS).
Not only did the wealth of U.S. billionaires grow, but so did their numbers: in March of last year, there were 614 Americans with 10-figure bank accounts. Today there are 745.
The $5 trillion in wealth now held by 745 billionaires 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.
The top five billionaires have seen their fortunes expand even more rapidly than the U.S. billionaire class as a whole.
The great good fortune of these billionaires over the past 19 months is even starker when contrasted with the devastating impact of coronavirus on working people. Almost 89 million Americans have lost jobs, over 44.9 million have been sickened by the virus, and over 724,000 have died from it.
To put this extraordinary wealth growth in perspective, the $2.1 trillion gain over 19 months by U.S. billionaires is equal to:
Sixty-seven national organizations have sent a letter to Congress expressing concern that neither the Ways and Means committee plan nor President Biden’s plan will adequately tax billionaires. They recommend that Billionaires Income Tax (BIT) legislation under development by Sen. Ron Wyden, chairman of the Finance Committee be included in final BBB legislation. President Biden also supports this tax reform.
Most of these huge billionaires’ gains will go untaxed under current rules and will disappear entirely for tax purposes when they’re passed onto the next generation. Under Wyden’s BIT, billionaires will start paying taxes on their increased wealth each year just like workers pay taxes on their paychecks each year.
The tax will apply only to taxpayers whose wealth exceeds $1 billion: about 700 households. It will be assessed annually on tradable assets, such as stocks, where the value of the asset is known at the beginning and end of the year. For non-tradable assets, such as ownership in a business or real estate holdings, taxes will be deferred until the asset is sold.
Public support for the Billionaire Income Tax is very strong. When proposed as a way to pay for President Biden’s $3.5 trillion investment package, it increases support for that package by 20 to 40 points among voters in battleground districts and states.
Among the individual stories behind the big numbers:
See Chuck Collins’s longer analysis of the data.
U.S billionaires have seen their wealth surge $1.8 trillion during the pandemic, their collective fortune skyrocketing by nearly two-thirds (62 percent) from just short of $3 trillion at the start of the COVID crisis on March 18, 2020, to $4.8 trillion on August 17, 2021, according to a report from Americans for Tax Fairness (ATF) and the Institute for Policy Studies Program on Inequality (IPS). A table of the top 15 billionaires is below and the full data set is here.
Elon Musk has seen his wealth increase by an eye-popping $150 billion during the pandemic, a gain of over 600 percent.
America’s billionaire bonanza demonstrates the flaws in our current economic and tax systems President Biden and Democrats in Congress are trying to remedy by advancing a $3.5 trillion budget package, which has already passed the U.S. Senate and is being considered in the U.S. House today. If it becomes law through the budget reconciliation process this fall, it will aid communities and working families by making healthcare, eldercare, childcare, housing and education more affordable, investing in clean energy, expanding the Child Tax Credit and providing 12 weeks of paid family and medical leave. It will be paid for by making the wealthy and corporations pay their fair share of taxes, and it will not raise taxes on anyone making under $400,000 a year.
Not only did the wealth of billionaires grow, but so did their numbers: in March of last year, there were 614 Americans with 10-figure bank accounts; this August, there are 708. Their $1.8 trillion of increased wealth alone over 17 months, which will not be taxed unless they sell their assets, would pay for more than half of Biden’s 10-year $3.5 trillion investment package.
The great good fortune of these billionaires over the past 17 months is all the more appalling when contrasted with the devastating impact of coronavirus on working people. Over 86 million Americans have lost jobs, almost 38 million have been sickened by the virus, and over 625,000 have died from it.
President Biden’s investment proposals contained in the Senate-passed budget resolution would significantly improve Americans health by making private insurance in the Affordable Care Act (ACA) exchanges more affordable; closing the Medicaid coverage gap in 12 states that refuse to expand coverage under the ACA; expanding Medicare to cover dental, vision and hearing benefits; increasing long-term care benefits to help people afford home and community-based services; and lowering the cost of prescription drugs by giving Medicare the authority to negotiate lower drug prices with drug corporations.
Biden’s proposed investments would reduce health insurance premiums for 9 million people, according to the White House, saving an average 60-year-old making $55,000 a year hundreds of dollars a month on their ACA insurance policy premium, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation. The cost of extending these subsidies is $163 billion over 10 years, per the Treasury Department. That means the $1.8 trillion increase in American billionaire wealth over the last 17 months could pay the entire 10-year cost of making healthcare more affordable for 9 million people more than 10 times over.
While these investments in healthcare would benefit millions of Americans and save money in the long run, the ballooning wealth of billionaires benefits no one but the super-rich. That’s because the current tax code is riddled with loopholes and special breaks that allow the super wealthy to avoid paying their fair share of taxes.
