Skip to main content

Sign up for our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values. Direct to your inbox.

In just one year, just two men—Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and Amazon founder Jeff Bezos—made enough from their investments to feed most of America's hungry. (Photo: Justin Sullivan (left) / David Ryder (right) / both from Getty Images)

America's Richest 2% Made More Money in 2017 than the Cost of the Entire Safety Net

Over the past year, Jeff Bezos and Mark Zuckerberg have together accumulated over $64 billion in new wealth. And the GOP want to cut food stamps?

Paul Buchheit

How was their money made? Almost entirely by passively waiting for the stock market to go up. The data sources for this report are Forbes and Credit Suisse, both of which provide precise numbers for the worsening surge in America's wealth inequality. 

U.S. wealth increased by $8.5 trillion in 2017, with the richest 2% getting about $1.15 trillion (details here), which is more than the total cost of Medicaid (federal AND state) and the complete safety net, both mandatory and discretionary, including the low-income programs that make up the social support package derisively referred to as 'welfare.' 

"American inequality is extreme, shameful, perverse, and growing." Surprisingly, the richest 1% did not increase their wealth by much in 2017 (although they took nearly $4 trillion in 2016). That means the second half of the richest 2%, Americans with an average net worth of approximately $10 million, outgained the safety net all by themselves in the past year.

Another stunner: The richest 2-5%, those Americans with an average net worth of about $2.5 million, accumulated enough wealth in 2017 to pay for the safety net FOUR TIMES.

Two Men Made More Money than the Total Cost of Food Stamps 

Food stamps provide about $1.50 per meal for 42 million Americans, mostly children, the elderly, and the disabled, at a cost in 2017 of $64 billion. In the past year Jeff Bezos and Mark Zuckerberg have together accumulated over $64 billion in new wealth. 

Jeff Bezos has used tax havens and high-priced lobbyists to avoid the taxes owed by his company. Mark Zuckerberg created a 'charitable' foundation, which in reality is a tax-exempt limited liability company, leaving him free to make political donations or sell his holdings, all without paying taxes. But in one year the two of them made enough from their investments to feed most of America's hungry. 

And Republicans Are Cutting Food Stamps? 

The Republicans think the food stamp program is too costly and ridden with fraud. Apparently $1.50 per meal for children and seniors is too costly for them. As for fraud, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has estimated that only 1 penny of every food stamp dollar is used fraudulently. To complete the insult and the injury, Republicans want to drop care packages on millions of Americans, as if they were third-world aid recipients, unable to make their own decisions. 

American inequality is extreme, shameful, perverse, and growing. While over 100 million (2 out of 5) American adults are among the world's richest 10%, up to 50 million (1 out of 5) American adults are among the world's poorest 10%. 

Yet by some unfathomable measure of ignorance or malice, Republicans cheer on the millionaire-making stock market while telling the most vulnerable Americans that they're spending too much on food.


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

Paul Buchheit

Paul Buchheit is an advocate for social and economic justice, and the author of numerous papers on economic inequality and cognitive science. He was recently named one of 300 Living Peace and Justice Leaders and Models. He is the author of "American Wars: Illusions and Realities" (2008) and "Disposable Americans: Extreme Capitalism and the Case for a Guaranteed Income" (2017). Contact email: paul (at) youdeservefacts.org.

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.

'All of Rail Labor Is Going to Suffer': Workers Furious Over Biden Move to Preempt Strike

"This is a legacy-defining moment for Joe Biden," said Railroad Workers United. "He is going down as one of the biggest disappointments in labor history."

Jake Johnson ·


Citing Need for 'New, Inclusive Leadership,' Chuy García Files for Chicago Mayoral Race

"We have an opportunity to elect a trusted and experienced leader with a history of building coalitions and a vision for a brighter future for all Chicagoans," said the Democratic congressman.

Jessica Corbett ·


On Cyber Monday, Climate Activists Take Aim at Fashion Industry

"The fashion industry is one of the largest polluting industries globally. We can all do better, but it's on companies to make this industry better for workers, the planet, and consumers alike."

Jessica Corbett ·


Biden Accused of Selling Out Rail Workers by Urging Congress to Prevent Strike

"Biden is siding with corporate rail bosses over the rank-and-file workers who voted against this agreement," said one progressive commentator after the president urged lawmakers to take action to force through a deal without paid sick leave.

Brett Wilkins ·


Analysis Finds State Legislators Proposed 306 Bills Targeting Trans People in Past 2 Years

"Right-wing state lawmakers are obsessed with taking away the rights of trans people and we're obsessed with knocking them out of public office," said one rights group.

Julia Conley ·

Common Dreams Logo