Wealth of world’s billionaires rose $5 trillion amid pandemic, Forbes list finds

Wealth of world’s billionaires rose $5 trillion amid pandemic, Forbes list finds

JuSun/iStockBy Catherine Thorbecke, ABC News

(NEW YORK) — Despite a global pandemic and economic downturn, the total wealth of the world’s richest has increased by more than $5 trillion over the past year, according to data compiled by Forbes for its annual billionaires list.

Forbes’ 35th annual billionaires list, released Tuesday, revealed there are a record-breaking 2,755 billionaires in the world in 2021. Of those, there are 493 new billionaires on the list this year that didn’t make the cut in 2020.

The combined wealth of the world’s billionaires as of March 2021 is some $13.1 trillion — up from $8 trillion total in March 2020.

“This was a record-breaking year in multiple ways, with more newcomers than ever before and more billionaires globally,” Kerry A. Dolan, Forbes’ assistant managing editor for wealth, said in a statement Tuesday.

“It was also the first time that the combined net worth of the world’s billions crossed into double-digit trillions,” Dolan added. “The pace at which huge fortunes have been created is astonishing.”

With a net worth of $177 billion, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos topped this year’s list for the fourth year in a row. Tesla CEO Elon Musk came in at the No. 2 spot at $151 billion, skyrocketing up from 31st on the list last year. The remaining billionaires in the top five spots are: Bernard Arnault (with a net worth of $150 billion) at No. 3, Bill Gates ($124 billion) at No. 4, and Mark Zuckerberg ($97 billion) at No. 5.

This is the first year since 1993 that Warren Buffet, who is No. 6, has not made the Forbes’ top five billionaires list. His net worth is $96 billion.

The wealth of the ultra-elite is closely tied to the stock market, which suffered early in the pandemic but has since rebounded to new heights despite pains persisting elsewhere in the economy. Notably, Forbes methodology used stock prices and exchange rates from March 5, 2021, to calculate net worth for this year’s list. For last year’s list, wealth was measured on March 18, 2020, very close to when the stock market bottomed.

Many economists have warned that the pandemic has widened America’s wealth gap, exacerbating income inequality as low-wage service workers in industries requiring face-to-face contact lost their jobs while white collar workers could continue to work remotely.

The unemployment rate in the U.S. last month was 6%. Prior to the COVID-19 shock to the labor market, the unemployment rate in the U.S. was at a historic low of 3.5% in February 2020.

Forbes identified some 1,975 billionaires this year as “self-made,” in contrast to 281 billionaires who inherited their wealth and 499 billionaires who inherited a substantial amount of wealth and then grew it further.

The U.S. has more billionaires than any other country (a total of 724), but China is not far behind (with 698 billionaires), according to the Forbes analysis. While the vast majority are still men, there are 328 women billionaires this year, compared to 241 in 2020.

Another notable trend from this year’s report was that of the nearly 500 new billionaires in 2021, Forbes said some of the common ways they acquired their wealth was through cryptocurrency, SPACs, traditional IPOs and COVID-related health care.

Finally, among the notable people who appeared on the 2020 billionaires list but did not make the cut in 2021 is reality TV star and makeup entrepreneur Kylie Jenner. Her sister Kim Kardashian, however, made the billionaires list for the first time this year.

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