Due to one of the code’s biggest loopholes, increased wealth enjoyed by billionaires and other members of the richest 1 percent—for whom such wealth growth is the primary source of income—can go untaxed forever. The virtual tax-free status of billionaire wealth growth was highlighted recently by a report from ProPublica. It estimated that 25 top billionaires paid on average just 3.4 percent of their wealth-growth in federal income taxes and that several, including Jeff Bezos (worth $188 billion on August 17, 2021) and Elon Musk (worth $175 billion on August 17, 2021), went multiple recent years paying zero federal income tax.
Even when taxed, the top tax rate on wealth-growth income is only about half that of wage income—20 percent vs. 37 percent. President Biden would end those special breaks on the wealth-growth income of millionaires and billionaires as part of his tax-reform package. Following are Biden’s tax reforms that are expected to be a part of budget reconciliation legislation to be voted on in the fall, many of which will ensure billionaires start paying closer to their fair share of taxes:
A more direct way to tax billionaire wealth is to tax the wealth itself instead of just its growth. If the wealth tax proposed by Sen. Elizabeth Warren had been in effect in 2020, the nation’s billionaires alone would have paid $114 billion for that year—and would pay an estimated combined total of $1.4 trillion over 10 years.
Poll after poll shows that Americans of all political persuasions and by large majorities believe that the wealthy and big corporations need to start paying their fair share of taxes. A June poll by ALG Research and Hart Research shows 62 percent of voters support Biden’s proposed $4 trillion (at the time) investments in healthcare, childcare, education, clean energy and more—paid for by higher taxes on the rich and corporations.
Over the last 16 months, since the formal beginning of the pandemic lockdown, the combined wealth of 713 U.S. billionaires has surged by $1.8 trillion, a gain of almost 60 percent. The total combined wealth of U.S. billionaires increased from $2.9 trillion on March 18, 2020 to $4.7 trillion on July 9, 2021.
Billionaire wealth has steadily increased since 1990, but one-third of their wealth gains have occurred during the pandemic. U.S. Billionaire wealth increased 19-fold over the last 31 years, from an inflation adjusted $240 billion in 1990 to $4.7 trillion in 2021.
See the full analysis prepared by the Americans for Tax Fairness (ATF) and the Institute for Policy Studies (IPS) analyzing Forbes wealth data here. A table of the Forbes data can be found here and a table of the top 15 billionaires is below.
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:
March 18 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.
As the United States crosses the threshold of half a million deaths from the Covid pandemic, the nation’s billionaires continue to reap extraordinary financial gains. After 11 months of pandemic misery, where millions have lost their jobs, health and wealth, total U.S. billionaire wealth increased $1.3 trillion since mid-March, 2020, an increase of 44 percent.
As of the market close on Friday, February 19, the country’s 664 billionaires now have combined wealth of $4.3 trillion, up from just under $3 trillion on March 18, 2020. These findings based on Forbes data compiled in this report by Americans for Tax Fairness (ATF) and the Institute for Policy Studies (IPS). [See table of top 15 billionaires at the end.]
March 18 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 ATF and IPS compare periodically with real-time data from the Forbes website. PolitiFact has favorably reviewed this methodology.
The billionaires’ $1.3 trillion pandemic wealth gain alone could pay for over two-thirds of President Biden’s proposed $1.9 trillion COVID rescue package, which Congressional Republicans have attacked as too costly. At $4.2 trillion, the total wealth of America’s 664 billionaires is also more than two-thirds higher than the $2.4 trillion in total wealth held by the bottom half of the population, 165 million Americans.
The $1.3 trillion wealth gain by U.S. billionaires since March 2020 could pay for a stimulus check of more than $3,900 for every one of the roughly 331 million people in the United States. A family of four would receive over $15,000. Republicans in Congress resisted sending families stimulus checks most of last year, claiming we couldn’t afford them.
Indeed, ordinary Americans have not fared as well as billionaires over the past 11 months:
Because of long-standing racial and gender disparities, low-wage workers, people of color and women have suffered disproportionately in the combined medical and economic crises. Latinos are more likely to become infected with Covid-19 and Blacks to die from the disease than are white people. Billionaires are overwhelmingly white men.
The stock market surge and lock-down economy have been a boon to tech monopolies and helped create multiple U.S. “centi-billionaires.” Jeff Bezos, Elon Musk, and Bill Gates were each worth more than $100 billion on Feb. 19 (and Mark Zuckerberg was close, at almost $96 billion). Prior to this year, Bezos had been the only U.S. centi-billionaire, reaching that peak in 2018. Bezos and other billionaires have seen particularly astonishing increases in wealth over the past 11 months:
The collective wealth of all U.S. billionaires has increased over $1.1 trillion since mid-March 2020, a nearly 40% leap during the past 10 months of national emergency.
This wealth windfall could pay for all the relief for working families contained in the $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package proposed by President Biden, while leaving the nation’s richest households no worse off than they were before COVID-19 hit.
