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A man preaches on the street about the dire state of the economy on August 25, 2020 in New York City. (Photo: Andrew Lichtenstein/Corbis via Getty Images)

A man preaches on the street about the dire state of the economy on August 25, 2020 in New York City. (Photo: Andrew Lichtenstein/Corbis via Getty Images)

'Completely Upside Down': As Most Americans Struggled During First Six Months of Pandemic, Billionaire Wealth Surged by $845 Billion

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

Kenny Stancil

Six months into a devastating pandemic that has taken the lives and livelihoods of millions of Americans, the total net worth of the country's 643 billionaires has ballooned by $845 billion, which amounts to a 29% increase in their collective wealth since March 18. 

This "startling milestone of wealth accumulation" is documented in an analysis released Thursday by Americans for Tax Fairness (ATF) and the Institute for Policy Studies (IPS). 

Researchers found that between the beginning of the economic shutdown in mid-March and mid-September, the combined net worth of the nation's billionaires surged from $2.95 trillion to $3.8 trillion. (View the billionaire wealth data here.) 

On social media, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) broke down the gains into daily, weekly, and monthly intervals. 

ATF and IPS pointed out that "this billionaires' bonanza occurred against a general backdrop of working-class pain." The grim figures from the past half-year include:

  • 6.6 million Americans have been diagnosed with Covid-19 and almost 200,000 have died from the disease;
  • More than 50 million Americans lost jobs, and roughly 14 million remain unemployed;
  • 12 million Americans have lost employee-sponsored health insurance; and 
  • Almost 30 million Americans have gone hungry. 

Labor reporter Steven Greenhouse also juxtaposed billionaires' accumulation of wealth during the pandemic with Americans' accumulation of misery, pointing out that the super-rich's record windfall has come "as millions of American families do not have enough food to eat and there are huge lines at food banks across the nation."

"The billionaire economy has been turbocharged by policymakers who are now stalling on relief for the real economy," noted Chuck Collins, director of the IPS Program on Inequality. "The difference is stark between profits for billionaires and the widespread economic misery in out nation."

Collins further argued that "the priorities of our elected officials in Washington, D.C. are completely upside down."

The report notes that "even among billionaires, wealth is highly concentrated." The 15 wealthiest billionaires on the list enjoyed just under half of the total gains. The wealth of one billionaire—Dan Gilbert of Quicken Loans—spiked "an astonishing 672%, growing from $6.5 billion to $50.2 billion."

Jeff Bezos, Mark Zuckerberg, and Elon Musk alone captured "16% of the spoils, or a collective wealth surge of $137 billion," bringing the combined net worth of these three individuals to $403 billion. By comparison, the 165 million Americans who constitute the bottom half of the U.S. population hold $1.5 trillion in total wealth. 

The report contrasted the $845 billion of wealth gained by 643 billionaires over the past six months to the $300 billion in pandemic aid proposed by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell in the Republican Party's "skinny relief" bill that failed to pass the Senate last week and also to the two-year budget gap for state and local governments, which is estimated to be over half a trillion dollars. 

"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 ATF.

"The answer," Clemente continued, "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."

Sanders—who in August introduced legislation with Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) to fund pandemic recovery by levying a 60% tax on the wealth gains of billionaires between March 18 and the end of 2020—put it more pointedly, insisting that "it's time for austerity for the billionaire class."

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