Just 59 Americans own more wealth than half the country, data shows

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The 59 Americans whose fortunes have ballooned amid the coronavirus pandemic now have more wealth than half the nation’s population, new data show.

The poorest 50 percent of Americans, or roughly 165 million people, collectively owned about $2.08 trillion in wealth in the second quarter of 2020, according to Federal Reserve data released last week.

That’s less than the net worth of the nation’s 59 richest billionaires, who have a combined fortune of about $2.09 trillion, Bloomberg’s Billionaires Index shows — a number that’s grown this year despite the COVID-19 crisis kneecapping the global economy.

Those elite tycoons are among the wealthiest 1 percent of Americans, who were worth a total of $34.23 trillion in the second quarter — meaning they were more than 16 times richer than the nation’s poorest 50 percent, the Fed’s figures reveal. They include Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos, Microsoft founder Bill Gates and Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg.

The data suggest the stock market plays a key role in the massive wealth gap. Stock prices soared to record highs in recent months even though the pandemic had put millions of people out of work and sparked a record contraction in the US economy.

Corporate equities and mutual fund shares made up more than $14 trillion — or roughly 41 percent — of the top 1 percent’s wealth in the second quarter, according to the Fed. The bottom 50 percent, by contrast, owned just $160 billion worth of those assets.

The richest Americans have been stockpiling stocks in recent years — the top 10 percent now own more than 88 percent of corporate equity and mutual fund shares, meaning they benefit most from the booming markets, according to Bloomberg News.

The Fed has helped fuel the recent stock surge by injecting trillions of dollars into financial markets and slashing interest rates in response to the pandemic. But chairman Jerome Powell warned of rising inequality in a speech this week urging Congress to support the economy’s recovery from the COVID crisis with another large-scale spending package.

“Combined with the disproportionate effects of COVID on communities of color, and the overwhelming burden of childcare during quarantine and distance learning, which has fallen mostly on women, the pandemic is further widening divides in wealth and economic mobility,” Powell said.

A Global Asset Management Seoul Korea Magazine

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