New Data Reveals Billionaires Got Richer Thanks to COVID – While (Almost) Everyone Else Got Poorer

NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 28:  Amazon founder Jeff Bezos holds the new Amazon tablet called the Kindle Fire on September 28, 2011 in New York City.
Spencer Platt / Getty Images

Billionaire fortunes returned to their pre-pandemic highs in just nine months, while recovery for the world’s poorest people could take over a decade, according to a new Oxfam report.

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In its newly released 2021 “The Inequality Virus” report, Oxfam, the global organization working to end poverty, says that the pandemic has led to an increase in inequality in almost every country at once, representing the first time this has happened since records began.

“The virus has exposed, fed off and increased existing inequalities of wealth, gender and race. Over two million people have died, and hundreds of millions of people are being forced into poverty while many of the richest — individuals and corporations — are thriving,” the report notes.

“This level of hurt for so many people requires policy makers to show radical political courage,” Paul O’Brien, vice president for policy and advocacy at Oxfam America, said in a tweet.

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The report notes that while the stock market collapsed in the first months of the pandemic, this setback was short-lived for the world’s richest. Within nine months, the “the top 1000 billionaires, mainly White men, had recovered all the wealth they had lost” since COVID-19 hit.

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In contrast, the report notes that after the 2008 financial crisis, it took five years for billionaire wealth to return to its pre-crisis highs. “Worldwide, billionaires’ wealth increased by a staggering $3.9 [trillion] between 18 March 18 and 31 December 2020.  Their total wealth now stands at $11.95 [trillion], which is equivalent to what G20 governments have spent in response to the pandemic,” according to the report.

The report also notes that in September 2020, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos “could have paid each of Amazon’s 876,000 employees a one-off $105,000 bonus with the wealth he accumulated between March and August 2020 alone, and still be as wealthy as he was before the pandemic.”

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Other findings of the report include that globally, women are overrepresented in the sectors of the economy that are hardest hit by the pandemic. “If women were represented at the same rate as men in those sectors, 112 million women would no longer be at high risk of losing their incomes or jobs.”

In addition, the report notes that in the U.S., people of color are more likely to die of COVID-19 than white people are.  “If their death rate had been the same as White people’s, then as of December 2020, close to 22,000 Latinx and Black people would have still been alive.”

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The report notes that while an increase in inequality is almost certain, a return to pre-pandemic levels within three years is possible if governments work to reduce inequality by two percentage points per year. 

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About the Author

Yaël Bizouati-Kennedy is a former full-time financial journalist and has written for several publications, including Dow Jones, The Financial Times Group, Bloomberg and Business Insider. She also worked as a vice president/senior content writer for major NYC-based financial companies, including New York Life and MSCI. Yaël is now freelancing and most recently, she co-authored  the book “Blockchain for Medical Research: Accelerating Trust in Healthcare,” with Dr. Sean Manion. (CRC Press, April 2020) She holds two master’s degrees, including one in Journalism from New York University and one in Russian Studies from Université Toulouse-Jean Jaurès, France.

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