The combined fortune of the nation’s 660 billionaires as of Monday, January 18, 2021 was $4.1 trillion, up 38.6% from their collective net worth of just under $3 trillion on March 18, 2020, the rough start of the pandemic, based on Forbes data compiled in this report by the Americans for Tax Fairness (ATF) and the Institute for Policy Studies (IPS). There have been 46 newly minted billionaires since the beginning of the pandemic, when there were 614.
At $4.1 trillion, the total wealth of America’s 660 billionaires is two-thirds higher than the $2.4 trillion in total wealth held by the bottom half of the population, 165 million Americans.
March 18 is used as the unofficial beginning of the pandemic because by then most federal and state economic restrictions responding to the virus were in place. Moreover, March 18 was also the publication date of Forbes’ annual billionaires report in 2020. It provided a detailed baseline that ATF and IPS have been comparing periodically with real-time data from the Forbes website. This methodology has been favorably reviewed by PolitiFact.
The $1.1 trillion wealth gain by 660 U.S. billionaires since March 2020 could pay for:
Ordinary Americans have not fared as well as billionaires during the pandemic:
Because of long-standing racial and gender disparities, low-wage workers, people of color and women have suffered disproportionately in the combined medical and economic crises of 2020. Latinos are more likely to become infected with Covid-19 and Blacks to die from the disease than are white people. Billionaires are overwhelmingly white men.
The stock market surge and lock-down economy have been a boon to tech monopolies and helped create multiple U.S. “centi-billionaires.” Jeff Bezos, Elon Musk, and Bill Gates were each worth more than $100 billion on Jan. 18. Prior to this year, Bezos had been the only U.S. centi-billionaire, reaching that peak in 2018. Bezos and other billionaires have seen particularly astonishing increases in wealth over the past 10 months:
Tax reform that ensures the wealthy pay their fair share—the principle the Biden tax plan is built on—would transform a good chunk of those huge billionaire gains into public revenue to help heal a hurting nation. But getting at that big boost in billionaire fortunes is not as simple as raising tax rates: tax rules let the rich delay, diminish and even ultimately avoid any tax on the growth in their wealth. What’s needed is structural change to how wealth is taxed.
The most direct approach is an annual wealth tax on the biggest fortunes, proposed by Senators Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders, among others. Another option is the annual taxation of investment gains on stocks and other tradable assets, an idea advanced by the new Senate Finance Committee chair, Ron Wyden. Even under the current discounted tax rates for investment income, if Wyden’s plan had been in effect in 2020, America’s billionaires would be paying hundreds of billions of dollars in extra taxes this spring thanks to their gargantuan pandemic profits last year.
According to a new report by the Institute for Policy Studies (IPS) and Americans for Tax Fairness (ATF), the collective wealth of America’s 651 billionaires has jumped by over $1 trillion since roughly the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic to a total of $4 trillion at market close on Monday, December 7, 2020. Combined, just the top 10 billionaires are now worth more than $1 trillion.
Their wealth growth since March is more than the $908 billion in pandemic relief proposed by a bipartisan group of members of Congress, which is likely to be the package that moves forward for a vote in the next week, but has been stalled over Republican concerns that it is too costly.
The total net worth of the nation’s 651 billionaires rose from $2.95 trillion on March 18—the rough start of the pandemic shutdowns—to $4.01 trillion on Dec. 7, a leap of 36%, based on an analysis of Forbes magazines research on billionaires. By around March 18 most federal and state economic restrictions in response to the virus were in place.
Forbes’ annual global billionaires report was published March 18, and ATF and IPS collected the real-time data on Dec. 7 from the Forbes website. The methodology of this analysis has been favorably reviewed by PolitiFact. The ATF-IPS analysis also looks at wealth growth since February 2019—the date of Forbes’ immediately previous annual billionaires report published well before the start of the pandemic and resulting market gyrations.
The $1 trillion wealth gain by 651 U.S. billionaires since mid-March is:
At $4 trillion the total wealth of all U.S. billionaires today is nearly double the $2.1 trillion in total wealth held by the bottom half of the population, or 165 million Americans.
“Never before has America seen such an accumulation of wealth in so few hands,” said Frank Clemente, executive director of Americans for Tax Fairness. “As tens of millions of Americans suffer from the health and economic ravages of this pandemic, a few hundred billionaires add to their massive fortunes. Their pandemic profits are so immense that America’s billionaires could pay for a major COVID relief bill and still not lose a dime of their pre-virus riches. Their wealth growth is so great that they alone could provide a $3,000 stimulus payment to every man, woman and child in the country, and still be richer than they were 9 months ago. Joe Biden won a tax-fairness mandate in November. We look forward to working with him and Congress to deliver on that mandate by taxing the massive wealth of these billionaires.”
