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Even as the coronavirus pandemic plunges the U.S. economy into the worst downturn since the Great Depression, some of the wealthiest Americans have seen their collective fortunes increase exponentially, according to a new report.
U.S. billionaires' wealth has grown by $434 billion since March 18, when the majority of the nation shut down to slow the spread of the virus, findings from Americans for Tax Fairness and the Institute for Policy Studies’ Program for Inequality show. The report, released Thursday, is based on Forbes data for America's more than 600 billionaires.
On March 18, the stock market had already dropped about 29 percent from its Feb. 19 peak.
The five wealthiest Americans — Jeff Bezos, Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, Warren Buffett and Larry Elison — saw their combined fortune surge by $75.5 billion, or roughly 19 percent. Together, they represent about 21 percent of the total wealth growth of all 600 billionaires in the last two months.
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The combined net worths of Bezos, the CEO of Amazon, and Zuckerberg, the CEO of Facebook, grew by nearly $60 billion, or 14 percent of the $434 billion.
With millions of Americans stuck at home in an attempt to mitigate the spread of the virus, consumers are increasingly relying on technology for basic needs like groceries.
Amazon shares closed around $2,499 on Thursday, which is up nearly 29 percent from the beginning of 2020, when they were around $1,898 per share. Facebook shares were up about 10 percent on Thursday at $231 per share, an increase from $209 at the year's start.
Tesla CEO Elon Musk had one of the biggest percentage gains of billionaires; in the course of two months, his net worth surged by 48 percent to $36 billion. Zuckerberg's fortune also increased by one of the biggest percentages, growing by 46.2 percent to $79 billion.
The number of billionaires is also increasing: In March, there were 614 billionaires named on the Forbes list; two months later, that number grew to 630.
During that same time period, the crisis brought the global economy to a near standstill and pushed 38.6 million Americans onto the unemployment roll in just two months, erasing the entirety of the jobs created since the Great Recession more than a decade ago.
“The pandemic has revealed the deadly consequences of America’s yawning wealth gap, and billionaires are the glaring symbol of that economic inequality,” said Frank Clemente, ATF’s executive director.
Not every billionaire has made it out unscathed. Kevin Plank, the founder and chairman of Under Armour, saw his fortune drop by 6.8 percent, or roughly $75 billion, to $1 billion, while Ralph Lauren's fortune fell by $100 billion to $5.6 billion.