Billionaires Have Profited Off The Pandemic To The Tune Of $1.3 Trillion

For the vast majority of us, 2020 was an exercise in stacking tragedy upon tragedy. The scourges of disease and unemployment went hand-in-glove, tearing apart families and straining the social fabric like we've seldom seen before.

But it wasn't a horrific year for everyone. As you'd expect, those with the resources to weather the year made out the best — but just how much better the wealthiest of us managed to do wasn't clear until now.

For America's billionaires, the pandemic has been downright bountiful.

We've all heard that the rich get richer, but in 2020, things got ridiculous as billionaires in the U.S. profited an astounding $1.3 trillion off of the 12 months of the pandemic so far, according to a report from the Institute for Policy Studies and Americans for Tax Fairness.

Yes, that's $1,300,000,000,000.

Many familiar faces were near the top of the list of those who've gained the most throughout the pandemic.

The top earner, in terms of raw dollar value, was Tesla and SpaceX founder Elon Musk, who briefly overtook Amazon's Jeff Bezos as the world's richest person in early 2021. Over the course of the year, Musk added $137.5 billion to his fortune, bringing it to a total of $162.1 billion, an astounding 559% increase.

Bezos was the second-highest earner, adding $65.1 billion to his coffers for a total of $178.1 billion — given that he was already worth $113 billion a year ago, that amounts to a "mere" 57.6% increase.

Rounding out the top three was Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg, who tacked an extra $47 billion onto his pile of money, which now totals $101.7 billion, a gain of 85.9%.

Of course, the greatest gains were made by those at the top.

Just the top 15 on the list, which also includes Google's Larry Page and Sergey Brin, Oracle's Larry Ellison, Berkshire Hathaway's Warren Buffet, Microsoft's Bill Gates, and Nike's Phil Knight, combined to bring in $563 billion over the course of the year.

However, the list of billionaires also expanded. A year ago, the U.S. had 614 billionaires; now, there are 43 more, bringing the total to 657.

The sheer amount of money the richest are pulling in has drawn considerable concern given how many Americans remain out of work.

"The pandemic has created an astonishing rise in wealth for the nation’s billionaires while tens of millions of Americans fell further behind," Frank Clemente, executive director of Americans for Tax Fairness, said in a press release. "Billionaires are living in a different world from the rest of us."

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

Meanwhile, the U.S. has seen miles-long lines for food banks and millions more relying on food stamps.

After noticing a surge of people asking for donations to help with things like rent, utility bills, and groceries, the CEO of GoFundMe, Tim Cadogan, wrote in a USA Today op-ed that "We are proud of the role that GoFundMe plays in connecting those in need with those who are ready to help. But our platform was never meant to be a source of support for basic needs," and that the largest fundraiser in their history, started in April 2020, raised $45 million for America's Food Fund.

h/t: Institute for Policy Studies

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