Tag Archives: mega-rich

Forbes list shows mega rich are mega richer

Life is good for America’s super wealthy. Forbes this week released its annual list of the top 400 richest Americans. While most of the top names and rankings didn’t change from a year ago, the majority of the elite club’s members saw their fortunes grow over the past year, helped by strong stock and real estate markets.

“Basically, the mega rich are mega richer,” said Forbes senior editor Kerry Dolan.

Dolan noted that list’s minimum net income increased to a pre-financial crisis level of $1.3 billion, up from $1.1 billion in 2012, with 61 American billionaires not making the cut. “In some ways, it’s harder to get on the list than it ever has been,” she said.

Microsoft Corp. co-founder Bill Gates remains America’s richest man, taking the top spot on the list for the 20th straight year, with a net worth of $72 billion, up from $66 billion a year ago.

Investor Warren Buffett, the head of Berkshire Hathaway Inc., posted another distant second place finish with $58.5 billion, but increased his net worth from $46 billion. Oracle Corp. co-founder Larry Ellison stayed third with $41 billion and was the only member of the top 10 whose net worth was unchanged from a year ago.

Brothers Charles and David Koch, co-owners of Koch Industries Inc., stay tied for fourth with $36 billion each, up from $31 billion in 2012.

Wal-Mart heirs Christy Walton, Jim Walton, Alice Walton and S. Robson Walton took the next four spots, with holdings ranging from $33.3 billion to $35.4 billion, all increasing from year-ago levels.

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, the founder of the eponymous financial information company, rounds out the top 10 with $31 billion, up from $25 billion.

According to Forbes, 273 members of the list are self-made billionaires, while 71 inherited their wealth and another 56 inherited at least some of it but are still growing it.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg returned to the list’s top 20 after dropping out the year before. His net worth of $19 billion earned him the No. 20 spot.

Facebook co-founder Dustin Moskovitz also made the list, at No. 85, with a net worth of $5.2 billion. At age 29 and just a few days younger the Zuckerberg, Moskovitz ranks as the youngest member of the list.

On the flip side, the oldest person on the list is 98-year-old David Rockefeller Sr. at No. 193 with a net worth of $2.8 billion.

A total of 20 new people joined the rankings, including Richard Yuengling Jr. of Pennsylvania beer maker D.G. Yuengling & Son, who ranked at No. 371 with $1.4 billion.

Twenty-eight people dropped off the list, including six who died. Those now falling short of the cut include energy tycoon T. Boone Pickens at $950 million, Graham Weston of Rackspace Hosting Inc. at $920 million and Washington Redskins owner Dan Snyder at $1.2 billion.

A total of 48 women made the list including Hyatt Hotels heir Jennifer Pritzker at No. 327.  She’s also the list’s first transgender member.

According to Forbes, the 400 people on the annual list posted a combined net worth of $2 trillion, up from $1.7 trillion a year ago. That marks their highest combined value ever.

Meanwhile, the average net worth of the list’s members rose to $5 billion, also the highest ever, up from $4.2 billion in 2012. Net worth grew for 314 members and fell for 30, Forbes said.

The increases aren’t surprising, given that net worth for America’s wealthiest people has risen in the years since the financial crisis, widening the gap between the exceptionally well-to-do and the rest of the country.

According to a study of Internal Revenue Service figures released last week, the top 1 percent of U.S. earners collected 19.3 percent of household income in 2012, their largest share in IRS figures going back a century.

U.S. income inequality has been growing for almost three decades. But until last year, the top 1 percent’s share of pre-tax income had not yet surpassed the 18.7 percent it reached in 1927, according to the analysis done by economists at the University of California, Berkeley, the Paris School of Economics and Oxford University.

Some economists have speculated that the incomes of the wealthy might have surged in the past year, because they cashed in stock holdings to avoid higher capital gains taxes that kicked in in January.

On the Web…

The Forbes 400: http://www.forbes.com/forbes400

Super rich see federal taxes drop dramatically

If the tax man took a bite out of your wallet this year, you’ll probably take little consolation in learning that the super rich pay a lot less taxes than they did a couple of decades ago. And nearly half of U.S. households pay no income taxes at all.

Republicans are aggressively moving forward with slashing programs like Medicare that serve as a safety net for working-class Americans, claiming that the government is broke and can’t afford them. What they don’t say is the reason government is broke is not because of the cost of those programs but because of the recession and the tax code, especially enormous tax cuts to the mega-rich.

The Internal Revenue Service tracks the tax returns with the 400 highest adjusted gross incomes each year. The average income on those returns in 2007, the latest year for IRS data, was nearly $345 million. But their average federal income tax rate was 17 percent, down from 26 percent in 1992.

