The 400 richest Americans added $4.5tn to their wealth last year, a 40% rise, even as the pandemic shuttered large parts of the US, according to Forbes magazine’s latest tally of the country’s richest people.
The Amazon founder, Jeff Bezos, retained top spot for a fourth consecutive year with a net worth of $201bn, followed by Elon Musk of Tesla and Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook, with net worths of $190.5bn and $134.5bn respectively.
The ranks of the super rich were swollen by 44 newcomers, the highest number since 2007, among them Melinda French Gates, co-chair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, bitcoin billionaires Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss and Noubar Afeyan, co-founder of the Covid-19 vaccine maker Moderna.
Miriam Adelson, wife of the late casino mogul Sheldon Adelson, was the richest newcomer, with $30.4bn. The youngest newcomer was the 29-year-old cryptocurrency billionaire Sam Bankman-Fried, the second-richest new entrant, with an estimated $22.5bn.
To make the list, people now have to have a minimum net worth of $2.9bn, up $800m from a year ago.
The pandemic initially triggered a record-setting wave of layoffs. The job market has recovered significantly but the economic impact of the coronavirus is still shaking large parts of the US economy. States are bracing for an avalanche of evictions after the expiration of federal protections.
Stock markets and property prices have continued to soar, trends that have disproportionately padded the wealth of the richest.
“Despite the uncertainty and the ever-changing market economy, the 2021 Forbes 400 shows that America’s wealthiest have grown far richer,” said Kerry Dolan, assistant managing editor, wealth at Forbes.
But not all of the wealthy have had a good pandemic. Former president Donald Trump has dropped off the Forbes 400 for the first time. Trump’s estimated $2.5bn fortune is $400m short of this year’s cutoff, according to Forbes.
The magazine calculates that the pandemic hit to Trump’s portfolio of big-city properties shrank his fortune by $600m. Trump had an opportunity to offload those assets at the start of his presidency.
“If Trump is looking for someone to blame, he can start with himself,” said Forbes.