U.S. billionaires’ wealth grew substantially over the last two months even as tens of millions of Americans lost their jobs, providing stark proof of the unequal impact of the coronavirus pandemic and the related economic crisis.
From March 18 — when much of the U.S. was under an economic shutdown to slow the spread of COVID-19 — to May 19, the total net worth of the more than 600 billionaires in the U.S. grew by 15%, or $434 billion, per a new report from the Institute for Policy Studies. The report, released by the progressive think tank on Thursday, relied on data from Forbes’ tracking of Americans’ net worth.
Over the same nine-week period, more than 38 million people in the U.S. filed for unemployment benefits. That figure doesn’t include those who were unable to file and those deemed ineligible for the benefits, including millions of undocumented immigrants.
“While millions risk their lives and livelihoods as first responders and front line workers, these billionaires benefit from an economy and tax system that is wired to funnel wealth to the top,” Chuck Collins, co-author of the report and director of the institute’s program on inequality, said in a release.
Among the billionaires who have seen the most gains is Jeff Bezos, chief executive and part-owner of Amazon, whose wealth grew by a total of $34.6 billion, or 30%, over the past two months. Online orders through Amazon have ballooned as millions of Americans have been forced to largely stay home due to coronavirus restrictions.
Meanwhile, the company’s warehouse and delivery employees — considered “essential” workers and continuing to show up to fulfill said orders — have been demanding stronger protection amid the pandemic, including better hazard pay and paid sick leave. Some Amazon workers have gone on strike in protest of their working conditions, along with employees at several other major companies still on the job, including Instacart and McDonald’s. Several Amazon warehouse workers have died from COVID-19.
Amazon told HuffPost in a statement Friday that the company’s “top concern is ensuring the health and safety of our employees,” pointing to safety measures it has implemented amid the pandemic, including providing masks and hand sanitizer to workers and $2 per hour hazard pay. This extra pay will end at the end of the month.
There have been more than 1.5 million confirmed coronavirus cases in the U.S. as of Friday — more than any other country in the world — and over 95,000 people have died here so far.
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