As 42.6 Million Americans File for Unemployment, Billionaires Add Half a Trillion Dollars to Their Cumulative Wealth

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 18th, 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 18th and June 4, the cumulative total wealth of U.S. billionaires has increased $565 billion, an increase of 19.15 percent.The markets have risen, but certain individual fortunes have surged significantly over market gains.  In the 11 weeks since March 18th, these billionaires have seen their wealth accelerate:

Jeff Bezos – up $36.2bn

Mark Zuckerberg – up $30.1bn

Elon Musk – up $14.1bn

Sergey Brin – up $13.9bn

Larry Page – up $13.7bn

Steve Ballmer – up $13.3bn

MacKenzie Bezos – up $12.6bn

Michael Bloomberg – up $12.1bn

Bill Gates – up $11.8bn

Phil Knight – up $11.6bn

Larry Ellison – up $8.5bn

Warren Buffett – up $7.7bn

Michael Dell – up $7.6bn

Sheldon Adelson – up $6.1 billion

One commentator complained that by picking March 18th, IPS research is only capturing the recovery in billionaire wealth that plummeted in the proceeding weeks in late February and early March.  It is true — the market has done better since then. But a large segment of the U.S. billionaire class is beating the market. And we stand by our analysis that it is newsworthy and meaningful that billionaire wealth is accelerating while others are experiencing job losses, declining savings, debilitating illness, and death.

The reason IPS pinpoints March 18th as a date for tracking wealth is because that date is 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 our report showed that these losses were quickly erased within weeks. As of June 4, total U.S. billionaire wealth is $3.512 trillion, a $565 billion increase over March 18th and a $401 billion increase over last year’s Forbes billionaire survey. There are also 16 more billionaires than two months ago.

Some billionaires have lost wealth since the beginning of the year, especially those in the oil and gas sector. Warren Buffet is down over $14 billion since the beginning of the year. But even during a time of unprecedented economic adversity, some billionaires are riding higher than ever.

According to Bloomberg estimates, with their just-in-time analysis of the top 50 U.S. billionaires, Jeff Bezos is still $34 billion ahead of where he was on January 1st.  Steve Ballmer is up $9 billion.  Elon Musk is up $15.3 billion.  Mark Zuckerberg is up $9 billion. The top 50 billionaires as a group, however, are up over $39 billion during the worst health and economic calamity of the modern era.

Chuck Collins directs the Program on Inequality and the Common Good at the Institute for Policy Studies, where he also co-edits