“The updraft of wealth to the billionaire class is disturbing at a time when millions face eviction, destitution, and loss,” said Chuck Collins of the Institute for Policy Studies and co-author of Billionaire Bonanza 2020, a report looking at pandemic profiteering and billionaire wealth. “Billionaires are extracting wealth at a time when essential workers are pushed into the viral line of fire.”
Ordinary Americans have not fared as well as billionaires during the pandemic:
Without a federal fiscal relief package, workers will face even greater loss of jobs and services than they have already suffered. The Economic Policy Institute predicts that without more federal aid 5.3 million public-sector jobs—including those of teachers, public safety employees and health care workers—will be lost by the end of 2021.
Because of long-standing racial and gender disparities, low-wage workers, people of color and women have suffered disproportionately in the combined medical and economic crises of 2020. Blacks and Latinos are far more likely to become infected with Covid-19 and to die from the disease. Billionaires are overwhelmingly white men.
The stock market surge and lock-down economy have been a boon to tech monopolies and helped create four U.S. “centi-billionaires.” Jeff Bezos, Elon Musk, Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg are now each worth more than $100 billion. Prior to this year, Bezos had been the only U.S. centi-billionaire, reaching that peak in 2018. Bezos and other billionaires have seen particularly astonishing increases in wealth between March 18 and Dec. 7:
federal agency Musk has credited with saving his company with a big federal contract when the firm’s rockets were failing and it faced bankruptcy.
About ATF: Americans for Tax Fairness is a diverse campaign of more than 420 national, state and local endorsing organizations united in support of a fair tax system that works for all Americans. It has come together based on the belief that the country needs comprehensive, progressive tax reform that results in greater revenue to meet our growing needs.
About IPS: The Institute for Policy Studies is a multi-issue research center that has conducted ground-breaking research on inequality for more than 20 years. The IPS Program on Inequality and the Common Good, and the Inequality.org website, provide research, advocacy and policy development on issues related to economic inequality.
It’s going to be a Billionaire Thanksgiving. The combined wealth of U.S. billionaires surpassed $1 trillion in gains since March 2020 and the beginning of the pandemic, an increase of over 34 percent.
Tuesday, November 24, as the Dow crossed the 30,000 mark, the wealth of 650 U.S. billionaires approached a total of $4 trillion, with $1.008 trillion in growth since March 2020.
Of this group, 29 billionaires have seen their wealth double since March 2020. There are 36 additional billionaires in the U.S. since March 2020. There are 47 new individuals on the list, with 11 going off the list due to death or financial decline.
Some of the big gains include:
Find our most recent analysis of billionaire wealth here.
The almost $4 trillion owned by U.S. billionaires is about 3.5 percent of all privately held wealth in the U.S., estimated at $112 trillion. Billionaire wealth is twice the amount of wealth held by the bottom 50 percent of households combined, roughly 160 million people.
According to the Federal Reserve, 2020 Second Quarter Distribution of Financial Accounts, the distribution of $112 trillion in total private wealth is this: The top 1% has $34.23 trillion; The top 90-99 percentile have 43.09’ The 50-90 percentile have $32.65 trillion; and, the bottom 50% have $2.08 trillion.
This is not normal or predetermined by any means. According to IPS analysis, U.S. billionaires saw their fortunes decline in the years after the 2008 Great Recession along with everyone else. It wasn’t until almost 4 years later, in September 2012, that the total wealth of the Forbes 400 exceeded its 2008 pre-Great Recession levels (see below).
Forbes 400 Total Wealth
With only two weeks until a national election, the unseemly juxtaposition between the fortunes of U.S. billionaires and the dire conditions of millions of working families could not be more striking. Meanwhile Trump and Senate inaction are worsening this divide.
Since the beginning of the pandemic, the wealth of U.S. billionaires has surged $931 billion, according to analysis by the Americans for Tax Fairness and the Institute for Policy Studies. This updates ongoing research by the Institute for Policy Studies begun with the report, Billionaire Bonanza 2020: Wealth Windfalls, Tumbling Taxes and Pandemic Profiteers.
Between March 18 –the rough start of the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic — and October 13, the total wealth of 644 U.S. billionaires increased from $2.95 trillion to $3.88 trillion, a rise of 31.6 percent. (See a detailed spreadsheet of all billionaires, based on analysis of Forbes billionaire data).
The COVID-19 pandemic has killed over 220,000 Americans and destroyed the health, wealth and livelihood of millions of households. The U.S. Senate’s failure to pass another emergency relief bill has increased desperation for many households and localities – as some regions enter a second wave of infections with winter approaching. Unemployment is rising again as many businesses are being shuttered, some permanently. States and localities are reeling from declining revenue and facing budget shortfalls just at the time when robust state and federal action is required.
