As millions of unemployed Americans bear the brunt of economic fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic, U.S. billionaires have seen the opposite: a massive accumulation of wealth. The total amount of wealth controlled by U.S. billionaires’ swelled by more than $565 billion since the beginning of the coronavirus crisis.
The latest numbers on billionaire wealth from the Institute for Policy Studies are an update to the progressive think tank’s April Billionaire Bonanza 2020 report, which first highlighted the “pandemic profiteers” who saw their net worths rise as millions of Americans lost their jobs. Just a month after March 18, the date picked by the report as the rough start of the COVID-19 shutdown, when most statewide economic restrictions were in place, the American billionaire’s wealth had already bounced back from the initial stock market crash for a collective gain of $282 billion compared to the beginning of March.
In the 11 weeks after the start of the pandemic, that collective wealth has surged to $565 billion. In the most recent week alone, billionaires saw their wealth jump $79 billion. Collectively, for the group of American billionaires, the report calculates that their May 27 wealth was $3,432,979,108,000. At market close on June 3, their total wealth was $3,512,041,310,000.
Though the unemployment rate fell to 13.3% in May with Americans gaining 2.5 million jobs, according to the latest jobs report released Friday, millions of Americans are still out of work, and unemployment for black and Asian workers actually increased. More than 21 million Americans are still receiving continuous unemployment benefits. An additional 1.8 million Americans filed for unemployment benefits the week ending May 30, according to the Department of Labor numbers released Thursday, meaning that over the past 11 weeks, more than 42 million Americans applied for unemployment insurance.
That the wealthy have gotten more than half a trillion dollars richer in the same 11 weeks that saw those unemployment numbers highlights that we are “more economically and racially divided than at any time in decades,” Chuck Collins, director of the Program on Inequality and the Common Good at the Institute for Policy Studies and coauthor of the Billionaire Bonanza report, said in a statement.
The divide becomes even more stark when looking at specific billionaire’s gains. Jeff Bezos’s wealth is up $36.2 billion since March 18, even as Amazon faces criticism for how the company has treated its essential workers and its hollow response to the protests against police brutality that clearly clashes with the company’s actions. Mark Zuckerberg’s wealth is up by $30.1 billion, at the same time that Facebook has flubbed fact-checking and Facebook employees complain loudly about that inaction.
The pandemic has made clear there are “two Americas.” This concentrated wealth gain in light of so much economic struggle is another spotlight on those inequalities. “Our moral, economic, and physical health as a society depends on building a post-pandemic economy that works for everyone, not just the billionaire class,” Collins says. “Surging billionaire wealth juxtaposed with the suffering and plight of millions undermines the social solidarity required for us to recover together in the years ahead.”