Billionaire collective fortunate grows, while rest of America struggles during pandemic

“The difference is stark between profits for billionaires and the widespread economic misery in our nation."

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Image Credit: AP Images, AP Images, Reuters

In the past six months America’s billionaires’ net worth rose, while millions of Americans lost their jobs and remain on unemployment. The nation’s 643 billionaires, classified by Forbes, collectively gained 29 percent more wealth since March 18 when state and local governments enforced economic restrictions in response to the coronavirus.

A new report by Americans for Tax Fairness (ATF) and the Institute for Policy Studies (IPS), which analyzed Forbes’ annual billionaires report, confirmed the nation’s billionaires took home an additional $845 billion between March 18 and Sept. 15, increasing their total worth from $2.95 trillion to $3.8 trillion. According to a press release, “that works out to gains of $141 billion a month, $32 billion a week, or $4.7 billion a day.”

“The difference is stark between profits for billionaires and the widespread economic misery in our nation,” Chuck Collins, director of the Institute for Policy Studies’ Program on Inequality and co-author of the report “Billionaire Bonanza 2020,” said.

Between March 18 and April 10, “billionaire wealth increased by 9.5 percent in just 23 days” during the start of the COVID-19 crisis, according to the report.

Ordinary workers’ income from rank-and-file private-sector employers declined by 4.4 percent in the past six months, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. More than 50 million people lost their jobs with 14 million still unemployed and 30 million workers, including contract workers, currently collecting unemployment benefits.

Not only have billionaires’ collective wealth gains rose in the past six months, their fortune is up 22 percent since February 2019, according the report. And a little less than half of the total gains of the wealthy are concentrated among only 15 of the wealthiest according to Forbes’ billionaires list—the top three being Jeff Bezos, Bill Gates, and Warren Buffett.

According to the “Billionaire Bonanza 2020” report, Bezos, Gates and Buffett “continue to own as much wealth as the bottom half of all U.S. households combined,” while an estimated “78 percent of households are living paycheck to paycheck and 20 percent have zero or negative net worth.”

The report’s recommendations to end the “hidden wealth problem” includes:

  • Establish a Pandemic Profiteering Oversight Committee that goes beyond oversight of stimulus funds.
  • Discourage wealth hiding through passage of the Corporate Transparency Act.
  • Levy an emergency 10 percent Millionaire Income Surtax.
  • Unleash a Charity Stimulus to mandate payouts of donor-advised funds and emergency 10 percent payout for private foundations for three years.
  • Make the federal estate tax more progressive and institute a wealth tax.
  • Shut down the global hidden wealth system.

“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,” Frank Clemente, executive director of Americans for Tax Fairness, said. “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.”  

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