While the wealth of billionaires tracks the rises and falls of the stock market, a group of “pandemic profiteers” have seen their wealth surge to unimaginable heights during a time of misfortune for most of their neighbors. Many of them are profiting from increasing dependence on cloud-based technologies, online retail, drug research, telemedicine, video-conferencing – services that have become essential services during the pandemic. Wall Street is anticipating a further concentration of corporate ownership and rewarding those best positioned to reap those rewards.
The expansion of retail giant Amazon comes at the expense of millions of bricks-and-mortar small businesses forced to close to foot traffic. Jeff Bezos’s wealth grew from $113 billion on March 18 to $203 billion on Oct. 13, an increase of 80 percent. Adding in his ex-wife MacKenzie Scott’s wealth of $65.7 billion on that day and the two had a combined wealth of more than a quarter of a trillion dollars thanks to their Amazon stock.
Elon Musk’s wealth has more than tripled since the beginning of the pandemic. Thanks to Musk’s technologies, such as Tesla, his wealth grew from $24.6 billion on March 18 to $92.8 billion on Oct. 13, an increase of 277 percent. Mark Zuckerberg’s wealth grew from $54.7 billion on March 18 to $101 billion on Oct. 13, an increase of 85 percent, fueled by his Facebook stock.
Video conference technologies have become essential services during the pandemic. Zoom’s Eric Yaun wasn’t even a billionaire in 2019. Now is wealth is over $22 billion, an increase of over 300 percent since March 18th. Steve Ballmer, a major owner of Microsoft and its TEAMS video conferencing, has seen his wealth increase by $22 billion since March 18, an increase of 43.4 percent
The increasing dependence of online financial services and telemedicine have boosted some fortunes. Dan Gilbert, chairman of Quicken Loans, saw his wealth rocket by 656 percent, to $49.2 billion from $6.5 billion 7 months earlier.
Not all billionaires have seen their fortunes boom. Major owners in the fossil fuel energy sector have seen their wealth decline.
What can be done? In Billionaire Bonanza 2020, IPS recommends a number of actions to address pandemic profiteering. These include:
Since the publication of the report, members of Congress have introduced an emergency billionaire wealth tax to capture a portion of these gains and direct to health and state and local aide.
Why March 18? Forbes’ annual billionaires report was published March 18, 2020, and the real-time data was collected Oct. 13 from the Forbes website. This analysis was recently favorably reviewed by PolitiFact. The ATF-IPS analysis also looks at wealth growth since February 2019, well before the start of the pandemic and the previous date of Forbes’ annual billionaires report. In roughly 20 months, many of these same billionaires have seen unprecedented gains.
Full press release.
Sources: All data in table is from Forbes and available here.
March 18, 2020 data: Forbes, “Forbes Publishes 34th Annual List Of Global Billionaires,” April 7, 2020
Oct. 13, 2020 data: Forbes, “The World’s Real-Time Billionaires, Today’s Winners and Losers,” accessed Oct. 13, 2020
Feb. 8, 2019 data: Forbes 2019 World Billionaires Report, March 5, 2019
The combined wealth of U.S. billionaires increased by $850 billion since March 18th, 2020, the beginning of the pandemic, an increase of over 28 percent.
On March 18, 2020, U.S. billionaires had combined wealth of $2.947 trillion. By October 8th, their wealth has surged to $3.8 trillion ($3.798 billion to be exact).
The stock market has been going up and down in recent weeks with billionaires holding steady. On September 18, total billionaire wealth was $845 billion. Billionaires have seen huge gains over the last six months as millions of Americans have lost their jobs, health and savings, if not their lives.
At the global level, billionaires are big winners during the Covid-19 pandemic. According to a recent UBS report, the roughly 2,189 global billionaires now have $10.2 trillion. This is an estimated increase of $1.5 trillion during the pandemic looking at both UBS and Forbes billionaire data from 2019.
This updates our Billionaire Bonanza 2020 report that looked at “pandemic profiteers” and put forward a number of policy recommendations. One new recommendation is for an emergency pandemic billionaire wealth tax to fund urgent health care and state and local aide.
Half a year into a paralyzing pandemic that has cost millions of Americans their livelihoods and lives, America’s billionaires have reached a startling milestone of wealth accumulation – even as special federal relief is drying up for millions of unemployed workers and for hard-pressed state and local governments struggling to provide vital services. Billionaire figures are from Forbes analyzed in a new report by Americans for Tax Fairness (ATF) and the Institute for Policy Studies (IPS).
Between March 18—the rough start date of the pandemic shutdown, when most federal and state economic restrictions were in place—and Sept. 15, the total net worth of the nation’s billionaires rose from $2.95 trillion to $3.8 trillion (see table below and this spreadsheet of all billionaires). That works out to gains of $141 billion a month, $32 billion a week, or $4.7 billion a day. Forbes’ annual billionaires report was published March 18, 2020, and the real-time data was collected Sept. 15 from the Forbes website.