Over the same period, the average federal income tax rate for all taxpayers declined to 9.3 percent from 9.9 percent.

The 400 highest earners have the same amount of wealth as half of all Americans, i.e., they are worth 158 million of their fellow Americans in dollars and cents. In recent decades they have seen their share of the American pie grow by historically unprecedented leaps and bounds as they’ve peddled their influence to reshape economic policies in their favor. At the same time, middle-class earners have seen only marginal income growth and working-class families have lost income.

Some leading economists say that the nation has undergone a staggering redistribution of wealth toward those at the top, with GOP tax policies fueling the shift.

The top income tax rate is 35 percent, so how can people who make so much pay so little in taxes? The nation’s tax laws are packed with breaks for people at every income level. There are breaks for having children, paying a mortgage, going to college, and even for paying other taxes. Plus, the top rate on capital gains is only 15 percent.

There are so many breaks that 45 percent of U.S. households will pay no federal income tax for 2010, according to estimates by the Tax Policy Center, a Washington think tank.

“It’s the fact that we are using the tax code both to collect revenue, which is its primary purpose, and to deliver these spending benefits that we run into the situation where so many people are paying no taxes,” said Roberton Williams, a senior fellow at the center, which generated the estimate of people who pay no income taxes.

The sheer volume of credits, deductions and exemptions has both Democrats and Republicans calling for tax laws to be overhauled. House Republicans now want to eliminate breaks to pay for lower overall rates, reducing the top tax rate from 35 percent to 25 percent. Republicans oppose raising taxes, but they argue that a more efficient tax code would increase economic activity, generating additional tax revenue.

President Barack Obama said last week he wants to do away with tax breaks to lower the rates and to reduce government borrowing. Obama’s proposal would result in $1 trillion in tax increases over the next 12 years. Neither proposal included many details, putting off hard choices about which tax breaks to eliminate.

In all, the tax code is filled with a total of $1.1 trillion in credits, deductions and exemptions, an average of about $8,000 per taxpayer, according to an analysis by the National Taxpayer Advocate, an independent watchdog within the IRS.

More than half of the nation’s tax revenue came from the top 10 percent of earners in 2007. More than 44 percent came from the top 5 percent. Still, the wealthy have access to much more lucrative tax breaks than people with lower incomes.

Obama wants the wealthy to pay so “the amount of taxes you pay isn’t determined by what kind of accountant you can afford.”

Eric Schoenberg says to sign him up for paying higher taxes. Schoenberg, who inherited money and has a healthy portfolio from his days as an investment banker, has joined a group of other wealthy Americans called United for a Fair Economy. Their goal: Raise taxes on rich people like themselves.

Schoenberg, who now teaches a business class at Columbia University, said his income is usually “north of half a million a year.” But 2009 was a bad year for investments, so his income dropped to a little over $200,000. His federal income tax bill was a little more than$2,000.

“I simply point out to people, ‘Do you think this is reasonable, that somebody in my circumstances should only be paying 1 percent of their income in tax?’” Schoenberg said.

Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah, the top Republican on the Senate Finance Committee, said he has a solution for rich people who want to pay more in taxes: Write a check to the IRS. There’s nothing stopping you.

Schoenberg said Hatch’s suggestion misses the point.

“This voluntary idea clearly represents a mindset that basically pretends there’s no such things as collective goods that we produce,” Schoenberg said. “Are you going to let people volunteer to build the road system? Are you going to let them volunteer to pay for education?”

The law is packed with tax breaks that help narrow special interests. But many of the biggest tax breaks benefit millions of American families at just about every income level, making them difficult for politicians to touch.

The vast majority of those who escape federal income taxes have lowand medium incomes, and most of them pay other taxes, including Social Security and Medicare taxes, property taxes and retail sales taxes.

The share of people paying no federal income tax has dropped slightly the past two years. It was 47 percent for 2009. The main difference for 2010 was the expiration of a tax break that exempted the first $2,400 of unemployment benefits from taxation, Williams said.

In 2009, nearly 35 million taxpayers got a tax break for paying interest on their home mortgages, and nearly 36 million taxpayers took the $1,000-per-child tax credit. About 41 million households reduced their federal income taxes by deducting state and local income and sales taxes from their taxable income.

About 36 million families cut their taxes by nearly $35 billion by deducting charitable donations, and 28 million taxpayers saved a total of $24 billion because their income from Social Security and railroad pensions was untaxed.

“As a matter of policy, there would be a lot of ways to save money and actually make these things work better,” said Leonard Burman, a public affairs professor at Syracuse University. “As a matter of politics, it’s really, really difficult.”

From AP and staff reports

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