As Tax Day Approaches, New Study Finds U.S. Billionaires Now Worth A Record $5.8 Trillion

April 8, 2024

Their Wealth Has Doubled Since 2017 Trump-GOP Tax Cuts, Which Mostly Went to Rich, Cost Trillions & Republicans Wants to Extend

This Tax Day, families across the country are once again paying their fair share, while billionaires, whose wealth is skyrocketing, are not. The collective fortune of America’s 806 billionaires hit a record $5.8 trillion, according to figures collected on April 1, 2024, by Americans for Tax Fairness (ATF) for its latest report on billionaire wealth growth based on Forbes data. Billionaire wealth has nearly doubled—up $2.9 trillion—since enactment in late 2017 of the Trump-GOP tax law. Under current rules, none of that nearly $3 trillion in wealth gain–the main form of income for the ultra-wealthy–may ever be taxed.

Washington is now poised for a fight as key provisions of the Trump law are set to expire in 2025. That GOP overhaul of the tax code mostly benefited the wealthy, added an estimated $2 trillion to the nation’s debt, and included temporary provisions that Republicans now want to permanently extend at a further estimated cost of almost $4 trillion. America’s more than 800 billionaires now own over 50% more wealth than does the entire bottom half of U.S. society, or roughly 65 million households ($5.8 trillion versus $3.7 trillion). Under the current tax code, however, these staggering wealth gains are unlikely to ever be taxed.

Source: Americans for Tax Fairness

America’s 10 wealthiest men have seen their wealth grow even faster than their billionaire peers, an astounding 153% in just a little over six years. The top 25 billionaires as a group are today worth as much, $2.3 trillion, as all the billionaires in the country combined were worth a decade ago. 

“Billionaire wealth doubling in just over six years is a clear signal that too much of America’s resources are flowing to the super wealthy,” said ATF executive director David Kass. “The last thing we need to do now is permanently extend the Trump tax cuts for the wealthy that are due to expire at the end of next year. Permanent extension of high-end tax cuts would cost trillions of dollars we could invest in working families and communities and would worsen the nation’s economic inequality that the latest billionaire figures so prominently highlight.”

As working Americans hustle to meet the annual tax-filing deadline next week, most would be shocked to find that the recent stupendous growth in billionaire wealth may never be taxed. Under present law, such increases in the value of assets–known as “capital gains”–are only taxed when the assets are sold. But billionaires and other ultra-wealthy people don’t need to sell to benefit: they can use their rising fortunes to secure low-interest loans and live luxuriously tax-free. And when that wealth growth is passed down to lucky heirs, it magically disappears for tax purposes.

President Biden and the chief tax writer in the U.S. Senate, Ron Wyden (D-OR), both have proposed plans that would annually tax the wealth growth of the nation’s handful of richest households. Their proposals would raise hundreds of billions of dollars to improve public services for the rest of the American people and to reduce public debt.

Source: Americans for Tax Fairness

Source: Americans for Tax Fairness

NOTE: 2017 wealth figures in the source material represent a different date in that year, one standardized among all the years listed. Figures for Dec. 30, 2017, were specially calculated for this report because that was the last trading date prior to the Trump-GOP tax law coming into effect. 

The biggest source of billionaire wealth is technology, which is responsible for over 30% of their riches. But finance has produced the highest number of billionaires, with over a quarter of the billionaire class emerging from Wall Street. 

Of these high-finance billionaires, 45 of them are private-equity tycoons with a collective personal wealth of $210.8 billion. Private equity is the largely unregulated pooling of large fortunes often used to buy up companies in a process that’s been disparaged as “vulture capitalism.” The wealth of these ultimate money managers has increased almost four-fold (up 275% from $56.2 billion) since the Trump tax law came online. 

The Tax Cuts Billionaires And Other Wealthy Americans Don’t Need Extended

Below are the parts of the Trump-GOP tax law set to expire at the end of 2025 that exclusively or predominantly benefit the wealthy–including billionaires: 

  • A cut in the top income-tax rate from 39.6% to 37%;
  • A doubling of the estate-tax exemption. In 2024, wealthy couples can shield over $27 million from this curb on dynastic wealth. If this provision is allowed to expire, that figure would drop to the still generous but more reasonable figure of around $14 million in 2026.
  • A weakening of the Alternative Minimum Tax (AMT), which is meant to ensure high-income households can’t use excessive deductions and credits to reduce their taxes.
  • The ability of non-corporate businesses to subtract 20% of their earnings before figuring their taxes.

The central component of the Trump law was a two-fifths cut in the corporate tax rate, from 35% to 21%. Corporate tax cuts are almost synonymous with tax cuts for the wealthy, because it’s overwhelmingly rich people–prominently including billionaires–who own corporations through their stock holdings. To make the bill look less costly in order to conform to Congressional budget rules, it also included some tightening of rules on corporate tax deductions.

But implementation of these revenue raisers was delayed for several years with the clear expectation on the part of the Republican tax writers and their corporate backers that they would be revoked before ever coming into effect. Surprisingly, preemptive repeal efforts failed and now the GOP goal is to retroactively quash these sensible restrictions on corporate tax dodging.

The recent effective tax hikes on corporations that Republicans want to reverse are:

  • Slower depreciation. Businesses write off (“depreciate”) over time the cost of durable items that hold their value like buildings and machinery. Bonus depreciation–which businesses enjoyed until 2023–allows them to instead deduct in the year of purchase the full cost of such big-ticket items, artificially lowering their reported earnings and thus their tax bills.

  • Amortizing research costs. Corporate research and experimentation yields benefits that last for years or even decades. So it makes sense for firms to deduct over time (“amortize”) those costs, which they have been required to do since 2022. But big business wants to regain the ability to write off the full cost of research in the year conducted.

  • A smaller deduction for interest. Companies are allowed to deduct interest payments from their taxable income, but the Trump tax law restricted that deduction to 30% of a certain calculation of earnings. Until 2022, the calculation that was used resulted in a larger allowable interest deduction. Since then, firms have had to apply that 30% ceiling to a smaller earnings figure, reducing the dollar value of the deduction.

What We Could Do If We Taxed That $3 Trillion in Billionaire Wealth Gains

As noted above, it’s possible none of this billionaire wealth growth will ever be taxed. But what if there had been a billionaires’ tax in place over the past six years that had taxed those “unrealized” capital gains?

If we break their nearly $3 trillion in gains over six years into yearly gains of $500 billion, then apply the top capital gains tax rate of 23.8%, we get potential annual tax revenue of roughly $120 billion. Based on recent public investment proposals from President Biden, 10 years (federal spending estimates are customarily made for 10-year spans) of $120 billion in annual additional tax revenue–or $1.2 trillion–could pay for one of the following collections of public service improvements, among many other possible combinations:

  • Healthcare Improvements: Expanded and lower-cost Affordable Care Act (ACA) coverage; Medicare coverage of dental, vision and hearing services; lowered Medicare eligibility age; canceled medical debt.

  • Care Economy Improvements: Lower childcare costs; free preschool; paid family leave; better home and community care options; expanded school lunch program

  • Education Improvements: Half of all student debt forgiven; fully funded Title I programs for low-income elementary and secondary students

This is the latest in a series of ATF reports on the explosive growth of billionaire wealth that began in the midst of the Covid pandemic in 2020.