A Tale of Two Pandemics: One For Billionaires, One For Everyone Else

Pennsylvania billionaires

L-R: Richard A. Hayne, president and CEO of Urban Outfitters; Michael Rubin, CEO of Fanatics/co-owner of the 76ers; Edward Stack, chairman and CEO of Dick’s Sporting Goods; John Middleton, tobacco heir/majority owner of the Phillies. (AP Photos)

By Patrick Berkery

October 22, 2021

From Dick Yuengling to Sixers co-owner Mike Rubin, Pennsylvania’s billionaires have seen their fortunes grow during the pandemic.

With every Yuengling beer you’ve enjoyed, Eagles, Phillies, or Sixers game you’ve attended, and Comcast service you’ve subscribed to during the pandemic, you’ve helped Pennsylvania’s richest get richer.

How rich? A new joint report by Americans for Tax Fairness (ATF), Health Care for America Now, and the Pennsylvania Budget & Policy Center shows that the collective wealth of Pennsylvania’s 17 billionaires has more than doubled during the pandemic, from $28.4 billion to $61.4 billion. That’s an increase of 116%. 

Using data from Forbes, the report tracked the wealth growth of Pennsylvania’s billionaires from March 18, 2020 (when Forbes published its 34th Annual List of Global Billionaires) through Aug. 17, 2021 (publish date of the magazine’s The World’s Real-Time Billionaires list). The report shows that while Pennsylvanians were enduring pandemic-related furloughs, layoffs, and other economic and employment hardships, billionaires like D.G. Yuengling & Son owner and president Dick Yuengling, Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie, and Comcast president Brian Roberts saw their respective fortunes grow by hundreds of millions of dollars.

Pennsylvania’s pandemic unemployment rate peaked at 16.2% in April 2020, skyrocketing up from 4.8% that January, according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The state unemployment rate fell to 6.2% in Sept. 2021. 

As of Oct. 15, more than 30,000 Pennsylvanians have died from deaths related to COVID-19 since the start of the pandemic. All the while, Pennsylvania’s billionaires have been raking it in.

A Tale of Two Pandemics: One For Billionaires, One For Everyone Else
(Keystone Graphic/Morgaine Ford-Workman)

Pennsylvania’s billionaire bump is a small piece of the national picture. US billionaire wealth has grown by 62% during the pandemic, increasing from $2.95 trillion on March 18, 2020, to $4.77 trillion on Aug. 17, 2021. 

Even the number of billionaires has increased. According to the report, there are currently 708 billionaires in the US, compared with 614 at the beginning of the pandemic. The number of Pennsylvania billionaires increased from 11 to 17 in that time.

​​The report notes that if a wealth tax proposed by US Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Massachusetts) had been in effect in 2020, “the nation’s billionaires alone would have paid $114 billion for that year — and would pay an estimated combined total of $1.4 trillion over 10 years.” The groups behind the report are calling on members of Pennsylvania’s congressional delegation to support the Build Back Better Agenda. 

“This report shows why we need the entire state congressional delegation to support President Biden’s Build Back Better Program being debated in Washington Right Now,” said Antoinette Kraus, executive director of the PA Health Access Network. “The plan will invest in working families and our communities by making the rich and corporations pay their fair share of taxes. It will provide the funding we need to create thousands of good-paying jobs in Pennsylvania and help people afford healthcare, eldercare, childcare, education, housing and more.”

Democrats have already been forced to make several concessions on taxing corporations and the wealthiest Americans in an effort to get the package across the finish line. Their plan to undo President Donald Trump’s tax breaks for big corporations or individuals earning more than $400,000 a year has faced resistance from within the ranks, notably from Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Arizona). One proposed alternative would be taxing the investment incomes of billionaires to help finance the deal.

There are 17 Pennsylvanians who would potentially be impacted should that become law.


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