US billionaires 'have received $1.1tn windfall in Covid pandemic'

Money made by richest 660 people could pay for all of coronavirus relief package, says IPS thinktank

The richest 660 people in the US have collected a $1.1tn (£800bn) “windfall of wealth” since the coronavirus pandemic began, according to a report by a US progressive thinktank, the Institute for Policy Studies.

The report found that the collective wealth of America’s 660 billionaires has risen by 39% since the World Health Organization declared that Covid-19 was a pandemic virus in March 2020.

The billionaires’ combined wealth has increased from just under $3tn on 18 March 2020 to $4.1tn, according to Forbes magazine data. The report noted that there had also been “46 newly minted billionaires since the beginning of the pandemic”, when there were 614.

Chuck Collins, the director of the Institute for Policy Studies’ Program on Inequality and co-author of the Billionaire Bonanza 2020 report, said: “Billionaires are reaping unseemly windfalls of wealth during the pandemic. They benefit from having their competitors shut down or controlling technologies and services we are all dependent on in this unprecedented time. We should tax these windfall gains to pay for recovery.”

Collins said the gains the billions have made since the crisis began could “pay for all the relief for working families contained in the $1.9tn coronavirus relief package proposed by President Biden, while leaving the nation’s richest households no worse off than they were before Covid-19 hit”.

Frank Clemente, the executive director of Americans for Tax Fairness, said: “While we can all rejoice that our nation’s response to the terrible pandemic is now in steadier and more caring hands, we can only lament that America’s billionaires are not making a meaningful contribution to that national effort, even as their wealth continues to soar.

“The Covid crisis is crushing people of colour and low-income workers while billionaires who are nearly all white have seen fortunes skyrocket. This is why we need the fair-share taxes programme Joe Biden ran on, won on and is now ready to pursue.”

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Elon Musk, the maverick co-founder and chief executive of Tesla, has made the most money since the coronavirus pandemic began as investors rushed to buy shares in the electric carmaker. Over the course of last year Musk rose to become the world’s richest person with a $209bn fortune on Tuesday according to the Bloomberg billionaires index. Musk, who owns 20% of Tesla’s shares, was the 35th richest person in the world at the start of 2020.

At $4.1tn, the total wealth of America’s 660 billionaires is two-thirds higher than the $2.4tn in total wealth held by the bottom half of the population, 165 million people.

The report said that the $1.1tn gain the billionaires have made could be used to pay for all of the relief for working families contained in Biden’s proposed $1.9tn pandemic rescue package, which includes $1,400 in direct payments to individuals, $400-a-week supplements to unemployment benefits and an expanded child tax credit.

• This article was amended on 26 January 2021. An earlier version incorrectly said in the text that the “billionaires’ combined wealth has increased from just under $3bn on 18 March 2020 to $4.1bn”; both of these figures should have been trillions, not billions.


Rupert Neate Wealth correspondent

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