As ordinary people around the world suffer from the health and economic impacts of the pandemic, billionaires have actually seen their fortunes expand. According to Institute for Policy Studies analysis of Forbes data, the combined wealth of all U.S. billionaires increased by $821 billion (28 percent) between March 18, 2020 and September 10, 2020, from approximately $2.947 trillion to $3.768 trillion. Of the more than 600 U.S. billionaires, the richest five (Jeff Bezos, Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, Warren Buffett, and Elon Musk) saw a 59 percent increase in their combined wealth during this period, from $358 billion to $569 billion.
While U.S. billionaires are seeing their fortunes expand, the pandemic recession has hit low-income workers hardest. According to University of Chicago researchers, the lowest-income group had the highest job loss rate between February 1, 2020 and the end of June, while the highest-income workers had the lowest job loss rate during this period. While the gaps narrowed somewhat by the end of June, the lowest-income group had only 81 percent of the jobs they had on February 1 while the highest-income group had 96 percent of the jobs they had pre-pandemic.
Some countries with relatively low levels of inequality, such as Italy, Sweden, Belgium, and South Korea, initially experienced very high rates of Covid-19 infections. But over the past several months, these countries have generally performed better than the United States at reducing their pandemic death rates, according to data from the European Center for Disease Prevention and Control. Between August 1 and September 15, 2020, the U.S. death rate per million people was closer to that of Brazil and Mexico, two highly unequal developing countries, than it was to the rates of more egalitarian developed nations. One major factor: unlike the United States, all of the countries in this chart that have made substantial progress towards controlling Covid-19 have universal health care systems.
According to the APM Research Lab, Black Americans have mortality rates that are more than twice as high as other races, and Indigenous people have significantly higher mortality rates as well. For each 100,000 Americans (of their respective group), about 62 Black people and 36 Indigenous people have died from the coronavirus, compared to 26 Asians, 28 Latinx, and 26 Whites, as of June 10, 2020.
The pandemic-related economic crisis has been particularly devastating for people of color. When the shutdown sent unemployment levels skyrocketing in March and April, Black and Latinx workers were much more likely to be among the jobless than Whites, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics data. This was true despite the fact that people of color make up a disproportionate share of essential workers who had to remain on the job. While the jobs picture has improved slightly, the racial disparities remain. As of August, the unemployment rate was significantly lower for White workers than for workers of color. The rate was highest among Black Americans, at 13.0 percent, compared to 7.3 percent among White workers.