These Michigan billionaires got $45.3 billion richer during the pandemic


  • Robert "Nix" Nixon

It seems like every day is Christmas for Michigan's billionaires — even the past 200-plus days, a time when the coronavirus pandemic has crippled the state, closing many businesses and pushing millions of Michiganders into unemployment.

In fact, Michigan billionaires saw their wealth increase by a staggering $45.3 billion, or 156.0%, since mid-March.

That's according to a new report from the Americans for Tax Fairness (ATF) and the Institute for Policy Studies (IPS). According to the report, that number far exceeds the $3.4 billion combined state revenue shortfall in 2020 and 2021 due to the pandemic.

The lucky billionaires include Dan Gilbert of Quicken Loans, who tops the list. Gilbert's wealth grew an eye-popping 656.4% during the past seven months, from $6.5 billion to $42.7 billion. In recent years, Gilbert's firm Bedrock received $618 million in tax incentives for four real estate projects, including the upcoming Hudson's site skyscraper.

Other lucky local billionaires include Ronda Stryker, director of medical equipment manufacturer Stryker Corporation, whose wealth grew 41.7%, from $4.3 billion to $6 billion. And Marian Ilitch, co-founder of Little Caesars, home of the $5 Hot-N-Ready pizza, saw her wealth grow 6.7%, from $3.8 billion to $4 billion.

Roger Penske of Penske Automotive Group and Donald Foss, owner of subprime auto lender Credit Acceptance Corp., also saw gains.

The report is based on data from Forbes, which published its annual billionaires report on March 18, 2020. The report authors then compared that to updated data published by Forbes on Oct. 13. You can see the full spreadsheet here.

The report comes as Congress still has yet to pass another round of federal bailout funds, choosing instead to rush President Donald Trump's nomination for a new Supreme Court Justice following the death of Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

"With Mitch McConnell's Senate paralyzed with inaction, U.S. society is kicking into inequality overdrive, with wealth surging up to U.S. billionaires," said Chuck Collins of the IPS. “The juxtaposition between surging billionaire wealth and the imploding livelihoods of ordinary Americans is grotesque and unseemly.”

The total net worth of the nation's 644 billionaires has risen by $931 billion, or nearly 32%, in the same timeframe, from $2.95 trillion to $3.88 trillion. Other top earners included Amazon mogul Jeff Bezos, whose wealth grew from $113 billion to $203 billion, an increase of 80%; Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, whose wealth grew from $54.7 billion to $101 billion, an increase of 85%; and Tesla's Elon Musk, whose wealth grew from $24.6 billion to $92.8 billion, an increase of 277%.

"The wealth of the country’s nearly 650 billionaires keeps rising higher and higher, as the livelihoods of tens of millions of Americans keeps sinking lower from the failure of Washington to provide a new COVID-19 rescue package," Frank Clemente, executive director of ATF, said in a statement. "If Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell had put his energy into rushing through Congress a major coronavirus financial aid package months ago, like he’s rushing through this Supreme Court nomination, millions of Americans would have been spared financial hardship and countless small businesses would still be standing."

The total wealth of the 644 billionaires is two-and-a-half times the $2.1 trillion in total wealth held by the bottom half of the population, or 165 million Americans.

For perspective, the billionaire's $931 billion wealth gain since mid-March far exceeds the $300 billion in pandemic relief proposed by McConnell. According to the report, it also exceeds the estimated $500 billion budget gap in all state and local governments, which have been forced to make budget cuts due to the tax shortfall caused by the pandemic.

Democratic candidate for president Joe Biden has proposed a tax increase for Americans making $400,000 a year or more.

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