Pandemic-pandered billionaires leave millions impoverished by the end of the year


Drawing by Madeline Khoo.

Kaitlyn Luu, Staff Writer

Two summers ago, my family traveled to Chicago for the first time since 2019 to visit relatives on my mom’s side of the family. One day when I was idling around my grandparents’ apartment, my mom suggested we go to Vietnamese Town and get some chè, me and my sister’s favorite dessert. So we went, and as we were walking around I could hardly recognize the place because of all the closed down businesses and desolate streets that I remembered being so busy the last time I was there. But what truly struck me was the amount of beggars we came across at every corner who approached us and asked for money. There was one instance where a man actually followed us into a shop and my mom just gave him the cash so he would leave us alone. I have the privilege of living in a middle class suburb where I don’t encounter beggars very often. Growing up, I never had to worry about money, so seeing the desperation and helplessness of these people on the streets of Chicago was a real eye-opener.

Covid-19 had been around for a little more than a year at that point, and analysts were just beginning to pick up on the income inequalities derived from the pandemic. In June 2021, the International Monetary Fund reported that “it certainly seems plausible that inequality within many countries is on the increase, given evidence of rising poverty and rising billionaire incomes.” A year later in 2022, it seems that the situation has only worsened. 

According to Oxfam’s latest media brief, a million people are impoverished every 30 hours. At the same time, one billionaire is created every 33 hours. Over the span of two years, billionaires have increased their fortunes dramatically and see their assets continue to expand. It is evident that booming corporations who have capitalized on the Covid-19 crisis while millions of people struggle to get by are profiting off the suffering of the poor. 

The food and energy corporate spheres have experienced record high profits while regular people simply don’t have the means to keep up with electricity bills and put food on the table. It is estimated that “263 million people could be pushed into extreme levels of poverty this year because of COVID-19, rising global inequality, and the shock of food price rises supercharged by the war in Ukraine,” according to Oxfam. Oil, gas, and coal companies have accumulated unprecedented magnitudes of wealth and inadvertently caused famine and drought in developing countries because of their contribution to global warming. No matter how neo-liberals twist it, there is no denying the flawed system that has allowed these atrocities to destroy millions of lives while simultaneously uplifting those who possess enough capital to eliminate world hunger, cover healthcare costs, and provide universal education.

“The pandemic has created 40 new pharmaceutical billionaires, 98 profiting from the monopolies their companies hold over vaccines, treatments, tests, and personal protective equipment,” reports Oxfam. Moderna and Pfizer have gained billions of dollars in revenue from the Covid-19 vaccine, establishing the pharmaceutical sector as one of the most lucrative industries out there right now. These companies are directly responsible for the lack of accessible health care facilities because of their efforts to monopolize the vaccine by barring other countries from replicating it. They will do anything in their power to reign absolute control over these potentially life-saving remedies, remiss that it compromises the lives of millions. The people who are prioritized are the ones who lead comfortable lives, not the ones in poor countries that are barely getting by.

“Amazon has perhaps been the biggest corporate winner from the pandemic,” says Oxfam. According to the 2022 National Billionaires Report, Jeff Bezos’s net worth has increased by $76.83 billion in the last two years at the expense of overworked and underpaid laborers. Some people may view Bezos as an inspiration because of his evolution from working at McDonald’s to becoming the CEO of a trillion dollar company. But the fact of the matter is that Amazon exploits its workers in the supply chain and has violated human rights on multiple accounts.

The onslaught of poverty and the exacerbated wealth disparity on a global scale is more imminent than ever as the world borders on a foreseeable recession. As of late, there have been proposals set forth by Democrats to combat income inequality by taxing billionaires. Imposing a billionaire income tax on the top 1% of earners can create sufficient funds that will improve the quality of life for so many people. Affordable childcare, housing, and healthcare can be realized if Congress were to pass this legislation. 

Email your representatives, sign petitions, initiate discussions about this issue with the people you know. Although things may seem out of our control, it is imperative that we take action and do what we can to effect change so small businesses can thrive once again and we can see less homeless people forced onto the streets.