An Update on How the Wealthiest are Doing

Photograph by Nathaniel St. Clair

For many, the current situation is not exactly uplifting. Homelessness in the United States is at “the highest number since the count began in 2007.”  2023 is “the hottest year ever recorded.”  And  mass murder continues to take place in the Gaza Strip.

However, for some, there is what could be viewed as heartwarming news. The richest among us are doing fine, and with the recent rise in the stock market, their fortunes have, presumably, been receiving a big boost.

Since 1989, the Federal Reserve Board has been calculating how wealth is distributed in the U.S. every quarter.  Their figures on the distribution of household wealth continue to affirm pleasing news for our wealthiest friends.

During the first three quarters in 2023, the wealthiest .1% of households (1 out of every 1,000) have been holding a record high percentage of the country’s wealth since the start of the survey–13.9%. This can be a source of pride for President Biden since it is a higher percent than they held any time under Bush, Clinton, Bush Jr., Obama, and even Trump.

There are, of course, great distinctions within the ranks of the .1%. To gain entrance into the top .1% required, by one estimate in 2021, $17.2 million in wealth. By contrast, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index, as of the end of the third quarter of 2023, Elon Musk was worth $232 billion, more than ten thousand times greater than a bottom feeder of the .1%. In fact, Musk was leading the pack of billionaires by a wide margin with his closest rival, Jeff Bezos, at $151 billion, a disheartening $81 billion behind. That could likely encourage Bezos to have his minions further intensify their anti-union campaign at Amazon.

As of the end of the third quarter, the Fed figure for the total wealth of the .1% was $19.85 trillion. Using the Bloomberg figures, the 10 wealthiest U.S. citizens total wealth on September 29 came to $1.266 trillion. It had increased, as of then for the year, by $355 billion resulting in the wealth of the wealthiest 10 at over 6% of the .1%’s total wealth with Musk alone holding over 1%.

Since the end of the third quarter, the wealth of the .1% has presumably increased. Certainly, that is the case for the wealthiest 10. Their wealth, as of December 18, had increased since the end of September from $1.266 trillion to $1.338 trillion which is a nice pickup of $72 billion by just 10 people in less than three months (bringing their total increase so far for the year to $443 billion.)[1]

Stock Market Rise

According to the Fed, at the end of September, the .1% owned 19.8% of corporate equities and mutual fund shares worth $7.27 trillion. “Fortunately,” for them, the stock indexes have been going up.

Since September 29, the Nasdaq has increased from $13,219 to $14,905 as of December 18, up over 12.7%. During this same period, the Dow Jones Index has gone from $33,508 to $37,306, increasing by over 11%, suggesting further improvements in the value of the holdings of the .1%.

As we enter the holiday season, not everything is gloomy. There is likely much good cheer among our wealthiest .1%.

[1] The year started with California’s homeless population reaching 181,399 in January.  So far this year, California resident Zuckerberg’s wealth is up $75.1 billion, more than California’s projected 2024-25 deficit of $68 billion that will likely be used as an excuse for massive cuts in social services and public education funding.

Rick Baum teaches Political Science at City College of San Francisco. He is a member of AFT 2121.