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'The Gilded Age Is Here Again': Billionaire Wealth Has Surged by $931 Billion During Seven Months of Pandemic, Economic Collapse

"The juxtaposition between surging billionaire wealth and the imploding livelihoods of ordinary Americans is grotesque and unseemly."

Billionaire wealth

Tesla head Elon Musk talks to the press as he arrives to to have a look at the construction site of the new Tesla Gigafactory near Berlin on September 03, 2020 near Gruenheide, Germany. (Photo: Maja Hitij/Getty Images)

Over just the past seven months—as millions lost their jobs and health insurance, tens of thousands of small businesses shuttered permanently, and more than 200,000 Americans were killed by the coronavirus—U.S. billionaires saw their combined net worth surge by more than $930 billion, bringing the collective wealth of just 644 people to a staggering $3.88 trillion.

That's according to an analysis released Tuesday morning by Americans for Tax Fairness (ATF) and the Institute for Policy Studies (IPS), progressive organizations that have been tracking the explosion of billionaire wealth since the start of coronavirus lockdowns in mid-March. (See the groups' compilation of billionaire wealth data here.)

"The total wealth of all U.S. billionaires today ($3.88 trillion) is nearly DOUBLE the $2.1 trillion in total wealth held by the bottom half of the population."
—Americans for Tax Fairness

The new analysis shows that the collective wealth of America's billionaires grew by $931 billion—or nearly 33%—between March 18 and October 13, a period that also saw unprecedented job loss, a nationwide surge in hunger, and a sharp increase in housing insecurity.

The groups noted that the jump in billionaire wealth over the past seven months exceeds the size of both Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell's (R-Ky.) so-called "skinny" Covid-19 relief bill and the estimated two-year budget gaps of all state and local governments, which have been forced to lay off more than a million public-sector workers due to revenue shortfalls caused by the coronavirus crisis.

"Sadly, the Gilded Age is here again," ATF executive director Frank Clemente said in a statement. "We have extraordinary gains in wealth by a small sliver of the population while millions suffer, this time from the ravages of the pandemic, much of which could have been avoided."

"In the short-term we need a robust pandemic relief package that meets the urgency of the moment, not Senator McConnell's skinny bill that offers political cover," Clemente continued. "In the long-term we need major reform that taxes the extraordinary wealth of the billionaires and millionaires and uses that wealth to create an economy that works for all of us."

The new analysis shows that a handful of billionaires "have seen a particularly astonishing increase in wealth" over the past seven months:

  • Jeff Bezos' wealth grew from $113 billion on March 18 to $203 billion on October 13, an increase of 80%. Adding in his ex-wife MacKenzie Scott's wealth of $65.7 billion on that day and the two had a combined wealth of more than a quarter of a trillion dollars thanks to their Amazon stock. 
  • Mark Zuckerberg's wealth grew from $54.7 billion on March 18 to $101 billion on October 13, an increase of 85%, fueled by his Facebook stock.
  • Elon Musk's wealth grew from $24.6 billion on March 18 to $92.8 billion on October 13, an increase of 277%, boosted by his Tesla stock.
  • Dan Gilbert, chairman of Quicken Loans, saw his wealth rocket by 656%, to $49.2 billion from $6.5 billion seven months earlier.

"With Mitch McConnell's Senate paralyzed with inaction, U.S. society is kicking into inequality overdrive, with wealth surging up to U.S. billionaires," said Chuck Collins, director of IPS' Program on Inequality. "The juxtaposition between surging billionaire wealth and the imploding livelihoods of ordinary Americans is grotesque and unseemly."

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