Skip to main content

Sign up for our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values. Direct to your inbox.

Corporate gatekeepers and big tech monopolists are making it more difficult than ever for independent media to survive. Please chip in today.

Protesters demand that billionaires pay their fair share during a July 17, 2020 demonstration in New York City. (Photo: Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

People participate in a "March on Billionaires" event on July 17, 2020 in New York City. (Photo: Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

Billionaire Bonanza Continues as Workers Pounded by Pandemic, Recession, and GOP Relief Refusal

Since Covid-19 struck in March, the combined wealth of the 647 richest Americans has increased by nearly $1 trillion, largely at the expense of workers' safety—and sometimes their lives.

Brett Wilkins

A handful of billionaires and corporations are enjoying record financial gains—often attained at the expense of worker safety—during the peaking coronavirus pandemic, according to a report published Wednesday by a coalition of advocacy groups.

"We don't need feel-good TV commercials thanking us for being heroes, we need $5 an hour in hazard pay, paid sick leave, and workplace protections from this dangerous virus."
Courtenay Brown, Amazon Fresh warehouse worker

As over a thousand people in the U.S. alone die each day during the deadliest pandemic in a century, plutocrats and their businesses are thriving like never before, in no small part due to a system rife with profiteering, opportunism, and worker exploitation. So says the report, entitled Billionaire Wealth vs. Community Health: Protecting Essential Workers from Pandemic Profiteers, which focuses on 12 of the most egregious pandemic profiteers—the "Delinquent Dozen"—who include the owners of Walmart and the CEOs of Amazon and Target.

These companies and their owners and executives have benefited from their "monopoly positions," the report states, but their success "hasn't translated into better pay or safer working conditions for the employees showing up to work in a pandemic."

It's not just corporations—"private equity firms have bought up essential businesses in the healthcare, grocery, and pet care industries, only to aggressively cut costs, skimp on worker safety, and load companies up with debt to boost their own profits," the report notes.

Among its key findings:

  • As of November 17, the combined wealth of 647 U.S. billionaires increased by almost $960 billion since mid-March, the beginning of the pandemic lockdown.
  • Since March, there are 33 new billionaires in the U.S. Driving this exploding inequality are 12 companies whose profits are coming at the expense of workers and communities, including retailers like Walmart, Amazon, Target, and Dollar Tree, and Dollar Store, gig economy companies like Instacart, and food producers like Tyson Foods.
  • Also included is the investment giant BlackRock and private equity firms like Leonard Green Partners, Blackstone, Kohlberg, Kravis Roberts & Co., Cerberus Capital, BC Partners, and CVC Capital Partners. These private equity firms own several essential healthcare, grocery, and pet supply companies.
  • Ten billionaire owners of "Delinquent Dozen" companies have a combined worth of $433 billion. Since March 18, their combined personal wealth has ballooned by $127.5 billion, a 42% increase. These 10 billionaires are: Jeff Bezos (Amazon); Alice, Rob, and Jim Walton (Walmart); Apoorva Mehta (Instacart); John Tyson (Tyson Foods); Steve Schwarzman (Blackstone); Henry Kravis and George Roberts (KKR); and Steve Feinberg (Cerberus).

The report features harrowing testimonies from workers affected by both the pandemic and their employers' policies and actions.

"I close the register many nights, so I know my store's revenue has practically doubled since the coronavirus hit," said Kenya Slaughter, an employee of Dollar General—which is partly owned by the global financial behemoth BlackRock. "But we workers haven't gotten any extra money, even though we're risking our health, and our families' health, to keep the stores running."

Courtenay Brown, an Amazon Fresh warehouse worker in New Jersey and organizer with the worker advocacy group United for Respect, said, "While Amazon's Jeff Bezos is on track to become the world's first trillionaire, the frontline workers like me who've built his fortune are treated like we're disposable."

Brown added: 

As the virus spikes, we get more and more orders, and Amazon expects us to work at inhumane rates. The pace is blistering and people get injured on the job a lot, people get sick, people are scared of catching [Covid-19], and Amazon is not doing enough to protect our lives. It's time for Amazon's workers to get some actual compensation for the essential work we're doing—we don't need feel-good TV commercials thanking us for being heroes, we need $5 an hour in hazard pay, paid sick leave, and workplace protections from this dangerous virus.

The report contains a set of recommended solutions for companies employing essential workers, as well as for lawmakers seeking to protect workers and reduce the power of plutocrats and the businesses they own. For employers, these include immediately offering workers at least $5 per hour in hazard pay, paid sick leave, and other essential benefits. For legislators, an Essential Workers' Bill of Rights, workplace health councils, a pandemic wealth tax, and a profiteering oversight committee are among the recommended remedies.

"When billionaire owners and CEOs fail to fulfill their responsibility during this extraordinary time, it is the duty of elected officials and Congress to step in and enact public policies to protect essential workers and their communities."
—Chuck Collins, Institute for Policy Studies

"When billionaire owners and CEOs fail to fulfill their responsibility during this extraordinary time, it is the duty of elected officials and Congress to step in and enact public policies to protect essential workers and their communities," Chuck Collins, a senior scholar at the Institute for Policy Studies and one of the authors of the report, wrote in a Common Dreams op-ed published Wednesday.

"The contrast between billionaires making no sacrifice while their essential workers make the ultimate sacrifice, risking their health, their families, and their livelihoods is both unethical and corrupt," Collins added. 

The report was produced by Bargaining for the Common Good, the Institute for Policy Studies, and United for Respect and published in partnership with Action Center on Race and the Economy, Americans for Financial Reform, Jobs With Justice, New York Communities for Change, Step Up Louisiana, and Working Washington.


Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.

We've had enough. The 1% own and operate the corporate media. They are doing everything they can to defend the status quo, squash dissent and protect the wealthy and the powerful. The Common Dreams media model is different. We cover the news that matters to the 99%. Our mission? To inform. To inspire. To ignite change for the common good. How? Nonprofit. Independent. Reader-supported. Free to read. Free to republish. Free to share. With no advertising. No paywalls. No selling of your data. Thousands of small donations fund our newsroom and allow us to continue publishing. Can you chip in? We can't do it without you. Thank you.

Ocasio-Cortez Endorses Entire Slate of Democratic Socialists in NY

"As AOC knows," DSA For the Many tweeted, "when we fight together, we win together!"

Brett Wilkins ·


'We Continue to Fail to Protect Our Youngest': Guns Leading Cause of Death in Kids

"These massacres are preventable," said Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley.

Andrea Germanos ·


'Counting Dollars While They Were Counting Bodies': Abbott Attended Fundraiser Hours After Massacre

"The same governor who told Beto O'Rourke this isn't the time for politics took the time to stop at a political fundraiser for himself after he knew... kids had been murdered in a Texas elementary school."

Jake Johnson ·


Bernie Sanders, Lindsey Graham to Kick Off New Debate Series

Sanders, an independent democratic socialist, and Graham, a far-right Trump ally, are set to square off in a televised debate on June 13.

Kenny Stancil ·


'We Refuse to Go On Like This': US Students Walk Out to Demand Gun Control

"We are walking out because we refuse to accept a country where gunfire can ring out at any moment," said student organizers in California.

Julia Conley ·

Common Dreams Logo