New York Daily News: MANHATTAN, NY – No one has weathered the COVID-19 pandemic quite like America’s booming billionaire class.
Since coronavirus started shutting down much of the US economy in mid-March, the country’s top 20 billionaires all watched their net worth balloon by multiple billions — while much of the rest of America struggled to stay afloat.
Amazon boss Jeff Bezos – the richest man in the world – posted a stunning 70% spike in his net worth as his personal holdings surged from $113 billion in mid-March to $192 billion on Friday, according to real-time tallies from Forbes.com.
Tesla and SpaceX boss Elon Musk saw his personal fortune skyrocket nearly 300% during the same period, jumping from $24.6 billion in mid-March to $92 billion last week.
Facebook co-founder Mark Zuckerberg became a centibillionaire for the first time in late August, when his newly minted riches took him from about $54.7 billion in mid-March to the breathtaking $100 billion benchmark.
Some of biggest windfalls went to Quicken Loans mortgage magnate Daniel Gilbert, Zoom Video boss Eric Yuan and Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey.
Gilbert’s riches exploded more than 600% over the last seven months to reach $46 billion last week. Yuan’s family wealth more than quadrupled to $24.7 billion, and Dorsey’s treasure chest more than tripled to reach $10.1 billion.
“The top 70 US billionaires have as much wealth combined as the bottom half of all US households,” Chuck Collins, a senior scholar at the Institute for Policy Studies, a Washington think tank, told the Daily News.
Collins, the great-grandson of meatpacker Oscar Mayer, gave away his inheritance at a young age and later co-founded the group Patriotic Millionaires.
He calls the COVID-19 pandemic an “accelerant” to the country’s growing class divide and expects the rich to keep getting richer as millions of other Americans slip into poverty now that the Cares Act social safety net has dried up with no replacement.
“Next week, I predict we’ll hit a trillion dollars of wealth increase for the 640 billionaires in the US, unless the market tanks. As of Monday, US billionaires had seen their wealth increase over $930 billion since mid-March,” he said Thursday.
Over the same seven months, US unemployment hit a record 14.7% in April, its highest level since the Great Depression, before edging down to 7.9% last month. Before the COVID-19 national emergency, the unemployment rate was 3.5% in February.
The federal deficit, meanwhile, soared to a record $3.1 trillion for the fiscal year that ended Sept. 30, the Treasury Department confirmed Friday.
Collins said the resurgent stock market has essentially uncoupled itself from the broader economy and is driving much of the billionaires’ bonanza.
Investors are “making bets on the future,” and the biggest gainers are the billionaires best-positioned for the era, he said. These so-called “pandemic profiteers” are breaking new ground in the fields of cloud-based technology, video conferencing, prescription drugs and online retail, he said.
“Wall Street is anticipating the next wave of monopolies, where huge winners will crowd out everyone else,” he said. “It’s a de-linking of Main Street’s real economy and Wall Street’s speculative economy.”
As more brick-and-mortar stores close due to coronavirus containment measures, investors expect Bezos’ Amazon to pick up that slack, the thinking goes.