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Billionaires compared with the rest of us, by the numbers

Money, taxes and personal data. (Pictures of Money/Flickr)
November 14, 2017

The very rich really are very different from you and me, as author F. Scott Fitzgerald famously wrote. How different? A new report breaks it down by the financial numbers.

The three richest billionaires in the U.S., as measured by the annual Forbes 400 ranking, now own more wealth than the bottom half of the nation’s population combined, according to the report by the Institute for Policy Studies, a research organization focused on inequality issues.

The Top Trio

The fortunate three are Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos, Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates, and financier and investor Warren Buffett. Their $264.1 billion in holdings outstrips the combined net worth of an estimated 160 million people, or 53 million U.S. households, according to the report titled: Billionaire Bonanza 2017.

The full billionaire ranking

Expanding the comparison to all the billionaires who comprise the full Forbes 400 list, the report said the group collectively has more wealth than the bottom 64% of the U.S. population. The percentage represents roughly 80 million U.S. households, or 204 million people — more than the combined populations of Canada and Mexico.

The wealthiest group includes such well-known names as Facebook co-founder Mark Zuckerberg, Google co-founder Sergey Brin, and President Trump, who took a tumble in this year’s ranking.

Bezos in July tweeted a call for recommendations about philanthropy efforts he could help fund “right now.” Gates, Buffett, Zuckerberg, and others on the Fortune 400 list have been major charitable funders and have pledged to give away much of their fortunes.

Income Inequality

The median American family has far less wealth — a net worth of $80,000, excluding the family car — the report said, citing data drawn from the latest edition of the triannual Federal Reserve Survey of Consumer Finances.

However, many Americans fare far worse financially amid a growth in U.S. income disparity. One in five U.S. households, more than 19%, have zero or negative net worth, the Institute for Policy Studies report found. More than 30% of African-American households and 27% of Latino households have zero or negative net worth, the report said.

“So much money concentrating in so few hands while so many people struggle is not just bad economics, it’s a moral crisis,” said Josh Hoxie, the report’s co-author.

Federal tax reform proposals being drafted and discussed on Capitol Hill could expand the current wealth divide, the report warned.

Changes that could reverse the disparity and promote income equality include setting higher marginal tax rates on income higher than $250,000, and taxing capital gains income at ordinary income tax rates, the report said.

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Federal lawmakers should also close the so-called carried interest loophole that enables hedge fund managers pay lower taxes, as well as strengthen and expand the estate tax, the report said.

“Wealth inequality is on the rise,” said Chuck Collins, the report’s other co-author. “Now is the time for actions that reduce inequality, not tax cuts for the very wealthy.”

Follow USA TODAY reporter Kevin McCoy on Twitter: @kmccoynyc


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