Forbes 400: The richest get richer, but Bill is still on top

Forbes richest 400: The members of the Forbes 400 list of the richest US citizens increased their total net worth to $2.02 trillion this year, even as the rest of the population stagnates financially. Microsoft founder Bill Gates topped the Forbes 400 for the 20th straight year. 

Aftab Alam Siddiqui/AP/File
Microsoft founder and philanthropist Bill Gates and his wife Melinda Gates attend to a child as they meet with members of the Mushar community at Jamsot Village near Patna, India, in 2011. For the 20th straight year, Mr. Gates is at the top of the Forbes 400 list of the wealthiest Americans, released Monday, Sept. 16, 2013.

The wealthiest Americans got even wealthier in 2013, by a lot. The 2013 Forbes 400 List, released today, found that the 400 richest US citizens increased their combined net worth to $2.02 trillion this year, up $300 billion from 1.7 trillion in 2012.  That’s an all-time record, and, according to Forbes, is about the same as the gross domestic product of Russia. The minimum net worth needed to make the Forbes 400 list was $1.3 billion – the highest since 2008 and a figure that kept 61 American billionaires off the list entirely.

Only 30 members of the Forbes 400 saw their net worth fall over the past year; 314 members of the list saw their wealth grow.

The ballooning wealth wasn’t the only change this year: 20 newcomers made the list, including online sports merchandise retailer Fanatics founder Michael Rubin and Ubiquiti Networks founder Robert Pera. Another Silicon Valley billionaire, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, increased his wealth by $9.6 billion and shot back into the top 20 after being ranked 36 last year.

The two biggest gainers in terms of percentage were David Duffield (ranked 65th ), co-founder and CEO of Workday, and Elon Musk (ranked 61st ), founder of Tesla Motors. Both men nearly tripled their wealth last year.

But the top of the list, for the most part, looks familiar. Microsoft founder Bill Gates was the richest person in America for the 20th straight year, a year in which he also reclaimed the title of the world’s wealthiest man from Mexican tycoon Carlos Slim. His net worth is $72 billion, according to the list. Behind Mr. Gates, once again, was Warren Buffet, chairman of Berkshire Hathaway. His net worth is listed at $58.5 billion, and he had the single-biggest dollar gain of anyone on the list – $12.5 billion. Oracle founder Larry Ellison was third with $41 billion, and the Koch brothers, Charles and David, tied for fourth. Spots six through nine belonged to the Waltons, heirs to the Wal-Mart fortune. New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg rounded out the top 10.

If this year’s Forbes 400 list makes you feel especially pauper-like, you have good reason, because the income gap is also growing. The income gap between the top 1 percent and the bottom 99 percent of US earners is the widest it’s been in nearly a century, according to a study released last week. A joint analysis of Internal Revenue Service data by economists at University of California at Berkeley, the Paris School of Economics, and Oxford University found that the top 1 percent (defined as families making $394,00 or more in 2012) has grown its income 86.1 percent since 1993, while the 99 percent grew its income only 1.1 percent. The study also found that the Great Recession, which sent stock prices and real estate values plunging, hit the 1 percenters harder than the rest, but they also recovered more quickly. That group’s incomes grew 31 percent between 2009 and 2012, while the 99 percent's grew 0.4 percent.

"This implies that the top 1% incomes captured just over two-thirds of the overall economic growth of real incomes per family over the period 1993-2012," UC Berkeley economist Emmanuel Saez wrote in the study. He told the Associated Press last week: "We need to decide as a society whether this increase in income inequality is efficient and acceptable."

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