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Virginia Billionaires Got $7 Billion Richer Over First 10 Months of Pandemic, Their Collective Wealth Jumping By 17%

"Gains of Richest Residents Could Pay For Relief Checks of $820 for All 8.5 Million Virginians & Still Leave Billionaires as Rich as They Were Before COVID"

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From Virginia Organizing:

VIRGINIA BILLIONAIRES GOT SEVEN BILLION DOLLARS RICHER OVER FIRST TEN MONTHS OF PANDEMIC, THEIR COLLECTIVE WEALTH JUMPING BY 17 PERCENT 

Gains of Richest Residents Could Pay For Relief Checks of $820 for All 8.5 Million Virginians & Still Leave Billionaires as Rich as They Were Before COVID

Richmond, Va. — The collective wealth of Virginia’s eight billionaires jumped by seven billion dollars, or 17 percent, between mid-March of last year and Jan. 29 of this year, according to a new report by Americans for Tax Fairness (ATF), Health Care for America Now (HCAN), and Virginia Organizing. These pandemic profits of the state’s richest residents could pay for a COVID relief check of over $820 for all 8.5 million Virginians and still leave the billionaires as wealthy as they were before the pandemic hit.

Between March 18—the rough start date of the pandemic shutdown, when most federal and state economic restrictions were put in place—and Jan. 29, the total net worth of Virginia billionaires rose from $41.2 billion to $54.3 billion, based on this analysis of Forbes data extracted in the table below. (Even though the increase in total billionaire wealth was $13.1 billion, the figure has been adjusted to $7 billion because software developer Matthew Calkins—worth $6.1 billion last month—was not on the Forbes list in 2020.)

The private gain of Virginia billionaires contrasts sharply with the health and economic struggles that average Virginians are facing because of the pandemic. Over those same tough 10 months, nearly 500,000 state residents fell ill with the coronavirus, nearly 6,500 died from it and 1.4 million lost jobs in the accompanying recession.

While federal lawmakers debate more cash payments to people and families in the next relief package, the state’s eight billionaires have amassed enough new wealth during the pandemic, a  $7 billion leap, to send every one of the state’s 8,535,519 residents a relief check of roughly $822 each. A family of four would get $3,287.

Nationwide over the same 10-month period, the total wealth of the nation’s 661 billionaires leaped by $1.2 trillion, or 40 percent—more than the $900 billion federal pandemic relief package enacted in Congress in December. At $4.1 trillion, the total wealth of America’s 661 billionaires is two-thirds higher than the $2.4 trillion in total wealth held by the bottom half of the population, 165 million Americans.

Sources: All data is from Forbes and available hereMarch 18, 2020, data is from the Forbes World’s Billionaires List: The Richest in 2020. Jan. 29, 2021 data was taken from Forbes real-time estimates of wealth that day.

As Virginia billionaires ride out the crisis on a rising tide of wealth, the state’s working families struggle to keep their heads above water:

  • 65,584 state residents were collecting unemployment the week ended Jan. 9 [U.S. Department of Labor]
  • Between March and September 2020, 3,100 state businesses closed, 1,782 of them permanently. [YELP]
  • Late last year, 609,000 adult state residents, or 11%, reported going hungry over the past week. The figure for households with children was 14%. [Center on Budget & Policy Priorities, CBPP, Table 1]
  • 15% of the state’s tenants—287,000—were behind in their rent at the end of 2020. [CBPP, Table 3]

Low-wage workerspeople of color, and women have suffered disproportionately in the combined medical and economic crises because of long-standing racial and gender disparities. Blacks and Latinos are far more likely to become infected with Covid-19 and to die from the disease. Billionaires are overwhelmingly white men.

Here’s a sampling of some of the state’s prospering billionaires:

  • Candy company heiresses Jacqueline and Pamela Mars are together worth over $36 billion. Jacqueline, who lives in Fauquier County, saw her wealth jump by more than $4 billion; and Pamela, of Alexandria, got a little over $1 billion richer. Both fortunes increased by about 17%.
  • The net worth of Vienna resident Daniel D’Aniello, co-founder and chairman of private equity fund The Carlyle Group, leaped by almost a quarter, moving up from $2.9 billion to $3.6 billion.
  • Virginia Beach’s Winifred J. Marquart, descendant of the inventor of Johnson’s wax and heiress to the cleaning-product fortune he began, enjoyed an over $600 million hike in her wealth, up over 18% to $3.9 billion.

“Hospitals need more supplies and machines like ventilators,” said Goldie Wells, a Virginia Organizing leader in Portsmouth, who hopes to see Congress send more federal aid for her local government. “Schools need money because children need to go to school safely and not bring the disease back home. I am going to get the vaccine soon, hopefully, but I’m still waiting to hear back from the health department. If Portsmouth had more money, maybe they could get the vaccines out faster.”

Rees Shearer in Abingdon, Virginia, also wants to see more funding for education.

“Before the pandemic hit, Washington County, Virginia, ranked 110th out of 132 Virginia localities in education spending per student. That was before schools were forced to go virtual and students fell further behind or off the screen altogether. Now, our schools have a mountain to climb to bring students up to grade level, but even fewer resources to do it. Our kids needed help a year ago, but we need it even more, now.”

“Billionaires have been reaping bushels of pandemic profits the last 10 months while many working families are reeling, state and local services are suffering, and jobs are disappearing,” said Frank Clemente, executive director of Americans for Tax Fairness. “Congress needs to come to the immediate rescue to get the country out of this mess. And then it should turn its attention to enacting sweeping reforms that make the wealthy and corporations pay their fair share of taxes so we can create an economy that works for all of us.”

“Republicans in the Senate keep trying to pare down the $1.9 trillion Biden pandemic relief plan that would save jobs and services in states and provide millions of people healthcare, unemployment protection, and paid leave with excuses about targeting support to those who need it most,” said Margarida Jorge, Executive Director, Health Care for America Now. “But those excuses are more hollow than ever in a pandemic where billionaires are getting richer as everyone else struggles.”

President Biden’s “build back better” tax and investment plans could address immediate needs created by the pandemic and put the nation on a trajectory toward economic growth that restores the middle class, good jobs, healthcare, and equitable opportunity for everyone to prosper. Even Wall Street analysts praise the plan because of the jobs and growth it would create.

A key component is tax reform that would begin to ensure the wealthy and corporations pay their fair share. Biden’s tax plan would transform huge billionaire gains into public revenue to help heal a hurting nation by both raising taxes on the wealthy and closing tax loopholes that allow the rich to delay, diminish, and even avoid paying the taxes they owe on wealth increases. President Biden and the new Congress could make structural changes to level the playing field so that the rich are taxed more like the rest of us.

A number of approaches will be debated in Congress, including an annual wealth tax on the biggest fortunes, proposed by Senators Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders. Another option is the annual taxation of investment gains on stocks and other tradable assets, an idea advanced by the new Senate Finance Committee chair, Ron Wyden. Even under the current discounted tax rates for investment income, if Wyden’s plan had been in effect in 2020, Virginia billionaires would be paying over a billion dollars in extra taxes this spring thanks to their gargantuan pandemic profits last year, helping to address the pandemic’s impact and keeping the economy afloat.

Virginia Organizing is a non-partisan statewide grassroots organization that brings people together to create a more just Virginia.

 

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