Jeff Bezos, founder and CEO of Amazon (AMZN -1.44%), saw his net worth briefly cross the $200 billion threshold earlier this year. He's the richest man in history, and he added billions to his wealth during the COVID-19 pandemic -- a time when millions, perhaps even including yourself, were unemployed and waiting for federal stimulus checks to buy groceries.
Bezos isn't alone. Consider a recent headline from Business Insider: "US billionaires' wealth grew by $845 billion during the first six months of the pandemic." At first glance, it looks like billionaires are getting richer at the expense of everyone else. That hardly seems fair.
However, there's another headline you may have missed. American household wealth is at an all-time high, having recovered trillions in value since the lows following the coronavirus outbreak. Are you wondering how that's even possible? The sad reality is the wealth gains haven't been evenly distributed. But the good news is what's worked for the rich can work for you too.
The COVID-19 billionaire bumper crop
According to a report from the Institute for Policy Studies, eight billionaires increased their net worth by over $1 billion each from the beginning of 2020 through April 10. The organization dubbed these billionaires as "Pandemic Profiteers." The list includes the aforementioned Bezos, Tesla CEO Elon Musk, and Eric Yuan of Zoom Video Communications.
When news broke that Bezos was worth over $200 billion, protestors descended upon his house, according to the Washington Examiner. The protest called for raising employee compensation to a minimum of $30 per hour, but it took a dark turn as protestors assembled a guillotine on the sidewalk. Suffice it to say many people aren't happy with the disproportionate creation of wealth for Bezos and other billionaires.
Ensuring all stakeholders are justly compensated is an important conversation. However, there's a common misconception regarding net worth. Protestors claimed Bezos makes $4,000 per second in income, and similar statements abound in cyberspace. But in reality, billionaires are getting richer because their assets, like stocks, are increasing in value.
Bezos, Musk, and Yuan own a ton of their own companies' stock. For example, at the end of 2019, Bezos owned over 75 million shares of Amazon -- a nice perk from founding the company. His net worth increases as the stock rises, but he's not getting paid thousands of dollars per second. In reality, his CEO salary is just $81,840 and doesn't include any ongoing stock-based compensation. In short, there's a big difference between wealth and income.
Forget billions -- how about trillions?
According to the Federal Reserve, U.S. household net worth is also rising due to increasing asset value -- just like the aforementioned billionaires. Much of Americans' wealth is in real estate, which has increased $900 billion in value since the beginning of 2020. Additionally, a full 27% of American household wealth is currently in the stock market. And, believe it or not, stocks are up in 2020.
American household net worth was $119 trillion as of the second quarter of 2020. This is up by approximately $8 trillion since the first quarter. Granted, it's less than a 1% increase from the fourth quarter of 2019. But it's a record high nonetheless.
So billionaires have enriched themselves in this tumultuous 2020, yes. However, they're not alone. These numbers show many American households have never been richer.
This doesn't mean wealth gains have been evenly distributed; on the contrary, there is a wealth gap. Again according to the Federal Reserve, the bottom 50% of Americans owned just 1.4% of the wealth. By contrast, the top 10% have 69% of the pie. That's hardly proportionate. Furthermore, low-income workers remain unemployed in high numbers compared with those in higher-paying professions.
More companies need to embrace the primary tenets of conscious capitalism -- the business practice of increasing value for all stakeholders. And legislators should actively pursue opportunities aligning with our "justice for all" national mantra. But on an individual level, I believe there's an urgently actionable takeaway. To create personal wealth, you must use some of your income to acquire assets. Those who do have gotten richer in 2020.
Bezos, Musk, and Yuan are entrepreneurs who've created multibillion-dollar businesses from scratch. Maybe that's not you. Nevertheless, you can still align your future net worth with successful billionaires like these by investing in the stock market. Stocks are an incredible wealth-creating tool, allowing common folks like you and me to build wealth from businesses taking the world by storm. And it's exactly how many everyday Americans got richer even during a global pandemic.
The stock market doesn't care if you're rich or poor; it's available to virtually anyone, and the bar to get started has never been lower. Brokerages have introduced new features like commission-free trades, fractional shares, and no account balance minimums, all which can help you get started today.