The collective wealth of the 400 richest Americans totaled $1.7 trillion in 2011, a 13 percent jump from a year ago, as the stock market reached its highest mark in a decade and real estate rebounded, Forbes announced Wednesday. Microsoft founder Bill Gates led the list of America’s wealthiest with a net worth of $66 billion, followed by Berkshire Hathaway’s Warren Buffett ($46 billion) and Oracle’s Larry Ellison ($41 billion). Charles and David Koch, co-founders of Koch Industries and conservative mega-donors, rounded out the top five at $31 billion each.
The amount needed to join the list rose in 2011 as the average net worth of the richest 400 Americans jumped to its highest level in more than a decade, CNN Money reports:
The average net worth of a member of the Forbes 400 hit $4.2 billion. That’s the highest level it’s been in at least a decade, according to the magazine, and up from $3.8 billion last year. The net worth cut off to make the list this year was $1.1 billion, up from $1.05 billion in 2011.
At the same time that their collective wealth hits new heights, the tax rate for the Forbes 400 has remained low, thanks to the high-income Bush tax cuts, which slashed the rate on investments and capital gains. The average rate paid by the Forbes 400 in 2009, the last year for which tax data is available, was 19.9 percent. The estimated rate for last year’s list fell to 18 percent, according to economist Steven Rattner (the IRS releases official data on a two-year delay). From 1995 to 2007, tax rates for the Forbes 400 were halved even as their incomes quadrupled.
President Obama has vowed to let the high-income Bush tax cuts expire at the end of 2012, and both he and Senate Democrats have proposed hikes in the capital gains rate, though neither would tax investments at the 35 percent top income rate, as capital gains were taxed until the 1990s.
Republicans, however, have promised not just to extend the Bush tax cuts but to lower the overall rate on wealthy Americans. After taking the government to the brink of shutdown and default in 2011, the House GOP voted to give the rich and corporations more than $3 trillion in tax breaks in its budget this year.