Billionaires are minting money during the pandemic, even as millions of Americans join the ranks of the poor.
US billionaires have collectively become $1.1 trillion — nearly 40% — richer since mid-March, according to a report published Tuesday by progressive groups Institute for Policy Studies and Americans for Tax Fairness.
In other words, not only have the uber-wealthy recovered their losses from the spring, many are faring much better than before. That’s in large part because of the sizzling stock market. Elon Musk alone is about $155 billion richer, boosted by Tesla’s skyrocketing market valuation.
Forty-six people joined the ranks of billionaires since March 18, 2020, the week after the World Health Organization declared a global pandemic, according to the report.
Clearly, the pandemic is worsening America’s already troubling inequality crisis. The staggering gains at the top contrast sharply with the financial struggles of those at the bottom, many of whom are on the front lines of the pandemic and have lost their jobs or had wages cut.
America’s 660 billionaires now hold $4.1 trillion in wealth — two thirds more than the amount held by the bottom 50% of the US population, the report found.
Poverty rate climbs sharply
More than 8 million Americans fell into poverty during the final six months of 2020, according to real-time estimates published by economists at the University of Chicago, University of Notre Dame and the Lab for Economic Opportunities.
The US poverty rate declined during the first few months of the pandemic, in large part because of the federal government’s stimulus checks. However, the poverty rate climbed 2.4 percentage points during the second half of the year — nearly double the largest annual increase in poverty since the 1960s, the economists found.
Some groups have suffered more than others. The poverty rate for Black Americans is 5.4 percentage points higher today than in June 2020, translating to 2.4 million people who have fallen into poverty, the economists found.
For those with a high school education or less, the poverty rate has surged to 22.5%, compared to 17% in June.
Florida, Mississippi, Arizona and North Carolina were among the states that suffered the largest increases in poverty rates. The state-level findings “suggest that poverty rose more in states with less effective unemployment insurance systems,” the economists said in the report.