Needless to say, ordinary workers did not fare as well. From mid-March to mid-August, the collective work income of rank-and-file private-sector employees—all hours worked times the hourly wages of the entire bottom 82% of the workforce—declined by 4.4.%, according to Bureau of Labor Statistics data.
In fact, this billionaires’ bonanza occurred against a general backdrop of working-class pain:
The stock market in which billionaires have much of their money invested dropped sharply in the month before the pandemic lockdown. But the six months of gains that followed were not merely a reversal of those losses: billionaires are also $680 billion, or 22%, richer today than they were in February 2019, the release date of the most recent previous Forbes annual report (see table below).
“Every candidate in this campaign season, from presidential hopeful down, who’s pledging to lead us out of the coronavirus crisis must address this stark divergence between the nation’s wealthiest elite and their struggling fellow citizens,” said Frank Clemente, executive director of Americans for Tax Fairness. “The answer starts with creating a fair share tax system that narrows obscene wealth gaps and raises the trillions of dollars needed to address the present emergency and invest in our families and communities over the long-term.”
“The billionaire economy has been turbocharged by policymakers who are now stalling on relief for the real economy,” said Chuck Collins, director of the Institute for Policy Studies’ Program on Inequality and co-author of the report “Billionaire Bonanza 2020.” “The difference is stark between profits for billionaires and the widespread economic misery in our nation. Clearly, the priorities of our elected officials in Washington, DC are completely upside down.”
The data in the table above and for all billionaires is available here.
Even among billionaires, wealth is highly concentrated. Roughly $400 billion, or only a little less than half of the total gains, were captured by just the 15 wealthiest on the billionaires list. The top three gainers alone—Jeff Bezos, Mark Zuckerberg and Elon Musk—enjoyed fully 16% of the spoils, or a collective wealth surge of $137 billion. One billionaire from Michigan, Dan Gilbert of Quicken Loans, saw his wealth increase an astonishing 672%, growing from $6.5 billion to $50.2 billion.
The total wealth of all the billionaires—$3.8 trillion today—is two-and-a-half times the $1.5 trillion in total wealth held by the bottom half of the population, or 165 million Americans.
The $845 billion wealth gain by 643 billionaires over the past six months far exceeds the:
Low-wage workers, people of color and women have suffered disproportionately in the combined medical and economic crises because of long-standing racial and gender disparities. Billionaires are overwhelmingly white men.
House Democrats passed a relief bill back in May that offered a lifeline to Americans not sharing in the billionaires’ good fortune during the pandemic. Among its provisions:
All of the above data is available in one table here.
Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) have introduced legislation for a 60% tax on the pandemic wealth gains of billionaires between March 18 and the end of the year and use the proceeds to help working Americans cover healthcare costs.
Total U.S. billionaire wealth has increased over $970 billion since March 18, 2020, an increase of 32.9 percent over 24 weeks.
On March 18, total U.S. billionaire wealth was $2.947 trillion. As of September 3, total U.S. billionaire wealth has risen to $3.917 trillion.
Jeff Bezos total wealth is now $206.4 billion, compared to $113 billion on March 18.
Elon Musk has seen his wealth triple since March 18, rising from $24.6 billion to $93.3 billion.
Since March 18, the number of U.S. billionaires has increased from 614 to 638, an increase of 24 new billionaires.
We date our data to March 18, the day that Forbes published is 2020 annual Global Billionaire Survey. This date also marks the beginning of the pandemic lockdown in many states, the first unemployment filings over 6 million, and the beginning of Federal Reserve actions to stabilize the economy. The Institute for Policy Studies and Americans For Tax Reform posted a response to criticisms that we use this start date. Together, we have been publishing regular updates on billionaire wealth that can be found here.
Between March 18 and August 5, 2020, the total wealth of U.S. billionaires went up $685 billion (including those that have lost funds), based on an analysis of Forbes data. U.S. billionaires have total combined wealth of over $3.65 trillion.
Over this same period, over 158,000 people have died from the Covid-19 virus and over 30 million remain on unemployment.
Inspired by the Billionaire Bonanza 2020 report and subsequent reports on billionaire wealth increases, Senator Bernie Sanders has introduced the “Make Billionaires Pay Act.” This Act would levy levying a 60% tax on the growth in wealth of those 467 billionaires whose wealth has increased since March 18th, based on our Institute for Policy Studies/Americans for Tax Fairness analysis.
The total wealth of this group grew $732 billion, or 30 percent, since the start of the pandemic. This tax would raise $422 billion if it were levied based on today’s wealth. Sanders would use the revenue to cover the out-of-pocket medical expenses of all the uninsured and the under-insured Medicare beneficiaries over the next 12 months during the COVID-19 crisis.
