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). [A table of the top 15 billionaires is below and the full data set is here.]
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 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:
+ 60 percent of the $3.5 trillion 10-year cost of President Biden’s Build Back Better plan.
+ The entire $2.1 trillion in new revenues over 10 years approved by the House Ways and Means Committee to help pay for President Biden’s Build Back Better (BBB) investment plan.
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:
Elon Musk of Tesla and SpaceX fame is not only beating Jeff Bezos in space, he has rocketed past him in the billionaires club. Nineteen months ago, Bezos was nearly five times richer than Musk. Now, after a meteoric eight-fold increase in his wealth, Musk is worth $209 billion and Bezos $192 billion. Bezos’s wealth still grew by a very large 70 percent over the period.
Google founders Sergei Brin and Larry Page are now worth $237 billion combined, a 137 percent increase from their combined wealth of $100 billion at the beginning of the pandemic.
Nike head Phil Knight has nearly doubled his fortune from $29.5 billion to almost $58 billion. Maybe that’s in part because Nike didn’t pay a dime of federal income taxes in 2020 on its $2.9 billion in profits; and between 2018 and 2020 the corporation paid just a 3.3 percent tax rate on $9 billion in profits.
MacKenzie Scott, former wife of Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, has seen her wealth increase by $19.5 billion, or 54 percent, since the pandemic began, even after giving away $8.6 billion of her wealth to charity.