Even as the number of Americans applying for unemployment benefits approaches forty million, the total net worth of U.S. billionaires has grown some $434 billion since the COVID-19 economic shutdown began, an analysis by Americans for Tax Fairness and the Institute for Policy Studies finds.
Between March 18 and May 19, the ranks of American billionaires grew from six hundred and fourteen to six hundred and thirty, while their total wealth rose from $2.948 trillion to $3.382 trillion, a 15 percent increase. According to the analysis of Forbes data, the five richest U.S. billionaires saw their total wealth increase 19 percent over the last two months. Amazon.com founder Jeff Bezos, America's wealthiest individual, saw his net worth increase 30.6 percent, followed (in terms of wealth) by Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates (8.2 percent), Facebook co-founder Mark Zuckerberg (46.2 percent), Berkshire Hathaway chair Warren Buffett (0.8 percent), and Oracle co-founder Larry Ellison (11.9 percent).
Given their respective windfalls, signatories to the Giving Pledge — a campaign launched in 2010 by Buffett and Bill and Melinda Gates to encourage the world's billionaires to commit at least half their wealth to charity — may be thinking about increasing their giving in the months to come. In addition to the Gateses, Buffett, Ellison, and Zuckerberg and his wife, Priscilla Chan, other Giving Pledgers who saw significant increases in their net worth include Michael R. Bloomberg (25.7 percent), Jeff Bezos's ex-wife, MacKenzie Bezos (33.4 percent), and Tesla Motors and SpaceX founder Elon Musk (48 percent). The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation's latest financial statements showed that the Gateses transferred $519 million in cash and stock to their foundation in 2019.
"The pandemic has revealed the deadly consequences of America's yawning wealth gap, and billionaires are the glaring symbol of that economic inequality," said Americans for Tax Fairness executive director Frank Clemente. "Jeff Bezos' wealth shot up by $35 billion, or nearly one-third, the last two months. That's almost [as much as] the $40 billion the CARES Act is spending on education programs. Mark Zuckerberg's wealth grew by $25 billion...the same amount the CARES Act is spending on improved SNAP food benefits. The 'Millionaires Giveaway' should be immediately repealed and the $250 billion raised used to rescue struggling families and communities."