US billionaires' collective wealth grew enough during the pandemic to pay off the $1.7 trillion student debt crisis

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© Joe Raedle/Getty Images/Axel Springer Blue Origin CEO Jeff Bezos (left) and SpaceX CEO Elon Musk. Joe Raedle/Getty Images/Axel Springer

  • A new report found US billionaires collectively got $1.8 trillion richer during the pandemic.
  • That’s enough wealth to pay off the entire $1.7 trillion student debt crisis.
  • Tesla CEO Elon Musk, for example, got $150 billion – or 600% – richer.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

The pandemic brought significant financial hardships onto the US, but the ultra-wealthy remained relatively unscathed. So much so, in fact, that billionaires in the country collectively got $1.8 trillion richer – enough to pay off the entire student debt crisis, and then some.

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Americans for Tax Fairness (ATF) and the Institute for Policy Studies Program on Inequality (IPS) released a report on Tuesday that revealed how much wealth billionaires gained during COVID-19 as of August 17. It found that their combined wealth skyrocketed nearly two-thirds, or 62%, to $4.8 trillion since March 2020, after starting off the pandemic just short of $3 trillion.

According to the report, Tesla CEO Elon Musk’s wealth increased by $150 billion during the pandemic – a 600% gain – and Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos’ wealth grew $75 billion in the same time frame.

“The great good fortune of these billionaires over the past 17 months is all the more appalling when contrasted with the devastating impact of coronavirus on working people,” the report said. “Over 86 million Americans have lost jobs, almost 38 million have been sickened by the virus, and over 625,000 have died from it.”

This report came after a ProPublica report in June that detailed how the wealthiest Americans, including Bezos and Musk, managed to pay little-to-nothing in federal taxes.

The student debt crisis continues to grow

As US billionaires’ wealth grew during the pandemic, so did the student debt crisis, which now stands at $1.7 trillion. Although President Joe Biden has canceled $8.7 billion in student debt for certain groups of people, that is less than 1% of the entire student debt burden, and borrowers across the country are struggling to keep up on their payments as their debt continues to grow.

Student debt payments, along with interest, have been on pause for the duration of the pandemic, and Biden recently announced a “final extension” of the pause through the end of January to give borrowers additional time to prepare restarting payments.

But, as Insider previously reported, while the pause has provided significant relief for borrowers, they will still not be ready to start making payments again come February and feel that without student-debt cancellation, there is no way out of their student debt.

“I’ve paid back almost all of my loans, but I still owe the full amount,” Alexendria Mavin, who graduated $117,000 in student debt, has paid $70,000 of it, and still owes $98,000 told Insider. “It’s a never-ending cycle.”

That’s why Democrats like Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren are calling both for $50,000 in student-debt cancellation for every borrower and a wealth tax to create a tax code that is fair for everyone.

“America’s billionaires have done great during this pandemic,” Warren wrote on Twitter. “America’s working families? Not so much. It’s time for a #WealthTax on the ultra-rich to raise the revenue needed to invest in child care, expand health care coverage, and fight back against climate change.”

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