The last 30 years have seen explosive growth for a small class of ultra-rich – the billionaires.
The most dramatic change, however, has occurred over the past year. Since the start of the pandemic, when more than 20 million jobs were lost in a matter of months, billionaires have added more than $1 trillion to their collective net worth, much of it concentrated in the hands of three men.
It’s not just three people. The whole class swelled. In 1990, there were only 66 billionaires in the country, and the richest among them were worth just $5.6 billion. Today, there are more than 600. Elon Musk, the richest man in the world, was worth more than $270 billion at the end of October.
This expansion in the wealth of billionaires reflects the dramatic inequality in the wealth of national households. As of April 2021, the billionaires together held over $4.5 trillion. The bottom 50% of Americans together were worth just over half that amount, with their wealth totaling just over $2.6 trillion.
However, there are also inequalities within this ultra-rich class. In March 2020, there were almost seven male billionaires for every female billionaire, and only seven billionaires in total were black.
The expansion of the billionaire class, not only in terms of population but also total value, is a microcosm for some of this country’s most pressing socio-economic problems. A lack of supportive social policies traps people in poverty across all demographic groups, though race and gender still pose huge barriers to wealth, regardless of income level.