The wealth gap between rich and poor Americans has more than doubled since 1989. The top 1% own more wealth than the entire bottom 90% combined. In the midst of the global pandemic, some of the nation’s super rich have doubled or even tripled their net worth.
The rest of America is told that paying taxes is an important civic duty, and that tax paying is ultimately helping the collective good. The New York Times revealed that President Trump did not pay any income tax for 10 of the 15 years prior to his presidency. In 2016, the year he got elected, he paid all of $750 in federal tax. The Times also listed 30 companies that earned more than $1 billion, referred to as profitable giants, but paid $0 in federal taxes in 2018, including Amazon, Delta Airlines, Chevron, General Motors and Netflix. In fact, many of these companies ended up receiving federal tax refunds of $100 million or more. Several Democratic leaders like Vice President-Elect Kamala Harris and Senators Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren have spoken on this issue for years, and say that these ‘loopholes’ need to come to an end, and invoke “fair share” rhetoric.
Throughout the global pandemic, several of these corporations actually ended up increasing their profits, by billions of dollars, and the wealth of the 651 billionaires in the nation rose by over $1 trillion in the span of nine months, since the pandemic hit in mid-March. Since March, the wealth of these billionaires jumped 36%, taking their net worth from $2.95 trillion to a whopping $4.01 trillion. The top 10 billionaires alone, such as Elon Musk and Bill Gates, are worth more than $1 trillion.
“Never before has America seen such an accumulation of wealth in so few hands,” said Frank Clemente, executive director of Americans for Tax Fairness. His organization has put into perspective how much $1 trillion really is, and what it could do for the rest of America. It could mean:
- $3,000 stimulus checks for approximately 300 million Americas,
- Closing the large state and local government budget gaps which have already resulted in large budget cuts for public services, millions of American’s to be laid off, and 98,000 businesses to permanently close,
- An increase in federal spending on Medicare and Medicaid, which already serves about 120 million people.
While people stayed at home, ordering in their Amazon packages, or binge watching Netflix, these businesses were booming with each click. Throughout the pandemic, Amazon was able to triple its annual profits by the third quarter, and earned a whopping $96 billion within the first couple of months of COVID-19. This success has put Jeff Bezos on track to be the first trillionaire in history. With this immense gain in wealth, Bezos could provide each one of his 1 million employees with an $88,000 year end bonus, and still not fall short of how much money he had pre-pandemic. Netflix also made significant gains, adding approximately 26 million more subscribers in the first half of the year alone.
Unfortunately, the same can not be said for many other businesses across America. Thousands of small and medium-sized businesses shut down and millions of people became unemployed during the pandemic.
It is important to note that not all billionaires are the same. Mackenzie Scott, ex-wife of Jeff Bezos, pledged, during the pandemic, to give $4.2 billion to over 350 nonprofits, universities and community development groups that assist the hungry, homeless, businesses owned by people of color, etc. Seven NCRC member organizations and several national partners were among her chosen 350 organizations.
Instead of asking for more money out of the pockets of hard-working school teachers, carpet cleaners, nurses, construction workers and really all hard working Americans, it is perhaps time to turn to the multi-billionaires of the country during one of the worst recessions in history, and for all the days beyond. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Consumer Expenditure Survey, the average U.S. household paid $8,831 in federal income taxes in 2019. Some average workers include:
- Teachers who pay an average of $7,239 in federal income tax
- Firefighters who pay and average of $5,283 in federal income tax
- Nurses who pay and average of $10,216 in federal income tax
- Construction Managers who pay and average of $16,400 in federal income tax
While many argue that billionaires should not even exist, perhaps the least they could do is make a fair contribution to their country by paying all the taxes that average workers do. Median wealth would increase, and services would be offered to far more Americans. The current economic playing field is not only failing low-income earners, but also the average American worker, which is easily identifiable by the shrinking middle class. Perhaps the stark realities of America’s growing wealth gap, as well as inequalities in public health, education, healthy food and environmental justice, that the pandemic has laid bare for all to see clearly, will be the catalyst needed to finally take real steps towards a more just economy for all.
Suvneet Sidhu was a NCRC Communications and Development intern.