News

Do 728 Billionaires Hold More Wealth Than Half of American Households?

The wealth gap between households with the highest income and the bottom 50% of households in the United States has been huge.

Published April 13, 2023

Updated April 13, 2023
 (Michael Lee/Getty Images)
Image Via Michael Lee/Getty Images

Key Facts:  

  • On April 9, 2023, Robert Reich tweeted that "728 billionaires now hold more wealth than half of American households." A representative of Reich cited Inequality.org, Forbes, and the Federal Reserve as the sources of his data.
  • Similarly, Snopes found that as of the fourth quarter of 2022, 735 billionaires collectively held more wealth (with a total of $4.5 trillion) than the bottom 50% of American households (with a total of $4.1 trillion). (Sources: St. Louis Federal Reserve Bank and Forbes.)
  • Snopes also found that the wealth owned by the top 1% of Americans, as of the fourth quarter of 2022, totaled $43.45 trillion, as compared to $4.16 trillion owned by the bottom 50% of Americans during the same period. (Source: Federal Reserve.)

On April 9, 2023, Professor Robert Reich at the University of California, Berkeley, wrote on Twitter that 728 billionaires hold more wealth than 50% of American households.

"728 billionaires now hold more wealth than half of American households," tweeted the Friesen Professor of Public Policy at UC Berkeley's Goldman School of Public Policy. "Wealth inequality is eating this country alive."

do 728 billionaires own more wealth than half of american households?

Reich didn't cite the sources of his data in the tweet, so we reached out to his office and received the following explanation via email from a representative: 

According to Inequality.org: As of Monday, November 21, 2022, there are 728 billionaires with combined wealth of $4.48 trillion, an increase of $1.5 trillion compared to mid-March 2020, drawing on Forbes' billionaire database. Combined U.S. billionaire wealth prior to the pandemic was just under $3 trillion.

According to the Federal Reserve, the bottom 50% of Americans hold $4.16 trillion in household wealth as of Q4 of 2022.

Thus, $4.48 trillion is larger than $4.16 trillion. 

We obtained similar results when we looked into the claim ourselves. According to Forbes, there were 735 billionaires in the United States as of the end of 2022. "The United States still boasts the most billionaires, with 735 list members worth a collective $4.5 trillion," Forbes reported in its 2023 article about billionaires.

According to the St. Louis Federal Reserve Bank, the bottom 50% of American households were collectively worth $4.1 trillion at the end of the 4th quarter in 2022. 

That means 735 U.S. billionaires hold more wealth ($0.4 trillion more) than the bottom 50% of American households. 

Moreover, the wealth owned by the top 1% of Americans as of the fourth quarter of 2022, according to the Federal Reserve, was $43.45 trillion, compared to $4.16 trillion by the bottom 50% of the Americans during the same period. (Forbes reported in 2021 that the top 1% that year comprised about 1.3 million households making more than $500,000 per year.) Within that that top category, the top 0.01% alone controlled $17.6 trillion in the last quarter of 2022.

"Even in the midst of a pandemic recession that's rocked financial markets, just 719 billionaires have more wealth than the bottom half of Americans – at least 165 million people in 61 million households," wrote Americans for Tax Fairness and The Institute for Policy Studies – Inequality Program in a 2020 report.

Another Forbes article wrote that "collectively the billionaires on the Forbes 400 held more wealth than the bottom 64% of America." 

The wealth gap and income inequality in the United States and elsewhere often get wide coverage. 

According to the World Inequality Report 2022 from World Inequality Database, "the richest 10% of the global population currently takes 52% of global income, whereas the poorest half of the population earns 8.5% of it." 

Sources

"American Billionaires by the Numbers." Americans For Tax Fairness, https://americansfortaxfairness.org/billionaires/. Accessed 12 Apr. 2023.

Bernick, Michael. "Professor Sandel, Robert Reich, And The Tyranny Of Income Hypocrisy." Forbes, https://www.forbes.com/sites/michaelbernick/2021/11/30/professor-sandel-robert-reich-and-the-tyranny-of-hypocrisy/. Accessed 11 Apr. 2023.

Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System (US). "Total Net Worth Held by the Bottom 50% (1st to 50th Wealth Percentiles)." FRED, Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, 1 July 1989, https://fred.stlouisfed.org/series/WFRBLB50107.

Compensation at the University of California: Annual Wage. https://ucannualwage.ucop.edu/wage/. Accessed 11 Apr. 2023.

Kirsch, Noah. "The 3 Richest Americans Hold More Wealth Than Bottom 50% Of The Country, Study Finds." Forbes, https://www.forbes.com/sites/noahkirsch/2017/11/09/the-3-richest-americans-hold-more-wealth-than-bottom-50-of-country-study-finds/. Accessed 11 Apr. 2023.

Alperstein, Olivia. "New Institute for Policy Studies Report Finds That an Annual Wealth Tax on the World's Richest Could Raise $1.7 Trillion Globally." Institute for Policy Studies, 18 Jan. 2023, https://ips-dc.org/release-new-report-finds-that-an-annual-wealth-tax-on-the-worlds-richest-could-raise-1-7-trillion-globally/.

The Fed - Table: Distribution of Household Wealth in the U.S. since 1989. https://www.federalreserve.gov/releases/z1/dataviz/dfa/distribute/table/. Accessed 11 Apr. 2023.

Widworld_admin. "The World #InequalityReport 2022 presents the most up-to-date & complete data on inequality worldwide:" World Inequality Report 2022, 9 Oct. 2021, //wir2022.wid.world/executive-summary/.

Updates

Updated [April 13, 2023]: Added information provided by Robert Reich's office.

Damakant Jayshi is a former writer for Snopes.