The 10 wealthiest American families saw their wealth increase by $136 billion during the pandemic

Lauder family
The Lauder family has gained the most wealth of any other American family during the pandemic. Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images

The rich continue to get richer.

America’s 10 wealthiest billionaire families saw their median wealth grow by 25%, per a new report from the left-leaning Institute for Policy Studies. Their net worth collectively increased by $136 billion since the pandemic began in March 2020.

Titled “Silver Spoon Oligarchs,” the report examines the growing concentration of wealth in the US by looking at the top 50 dynastically wealthy families from Forbes’ inaugural ranking of America’s wealthiest clans, published in December 2020, and data from the Federal Reserve‘s Survey of Consumer Finance.

Each family’s wealth comes from companies started by an earlier generation, whether a parent or distant ancestor, according to the report, and each represents a wealth dynasty passing generation to generation.

The ranks of these dynastic fortunes have remained largely unchanged for decades, per the report, and their wealth has grown exponentially during the pandemic.

The Lauder family, the cosmetics magnate behind the Estée Lauder empire, gained the most during the pandemic, nearly doubling its wealth with 83% growth. Even the family with the smallest wealth gains, SC Johnson, saw 9% growth – an increase of just over $1 billion.

“At a time when unemployment rates have skyrocketed and many American families have been struggling to get by, the very wealthiest families in the country have watched their assets multiply,” the report reads.

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Dynastic wealth may be fueling the widening gap between America’s rich and poor – here’s how the wealthy keep their money in the family

The pandemic exacerbated America’s wealth disparities

It’s the latest in the story of America’s K-shaped recovery. The pandemic widened wealth inequality in America, exposing preexisting disparities in wealth, in the sense that when the recovery began, upper middle class and wealthy Americans formed an upward leg of a K shape, while the rest saw their fortunes worsen.

Higher-income Americans – especially those in industries like tech and software – have seen jobs return and their incomes grow. Throughout the pandemic, higher-income people have consistently been spending less than lower-income Americans, meaning they saved more money, creating increasingly larger cushions.

Billionaires in particular have seen their net worths grow, exceeding $1 trillion, while their frontline workers have foregone hazard pay and fallen ill. The bottom of the K found themselves jobless, struggled to pay bills, and fell into poverty.

But some billionaires have been thinking twice about how they’re tackling generational wealth. Bill Gates and Warren Buffett plan to give most of their money away through the Giving Pledge, instead of keeping it in the family.

Buffett has long been vocal about his efforts to reduce the vast wealth sitting in the hands of a few influential people. “Dynastic wealth, the enemy of a meritocracy, is on the rise,” Buffett said during a Senate Finance Committee hearing about the federal estate tax 2007. “Equality of opportunity has been on the decline.”