Let’s Stop Pretending We are All in the Same Boat

April 25, 2020

In this pandemic, we are unfortunately not in the same boat.

Most Americans don’t even have a canoe. But some billionaires have taken to the high seas in their yachts – literally – to ride out the pandemic. While ordinary workers get furloughed or laid off in record numbers, billionaires as a group are actually seeing their wealth increase.

Between 18 March and 10 April 2020, over 22 million Americans lost their jobs. Over the same three weeks, my co-authors and I find in a new study for the Institute for Policy Studies, US billionaire wealth increased by $282bn – an almost 10% gain.

Indeed, we’re seeing distinct socio-economic fault lines between who is vulnerable and who is protected – between those with healthcare and those without, those who rely on public transit and those with private jets, and those who work on the frontlines and those who telecommute from comfortable homes (or yachts).

Many billionaires, enjoying the luxury of owning multiple properties far from population centers, are riding out the pandemic in havens for the wealthy such as Jackson Hole, Palm Beach, Hilton Head Island and Sun Valley. Reporters describe private jets clogging the small airports on Nantucket and Martha’s Vineyard, while gourmet food stores in the Hamptons have been cleared out by the itinerant rich.

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