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After a year of lockdowns, billionaires are $1.3 trillion richer

While much of the country struggles, the richest continue to get richer, driven by a surging stock market.

After a year of lockdowns, billionaires are $1.3 trillion richer
[Images: Lightboxx/iStock, haryigit/iStock, Wavebreakmedia/iStock]
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It’s officially been a year since many of the country’s COVID-19 lockdowns began, and for many Americans it’s been a year of struggling to work from home while caring for kids, or a year of being unemployed and anxiously awaiting more federal aid. For American billionaires, though, it’s been a year of record profits: In the past year, the combined wealth of the nation’s 657 billionaires has increased more than $1.3 trillion, or 44.6%. These billionaires now have a combined net worth of $4.3 trillion, exemplifying the idea of a K-shaped recovery.

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That figure comes from the latest report from the Institute for Policy Studies, a progressive think tank that has been tracking billionaire wealth during the pandemic since its first “pandemic profiteers” report in April 2020 that showed how billionaire wealth bounced back after the initial stock market crash. A year later, billionaires are still seeing their wealth grow, and there are 43 new billionaires who didn’t even exist at the start of the pandemic.

Fifteen billionaires who saw their wealth grow the most—including Tesla’s Elon Musk, Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, and Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg—saw a combined increase of $563 billion since March 18, 2020, when COVID-19 lockdowns began. Even among those top billionaires, some saw bigger earnings than others: Musk’s wealth increased by $137.5 billion, or 559%, and Bezos’s by $65 billion, or 58%. In that same year, almost 80 million Americans lost their jobs; as of February 27, 2021, 18 million were still collecting unemployment.

“The pandemic profiteers are extracting windfalls of wealth during a time of widespread suffering for the majority of people,” Chuck Collins, director of the Program on Inequality and the Common Good at the Institute for Policy Studies, said in a statement. “They exploit the artificial markets created by the pandemic, including having their Main Street competition shuttered and our increased dependence on online technologies.”

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The report, a joint effort from the Institute for Policy Studies and Americans for Tax Fairness, is based on Forbes data collected from March 18, 2020, to March 18, 2021. The billionaires who saw the highest percent increase in their wealth are:

  • Bom Kim, founder of Coupang: $7.7 billion, or 670%
  • Dan Gilbert, founder and chairman of Quicken Loans: $41.7 billion, or 642%
  • Ernest Garcia II, major shareholder of Carvana: $13.6 billion, or 567%
  • Elon Musk, CEO of Tesla and SpaceX: $137.5 billion, or $559%
  • Brian Armstrong, CEO of Coinbase: $5.5 billion, or 550%
  • Bobby Murphy, cofounder of Snapchat: $10.1 billion, or 531%
  • Evan Spiegel, cofounder of Snapchat: $9.3 billion, or 490%
  • Jack Dorsey, cofounder and CEO of Twitter and Square: $10.3 billion, or 396%
  • Anthony Wood, founder and CEO of Roku: $5.3 billion, or 331%
  • Jeff Green, founder, CEO, and chairman of the Trade Desk: $3 billion, or 300%

Billionaires in technology saw the biggest boon, including Snapchat founders Murphy and Spiegel; Twitter’s Dorsey; and Roku’s Wood. Those in finance and investment were also big profiteers, like Gilbert of Quicken Loans. And automotive industry billionaires had the biggest percentage point increase in wealth—317% based on an increase in wealth of $172 billion—though the report says that was largely thanks to Musk. 

As a company, Zoom, which became a household name during the pandemic, as it was used for everything from work meetings to virtual birthday celebrations to schooling, saw its profits increase 4,000%, from $16 million in 2019 to $660 million in 2020 (on which it paid no federal income taxes). Cofounder Eric Yuan’s wealth increased 153%—from $5.5 billion to $13.9 billion—and he didn’t even crack the top 10 list of “pandemic profiteers.”