Representative Cori Bush has called to “abolish billionaires” after the nation’s elite reportedly increased their wealth by $1.8 trillion during the coronavirus pandemic.
The Missouri Democratic representative appeared to be referencing recently released findings that revealed the collective fortune of U.S billionaires surged by nearly two-thirds (62 percent) from just short of $3 trillion at the start of the COVID-19 crisis on March 18, 2020, to $4.8 trillion on August 17, 2021, according to a report from Americans for Tax Fairness (ATF), a political advocacy group, and the Institute for Policy Studies Program on Inequality (IPS), a progressive Washington-based think tank.
“America’s billionaires are now worth $4.8 trillion after gaining $1.8 trillion during the pandemic,” Bush tweeted Wednesday. “Their wealth has increased 62% during a crisis that has millions of regular, everyday people facing eviction or unable to pay their bills. Abolish billionaires. Tax the rich.”
Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders followed suit, pledging to increase scrutiny on taxing the nation’s wealthiest and noting that the gap between the “very rich and everybody else is wider than ever.”
“We’re going to tax the wealth of these billionaires, and with the Budget Reconciliation Legislation, we are finally going to invest in the needs of the working class of this country. Trust me, I wrote the damn bill,” the senator replied alongside data tabling the top 15 U.S. billionaires.
“The gap between the very rich and everybody else is wider than ever. Today, we have two people with more wealth than the bottom 40% and, incredibly, during the pandemic, billionaires have seen their wealth surge, while workers on the frontlines are paid starvation wages. ENOUGH,” Sanders wrote in a later tweet.
Elon Musk, founder and chief engineer of SpaceX, saw his wealth increase by a staggering $150 billion during the pandemic, a gain of over 600 percent, according to the research organizations who compared data from Forbes over 17 months.
Not only did the wealth of billionaires grow, but so did their numbers, the data shows. In March 2020, there were 614 Americans with over a billion dollars of wealth; this August, there are 708. The group holds roughly four times more wealth than all the roughly 165 million Americans in society’s bottom half. Their combined $1.8 trillion of increased wealth alone would pay for more than half of President Joe Biden‘s 10-year $3.5 trillion investment package, the findings suggest.
Among the nation’s wealthiest (as of August 17) sit Amazon‘s Jeff Bezos ($188 billion), Tesla‘s Elon Musk ($175 billion) and Microsoft‘s Bill Gates ($130 billion). Facebook‘s Mark Zuckerberg narrowly comes in fourth place, sitting on $129 billion, while Berkshire Hathaway’s Warren Buffett is worth $105 billion.
“The unconscionable growth in billionaire wealth through the misery of the pandemic is the clearest case I can imagine for the progressive tax reform working its way through Congress,” Frank Clemente, ATF’s executive director, said in a statement on Tuesday.
“We have a historic opportunity this year to begin unrigging the tax code and rebalancing the economy through fairer taxes on the wealthy and corporations, including taxing wealth more like work, raising the corporate tax rate, and curbing corporate offshore tax dodging. We can’t let the high-powered lobbyists for wealthy special interests stall this long-overdue reform.”
Chuck Collins, of the Institute for Policy Studies, similarly agreed. “Billionaires have reaped an unseemly windfall at a time when hundreds of thousands of people have lost their lives and livelihoods,” he said. “We should use this moment of extreme wealth inequality to fix a tax system tilted in favor of the wealthy and large corporations.”
A report from ProPublica released in June estimated that the 25 top billionaires paid on average just 3.4 percent of their wealth-growth in federal income taxes and that several, including Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk, went multiple years paying no federal income tax at all.