“An emergency wealth tax on billionaires is what the body politic requires,” said Chuck Collins, coauthor of Billionaire Bonanza 2020 and director of the Institute for Policy Studies – Program on Inequality. “These billionaires will remain billions richer than a year ago—and a portion of their extreme wealth gains will be deployed to address the pandemic crisis.”
No one worth less than a billion dollars would pay a cent under Sanders’s bill and billionaires who have lost money would be exempt. And even after paying the one-time tax, they would still be 40% richer than they were before the virus hit.
Between March 18 and July 23, U.S. billionaire total wealth has increased over $755 billion, an increase of 25.6 percent. March 18 marks the beginning of national pandemic lockdowns and the publication of Forbes annual global billionaire survey.
“At this rate, in 6 weeks (by early September), the billionaire class will gain a trillion dollars in wealth since mid-March,” observed Omar Ocampo, researcher at the Institute for Policy Studies and coauthor of Billionaire Bonanza 2020.
Total U.S. Billionaire wealth is now $3.7 trillion.
For more billionaire data, see www.billionairesus.org, a new web portal created by the Americans for Tax Fairness and the Institute for Policy Studies.
Over the same 18 weeks, between March 18 and July 23, over 52.4 million (1.4 million filed in today’s report) people filed for unemployment. Nearly 32 million are currently receiving jobless benefits.
Over 141,660 people have died of Covid-19 in the U.S., as of July 22 at 5 pm, according to the Center for Disease Control.
“The U.S. billionaire class continues to see its wealth surge during a resurgence in the Covid-19 virus,” said Chuck Collins, co-author of Billionaire Bonanza 2020. This disconnection between their wealth and the economic and health insecurity of the great mass of people is unseemly.”
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 U.S. 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.
Between March 18 and June 11, the cumulative total wealth of U.S. billionaires has increased $637 billion, an increase of 21.5 percent. Over 630 billionaires have a combined wealth of $3.584 trillion dollars.
If Jeff and MacKenzie Bezos were still married they would have a combined net worth of $210.4 billion.
Over the same 12 weeks, over 44.1 million Americans have filed for unemployment and over 110,000 have died from COVID-19.
With the June 11 unemployment announcement, 1.5 million additional people filed for unemployment, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. This doesn’t include millions more workers who have applied for help as self-employed workers.
In a turbulent week across the nation, the wealth of U.S. billionaires surged past half a trillion dollars since the beginning of the pandemic unemployment.
The announcement on June 4th that an additional 1.9 million more have filed for unemployment in the last week means that 42.6 million Americans have filed since March 18, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. This doesn’t include the millions more who have applied for help as self-employed workers.
Over these same 11 weeks, between March 18 and June 4, the cumulative total wealth of U.S. billionaires has increased $565 billion, an increase of 19.15 percent.
During a pandemic, billionaire wealth is surging at the same time that millions face suffering, hardship and loss of life. This is a grotesque indicator of the deep inequalities in U.S. society.
There are three important numbers to understand in our unequal pandemic times: 100 and 40 and 485.
Over one hundred thousand people now have died from Covid-19.
Since March 18, over 40.7 million people have filed for unemployment according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. This doesn’t include millions more who have applied for help as self-employed workers.
Millions of these people have lost their health insurance that was linked to their jobs.
Over the same 10 weeks, between March 18 and May 28, the wealth of U.S. billionaires has surged $485 billion, almost half a trillion dollars — an increase of 16.5 percent. There are also 16 more billionaires in the U.S. than there were ten weeks ago.
Two billionaires, Jeff Bezos and Mark Zuckerberg, have seen their combined wealth increase over $63 billion since March 18.
The surge in billionaire wealth during a global pandemic underscores the grotesque nature of unequal sacrifice. While millions risk their lives and livelihoods as first responders and front line workers, these billionaires benefit from an economy and tax system that is wired to funnel wealth to the top.
We pinpoint March 18 as a date for tracking wealth because that is the date tied to this year’s annual Forbes Global Billionaire survey, published on April 7th.
This year Forbes reported that total U.S. billionaire wealth had declined from its 2019 levels, from $3.111 trillion down to $2.947 trillion. But within weeks, our Billionaire Bonanza 2020 report found these losses were erased. As of May 28, total U.S. billionaire wealth is $3.439 trillion, a $485 billion increase over March 18 and a $328 billion increase over last year’s Forbes 2019 global billionaire survey.
The number of U.S. citizens filing for unemployment increased to 38.6 million since March 18, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Over the same two months, the wealth of U.S. billionaires has surged $434 billion – an increase of 15 percent.
The combined fortunes of Jeff Bezos and Mark Zuckerberg alone grew by nearly $60 billion during these two months, according to a new analysis, jointly released by Americans for Tax Fairness and the Institute for Policy Studies, which released Billionaire Bonanza 2020 in April to examine billionaire wealth during the first month of the pandemic.
