Pandemic Profiteering | Inequality

The number of U.S. citizens filing for unemployment increased to 38.6 million since March 18, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.  Over the same two months, the wealth of U.S. billionaires has surged $434 billion – an increase of 15 percent.

The combined fortunes of Jeff Bezos and Mark Zuckerberg alone grew by nearly $60 billion during these two months, according to a new analysis, jointly released by Americans for Tax Fairness and the Institute for Policy Studies, which released Billionaire Bonanza 2020 in April to examine billionaire wealth during the first month of the pandemic.

Between March 18 and May 19, the total net worth of the 600-plus U.S. billionaires rose from $2.948 trillion to $3.382 trillion.  In March, there were 614 billionaires on the Forbes list. There are 630 two months later, including newcomer Kanye West at $1.3 billion.

Among other COVID-19 victims are the more than 16 million Americans who have likely lost employer-provided healthcare coverage. Low-wage workers, people of color and women have suffered disproportionately in the combined medical and economic crises. Billionaires are overwhelmingly white men.

Wealth growth of other select billionaires in the top 30 on the Forbes May 19 list are below.

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Sources: All data analyzed by ATF and IPS is from Forbes and available here.
March 18, 2020, data is from the Forbes World’s Billionaires List: The Richest in 2020.
May 19, 2020 data was taken from Forbes real-time estimates of worth that day.

May 14, 2020 Update


Between March 18 and May 14, 2020, over 36 million U.S. workers lost their jobs, with 2.98 million claims in today’s announcement. Over these same eight weeks, U.S. billionaires saw their wealth increase by $368.8 billion, a 12.51 percent increase.

On March 18th, U.S. billionaires had a combined $2.947 trillion, down from $3.111 trillion a year earlier, according to Forbes annual global billionaire survey. As of May 14, total U.S. billionaire wealth has increased to $3.316 trillion.  In the last eight weeks, 14 new billionaires joined the U.S. billionaire list, which increased from 614 to 628.

Even with a decline in markets, Elon Musk’s wealth increased $3.5 billion in the last week, since May 6. Jeff Bezos’ wealth increased by $900 million and Eric Yuan saw his wealth increase by $800 million.  Mike Bloomberg saw his wealth increase by $400 million.

Between March 18, when Forbes published their 2020 annual Global Billionaire Survey, and the morning of Thursday, May 14, these billionaires have seen their wealth surge:

  • Jeff Bezos – up $30 billion
  • Mark Zuckerberg – up $21 billion
  • Steve Ballmer – up $11.6 billion
  • Elon Musk – up $11.3 billion
  • Michael Bloomberg – up $10 billion

Read more about IPS’s methodology in our report and in this fact check by USA Today.

April 30, 2020 Update

Between March 18 and April 30, 2020, over 30 million U.S. workers lost their jobs. Over these same weeks, U.S. billionaires saw their wealth increase $406 billion, an increase in 13.8 percent increase.

On March 18th, U.S. billionaires had a combined $2.947 trillion, down from $3.111 trillion a year earlier, according to Forbes annual global billionaire issue.

As of April 29, total U.S. billionaire wealth had increased to $3.353 trillion.  This is a boost of $406.2 billion, a 13.78 percent increase in six weeks.

Between April 22 and April 29, billionaire wealth increased $98.1 billion, a 3 percent increase.

The Reach of Billionaire Bonanza 2020

Our Billionaire Bonanza 2020 report has struck a nerve around the world with over 200 media stories in U.S. and global press. See the full report, Billionaire Bonanza 2020: Wealth Windfalls, Tumbling Taxes, and Pandemic Profiteers

Highlights of coverage include: Reuters, Newsweek, New York Post, The New York Times, Washington Post, Fox News, Investing.comNasdaq, GQUS News & World Report,  FortuneThe Week, Business Insider , Futurism, Bill, LA Progressive. In These TimesYahoo Finance, Gizmondo, and GQ Magazine, and Jacobin.

Several feature pieces include:

Fast Company, “American Billionaires Have Gotten $280 billion richer since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic,”

Capital & Main: “Tale of Two Pandemics: The Rich Are Getting Richer”

Sunday Guardian (UK): “Heads we win, tails you lose; America’s rich have turned pandemic into profit.”

Business Insider did four different stories, including: “9 mind-blowing facts about America’s richest people”.

New Republic, “Billionaires Are Eating the Economy,” May 7, 2020

We were fact-checked as true by USA Today, which resulted in one of the best stories about our methodology. See: USA Today:  Molly Stellino, “Fact Check: The super rich did indeed get richer in early weeks of coronavirus pandemic,” May 7, 2020.

Billionaire Bonanza made a splash in the sports reporting world, including this story in Football Times, “Arsenal owner Stan Kroenke’s wealth increases by £323m as players take wage cut”, May 6, 2020.  James Benge wrote, “ The wealth of Arsenal owner Stan Kroenke has increased by over £300million since the start of 2020, a study by a leading American think tank has revealed.”

Sample of international coverage: Straits Times (Singapore) Observador (Portugal), Daily Mail (Australia), Regina Leader Post (Saskatchewa, Canada), Sunday Times(South Africa) “Corona boost for richest in the U.S.”  International Business Times. La Jornada (Mexico), Publico (Spain),

Our own commentaries appeared in CNN and The Guardian.  An op-ed by report co-authors, Omar Ocampo and Chuck Collins, “Rich Getting Richer Despite Pandemic,” has been syndicated in over 60 U.S. newspapers by the Tribune News Service/ Progressive Media Project, including in Houma Today (LA), Daily Comet (Lafayette, LA), Tyler Paper (TX) The Derrick (Oil City, PA), Bozeman Daily Chronicle (MT).

Source: Inequality

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