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Bill Gates, Jeff Bezos and Warren Buffett own more wealth than the poorest half of the US

Sophie Christie
The three richest men in the United States: Bill Gates, Jeff Bezos and Warren Buffett

The three wealthiest people in the United States – Bill Gates, Jeff Bezos, and Warren Buffett – own more wealth than the entire bottom half of the American population combined, a total of 160 million people.

The three business moguls have a total wealth of $248.5bn (£189bn), while America’s top 25 billionaires together hold $1tn in wealth – about the same amount as 56pc of the US population combined.

The figures, by The Institute for Policy Studies, highlight the widening gulf between the rich and poor, which is "threatening [America's] democracy, undermining social cohesion, and destabilising [the] economy", it said.

Its report, "the Billionaire Bonanza", examines the extreme wealth concentrated within the fortunes of the 400 wealthiest Americans compared to the more meagre assets of the country's poorer citizens, based on data from the 2017 Forbes 400 list and the Federal Reserve’s 2016 Survey of Consumer Finances.

The billionaires who make up the full Forbes 400 list now own more wealth combined ($2.68tn) than the bottom 64pc of the US population, and more than the gross domestic product (GDP) of Britain.

Jeff Bezos, founder and chief executive officer of Amazon, owns nearly 17pc of the online retailer's stock, and has been gradually climbing the ranks of the Forbes' billionaires list for years. In July, he briefly surpassed Bill Gates to become the richest man in the world, as Amazon's stock surged.

Gates, co-founder of Microsoft, has been the wealthiest person in the world since May 2013. 

Graphic: How the Forbes 400 rich list has changed

The thinktank said the disparity between rich and poor would worsen should Donald Trump’s tax change proposals be implemented, which would grow the top 1pc fortunes and do little to help America’s poorest citizens. 

Donald Trump is listed as the 248th-wealthiest person in America, with $3.1bn to his name, according to Forbes. 

The report's authors said one solution that would “level the playing field" between the richest 1pc and the rest of America could be to levy a national wealth tax and implement state-level wealth taxes focused on raising revenue on households with $50m or more, with either a flat rate – say, 1pc – or graduated rates, starting at 0.15pc for wealth between $50m and $100m, rising to 1pc on wealth over $500m.

The report said: "Since 1960, income and wealth taxes on the richest households have steadily declined. The federal government and many states have reduced income taxes on top earners and phased out or watered down estate taxes on inheritances.

"This has shifted tax obligations onto lower and middle-income households and future generations."