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Study: Billionaires Gain, Workers Lose in Arizona’s COVID Economy

More than 650,000 Arizona workers lost their jobs during the first three months of the COVID-19 crisis, while Arizona's billionaires made more billions. (Tyler Olsen/Adobe Stock)
More than 650,000 Arizona workers lost their jobs during the first three months of the COVID-19 crisis, while Arizona's billionaires made more billions. (Tyler Olsen/Adobe Stock)
July 1, 2020

PHOENIX -- While hundreds of thousands of Arizona workers have been hurt by the economic impact of the pandemic, a new report has found that a few of their wealthy neighbors have done quite well.

The Forbes "Billionaires Report" showed that Arizona's richest residents saw their net worth jump by $11 billion in the first three months of the global health crisis. David Lujan, director of the Arizona Center for Economic Progress, said it's a glaring example of the nation's growing income gap.

"It's a sign of the huge wealth inequality that exists in America, and in Arizona," he said. "Particularly in times of the COVID pandemic -- so many Arizonans are struggling to put food on the table and struggling small business owners -- you still have people at the top 1% who are doing pretty well."

During the stretch between March 18, when COVID-19 restrictions began, and June 17, Arizona's top 10 billionaires increased their collective bank balances by more than 50%. In the same period, 650,000 Arizonans lost their jobs.

Lujan said workers find it demoralizing that the state attempted to reopen the economy too soon, and a spike in COVID cases forced another round of business closures.

"I think a lot of the hesitation and the inaction that we're seeing from political leaders, that will have an economic cost down the road," he said, "because the virus is not going to go away."

Lujan said the first pandemic assistance program is running out of money, and added that he thinks Congress needs to approve another round of stimulus funds. He said the $3 trillion Heroes Act approved by the House addresses many of those needs.

"Increasing food assistance, SNAP benefits; housing assistance for people that are in danger of being evicted; expanding the unemployment benefits that are set to expire at the end of July," he said.

Lujan said the act also provides more Medicaid funding, money to reopen schools, and assistance to states such as Arizona, which faces a $1 billion tax revenue shortfall. But U.S. Senate leaders, so far, have refused to bring the Heroes Act up for a vote.

The report is online at azeconcenter.org, and the text of the Heroes Act is at congress.gov.

Mark Richardson, Public News Service - AZ