Amazon founder Jeff Bezos and former Microsoft CEOs Bill Gates and Steve Ballmer saw their already massive fortunes soar during the COVID-19 pandemic.
According to a new report by the Washington Post, Bezos gained $58 billion from March 5, 2020 until the same time this year, while Gates’ wealth increased by $24 billion and Ballmer’s grew by $23 billion.
Other tech leaders outside of the Seattle area also saw huge gains, with Tesla’s Elon Musk raking in $118 billion — a sum nearly equal to the entire annual state budget for California. With their windfalls, Musk and Bezos are vying for the title of world’s richest person.
A booming tech industry helped boost wealth for the tech leaders, with companies such as Amazon and Microsoft seeing shares soar over the past year as millions relied on their services amid the pandemic.
COVID ushered in a different reality for many Americans who lost jobs, closed their businesses and struggled to juggle work and kids trying to attend school from home. Some 9.4 million jobs vanished from the U.S. economy last year.
Political leaders at the state and national level are proposing new laws to tax the mega rich in an effort to battle growing income inequality.
In Washington, lawmakers are currently considering a measure placing a 1% tax on intangible financial assets that held by billionaires living in the state such as Bezos, Gates, Ballmer, and Bezos’ ex-wife MacKenzie Scott. The bill would generate an estimated $2.25 billion in 2023 and $2.5 billion in 2024.
Sen. Elizabeth Warren this month rolled out a revived wealth tax plan that she first championed during her run for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination. The tax would impact 100,000 households and bring in more than $3 trillion over 10 years, according to Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-WA), who introduced the tax with Warren.
the 9 billionaires who profited the most during the pandemic are all tech titans & saw their wealth grow a combined $360 billion. @greene & I looked at how this impacts the myth of the benevolent billionaire and the idea that Silicon Valley can “save” ushttps://t.co/nllkBp5p0X
— Nitasha Tiku (@nitashatiku) March 12, 2021
The Seattle-area tech billionaires made charitable donations to support Americans suffering from the pandemic. Gates was a leader philanthropically, donating $1.75 billion towards COVID-relief and vaccination efforts, amounting to 7.3% of his gains during the first year of the pandemic, the Post reports.
In an email to the newspaper, Gates said, “COVID-19 is making existing inequalities even worse, with people living in extreme poverty bearing the brunt. I believe philanthropy has an important role to play proving new ideas can work, with governments and businesses scaling the most promising ones.”
Bezos contributed $150 million to pandemic-related causes, the Post reported, which comes to about 0.26% of his gains over the year. (The amount is slightly less than the $165 million that he spent on a Beverly Hills home just as COVID was taking hold last year.)
With its cloud and online retail businesses soaring, Amazon was also the source of a substantial number of new jobs in 2020, adding 500,000 positions. The Seattle-based company temporarily increased hourly pay by $2 an hour and doubled overtime pay for front-line workers employed at fulfillment centers and at Whole Foods. It also paid $500 million in bonuses to these workers and delivery partners, plus a $300 holiday bonus to front-line workers.
But the company was criticized by some employees for failing to adequately protect them from the virus, which nearly 20,000 workers contracted as of October.
Ballmer donated to COVID testing, contact tracing and personal-protective equipment, according to the Post. The amount given was not disclosed.
And who has been the biggest donor in response to the pandemic? A report out this week found that with more than $4 billion in charitable giving, Scott contributed 25% of COVID philanthropy in the U.S.