Billionaires Get $583 Billion Richer Since Coronavirus Began

As millions of Americans continue to file for unemployment benefits during the coronavirus pandemic, American billionaires saw their wealth increase by $583 billion.

A new report from Americans for Tax Fairness (ATF) and the Institute for Policy Studies' Program on Inequality says billionaire wealth has grown 20 percent between March 18 and June 17. The two groups' analysis of Forbes data shows the total net worth of U.S. billionaires increased from $2.948 trillion to $3.531 trillion in the three-month time frame.

Since the national shutdown which began in mid-March, the U.S. has added 29 billionaires, now totaling 643 across the country. Of the growing list, 12 billionaires more than doubled their wealth over the past three months. One of them, Trevor Milton, the founder of truck manufacturer Nikola Motor, increased his wealth fivefold.

"In three months, about 600 billionaires increased their wealth by far more than the nation's governors say their states need in fiscal assistance to keep delivering services to 330 million residents," ATF Executive Director Frank Clemente said in a statement.

"Their wealth increased twice as much as the federal government paid out in one-time checks to more than 150 million Americans. If this pandemic reveals anything, it's how unequal our society has become and how drastically it must change," Clemente added.

Wall Street Coronvirus
People walk by the New York Stock Exchange in an empty Financial District on June 15 in New York City. Spencer Platt/Getty

The nation's top five billionaires—Jeff Bezos, Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, Warren Buffett and Larry Ellison—saw their wealth grow by a total of $101.7 billion, or 17.4 percent of the total wealth growth of all 643 billionaires. The combined fortunes of Bezos and Zuckerberg account for 13 percent of the $583 billion.

Bezos' Amazon has benefited from the pandemic more than any other retailer, with an increased demand for e-commerce as in-person retail stores were shuttered in compliance with statewide lockdown measures. Bezos' wealth growth in dollars is greater than for any other billionaire.

Because of the economic fallout of the global health crisis, 45.5 million Americans have lost their jobs. As confirmed cases of the virus have surpassed 2 million in the U.S., both the health and economic effects have disproportionately affected low-wage workers, people of color and women. The top five billionaires are all white men.

"Surging billionaire wealth, contrasted with job losses and declining middle-class wealth, dramatizes the unequal experience of this pandemic," Chuck Collins, director of the Institute for Policy Studies' Program on Inequality, told Newsweek. "Worse, it undermines the unity required for us to pull together and build an economy that works for everyone."

"The last thing U.S. society needs is more economic and racial polarization," Collins said. "The surge in billionaire wealth and pandemic profiteering undermines the unity and solidarity that the American people will require to recover and grow together, not pull further apart."

Clemente told Newsweek that these trade-offs demonstrate that the legislation in place does not help the majority of Americans.

"Congress needs to act," he said. "We put this report out to add to the whole discussion about the fact that there's a lack of action in Congress, especially from the Senate side, to help businesses stay afloat."

He added, "It's shameful that we've got a handful of individuals who have this enormous growth in wealth and a Senate majority leader who is barring legislation that would help millions of people in the United States."

Clemente said Senator Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has favored billionaires' interests through legislation. (Newsweek reached out to McConnell's office for comment but did not hear back before publication.)

Clemente hopes that getting the Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions (HEROES) Act, which the House recently passed, to the Senate would close a tax break loophole that gives 43,000 millionaires and billionaires an average tax cut of $1.6 million this year, according to an estimate from the congressional Joint Committee on Taxation.

The committee estimates that closing this loophole would raise $246 billion, a sum its members hope could go to economic relief for the millions of working-class Americans suffering from the pandemic-caused recession.