State billionaires’ wealth skyrocketed during the pandemic

By: - August 27, 2021 5:54 am
Wealthy monopoly man in convertible

Image via Pixabay

Wisconsin’s eight richest residents have seen their wealth grow by 50% since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, a new advocacy group analysis reports.

Their good fortune makes a strong case for provisions in the federal budget reconciliation bill that would boost taxes on individuals with annual incomes of more than $400,000, says Citizen Action of Wisconsin in a report the organization released Wednesday.

The state’s eight billionaires together commanded a total of $39.4 billion in personal wealth in March 2020, just as the pandemic was gaining a foothold, according to Citizen Action. Over the next 17 months, their collective net worth rose $20 billion, reaching $59.2 billion by this Aug. 17 — a 50.3% appreciation.

Robert Kraig of Citizen Action of Wisconsin (photo courtesy of Citizen Action)
Robert Kraig of Citizen Action of Wisconsin (photo courtesy of Citizen Action)

“During a pandemic, which had a tremendous economic affect on most Americans and most Wisconsinites, billionaires have done extremely well,” says Citizen Action Executive Director Robert Kraig. “That’s because of how little they’re taxed and how little of their wealth faces taxation, because the system is rigged in their favor. The juxtaposition is shocking.”

The Citizen Action report extracts Wisconsin information from an analysis produced by Americans for Tax Fairness and Health Care for America Now. The two national groups compiled their data from Forbes magazine, which regularly reports on the net worth of the nation’s wealthiest.

The state’s wealthiest resident is John Menard Jr., the home improvement store chain tycoon. Menard’s wealth rose 48.4%, from $11.5 billion as of March 18, 2020 to $17 billion on Aug. 17, 2021. Runner-up Diane Hendricks, owner of the construction materials purveyor ABC Supply Co., saw her wealth rise even more sharply: from $6.9 billion in March 2020 to 11.1 billion in August 2021 — a 61.5% jump.

John Menard Jr.
John Menard Jr. (Travisvanvelzen | Creative Commons (CC BY-SA 4.0)

Judy Faulkner, the CEO of the medical information company Epic Systems, saw the most dramatic increase: Her fortune rose 167%, from $2.5 billion in March 2020 to $6.7 billion in August 2021.

In the same 17-month period, U.S. billionaires’ wealth grew 62%, a $1.8 trillion increase, to $4.77 trillion in August 2021, according to the calculations from Americans for Tax Fairness and Health Care for America Now.

The $3.5 billion budget reconciliation package now in Congress includes measures to pay for universal child care, reduce health care costs and respond to climate change. Kraig says, “These are all things we can get if these billionaires will just pay more of their fair share in taxes.”

The legislation does that by raising the 20% tax on the sale of stock and other investment assets for people whose incomes are $1 million or more a year to match the top tax rate, 37%,  that workers pay on their wages, according to Kraig. It also includes measures to raise top individual income tax rates to 39.6%, close tax-avoidance loopholes, raise corporate tax rates to 28% and eliminate incentives that currently enable  companies to move jobs offshore to avoid taxes, he says.


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Erik Gunn
Erik Gunn

Deputy Editor Erik Gunn reports and writes on work and the economy, health policy and related subjects, for the Wisconsin Examiner. He spent 24 years as a freelance writer for Milwaukee Magazine, Isthmus, The Progressive, BNA Inc., and other publications, winning awards for investigative reporting, feature writing, beat coverage, business writing, and commentary.