Between March 18 and May 19, the total net worth of the 600-plus U.S. billionaires rose from $2.948 trillion to $3.382 trillion. In March, there were 614 billionaires on the Forbes list. There are 630 two months later, including newcomer Kanye West at $1.3 billion.
Among other COVID-19 victims are the more than 16 million Americans who have likely lost 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 May 19 list are below.
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Sources: All data analyzed by ATF and IPS is from Forbes and available here.
March 18, 2020, data is from the Forbes World’s Billionaires List: The Richest in 2020.
May 19, 2020 data was taken from Forbes real-time estimates of worth that day.
Between March 18 and May 14, 2020, over 36 million U.S. workers lost their jobs, with 2.98 million claims in today’s announcement. Over these same eight weeks, U.S. billionaires saw their wealth increase by $368.8 billion, a 12.51 percent increase.
On March 18, U.S. billionaires had a combined $2.947 trillion, down from $3.111 trillion a year earlier, according to Forbes annual global billionaire survey. As of May 14, total U.S. billionaire wealth has increased to $3.316 trillion. In the last eight weeks, 14 new billionaires joined the U.S. billionaire list, which increased from 614 to 628.
Even with a decline in markets, Elon Musk’s wealth increased $3.5 billion in the last week, since May 6. Jeff Bezos’ wealth increased by $900 million and Eric Yuan saw his wealth increase by $800 million. Mike Bloomberg saw his wealth increase by $400 million.
Between March 18, when Forbes published their 2020 annual Global Billionaire Survey, and the morning of Thursday, May 14, these billionaires have seen their wealth surge:
Read more about IPS’s methodology in our report and in this fact check by USA Today.
Between March 18 and April 30, 2020, over 30 million U.S. workers lost their jobs. Over these same weeks, U.S. billionaires saw their wealth increase $406 billion, an increase in 13.8 percent increase.
On March 18, U.S. billionaires had a combined $2.947 trillion, down from $3.111 trillion a year earlier, according to Forbes annual global billionaire issue.
As of April 29, total U.S. billionaire wealth had increased to $3.353 trillion. This is a boost of $406.2 billion, a 13.78 percent increase in six weeks.
Between April 22 and April 29, billionaire wealth increased $98.1 billion, a 3 percent increase.
Prior to the pandemic, the Institute for Policy Studies was already exposing the growth of billionaire wealth and the impact on our society and democracy. Our Billionaire Bonanza 2020 report struck a nerve around the world with over 200 media stories in U.S. and global press. See the full report, Billionaire Bonanza 2020: Wealth Windfalls, Tumbling Taxes, and Pandemic Profiteers
Highlights of coverage include: Reuters, Newsweek, New York Post, The New York Times, Washington Post, Fox News, Investing.com, Nasdaq, GQ, US News & World Report, Fortune, The Week, Business Insider , Futurism, Bill Moyers.com, LA Progressive. In These Times, Yahoo Finance, Gizmondo, and GQ Magazine, and Jacobin.
Several feature pieces include:
Fast Company, “American Billionaires Have Gotten $280 billion richer since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic,”
Capital & Main: “Tale of Two Pandemics: The Rich Are Getting Richer”
Sunday Guardian (UK): “Heads we win, tails you lose; America’s rich have turned pandemic into profit.”
Business Insider did four different stories, including: “9 mind-blowing facts about America’s richest people”.
New Republic, “Billionaires Are Eating the Economy,” May 7, 2020
We were fact-checked as true by USA Today, which resulted in one of the best stories about our methodology. See: USA Today: Molly Stellino, “Fact Check: The super rich did indeed get richer in early weeks of coronavirus pandemic,” May 7, 2020.
Billionaire Bonanza made a splash in the sports reporting world, including this story in Football Times, “Arsenal owner Stan Kroenke’s wealth increases by £323m as players take wage cut”, May 6, 2020. James Benge wrote, “ The wealth of Arsenal owner Stan Kroenke has increased by over £300million since the start of 2020, a study by a leading American think tank has revealed.”
Sample of international coverage: Straits Times (Singapore) Observador (Portugal), Daily Mail (Australia), Regina Leader Post (Saskatchewa, Canada), Sunday Times (South Africa) “Corona boost for richest in the U.S.” International Business Times. La Jornada (Mexico), Publico (Spain),
Our own commentaries appeared in CNN and The Guardian. An op-ed by report co-authors, Omar Ocampo and Chuck Collins, “Rich Getting Richer Despite Pandemic,” has been syndicated in over 60 U.S. newspapers by the Tribune News Service/ Progressive Media Project, including in Houma Today (LA), Daily Comet (Lafayette, LA), Tyler Paper (TX) The Derrick (Oil City, PA), Bozeman Daily Chronicle (MT).
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Check back for our regular updates on U.S. unemployment and billionaire wealth during the pandemic emergency.