Buoyed in part by a strong stock market, the 400 wealthiest Americans delivered yet another record-breaking year. The minimum net worth needed to join this elite club climbed to $2.1 billion, $100 million more than last year and the highest to date. The group’s total net worth rose to $2.9 trillion, a record high and 7% more than in 2017. The average net worth of a list member: $7.2 billion, up from $6.7 billion last year. That average is boosted by those at the very top of the list: half of the total wealth is held by the 45 richest people in the country.
For the first time since 1994, there is a new No. 1: Amazon.com founder and CEO Jeff Bezos, who broke Bill Gates’ 24 year run at the top. Bezos is also the first person to appear in the ranks with a fortune of more than $100 billion –he clocked in at $160 billion. Bezos was also the biggest gainer on this year’s list: his fortune rose $78.5 billion since last year, thanks to the more than 100% runup in the price of Amazon stock, the biggest one year gain since we’ve been tracking fortunes. Gates, now ranked No. 2, trails Bezos by a notable $63 billion. The top 10 richest on the list are together worth nearly $730 billion, up from $610 billion in 2017. At these lofty heights, more than a third of the nation’s billionaires, a record 204, weren’t wealthy enough to crack the club.
The biggest gainer in percentage terms is Jack Dorsey, the CEO of Twitter and payments firm Square. His fortune jumped a staggering 186% from last year to $6.3 billion, propelled primarily by a runup in Square’s stock price.
The biggest loser versus last year’s list was George Soros, whose net worth fell to $8.3 billion this year from $23 billion. The reason: in late 2017, Forbes learned that Soros had shifted $18 billion of his fortune to his charitable Open Society Foundations. (Forbes does not count assets in charitable foundations as part of someone’s net worth.)
Amazon garnered praise for raising the minimum wage for its hourly workers to $15 yesterday, but the widely-publicized move also came at the expense of monthly bonuses and stock options. The company explained its decision to shift to a new stock purchase program in the announcement blog post yesterday, citing that hourly employees preferred the “predictability and immediacy of cash to RSUs,” or restricted stock units, but the post doesn’t mention the loss of monthly incentives, which Bloomberg reported earlier today.
Several Amazon warehouse employees have criticized the move, stating they would actually be losing thousands in incentive pay. Currently, warehouse workers get two shares of Amazon stock when they’re hired ($1,952.76 per share as of writing), and an additional stock option each year. After the changes take effect, the RSU program will be phased out for stocks that vest in 2020 and 2021, and it will be replaced with a direct stock purchase plan by the end of next year.
An Amazon warehouse worker told The Verge via email that the news was devastating to fulfillment employees, many of whom depend on their RSU and VCP (variable compensation pay, a performance-based monthly bonus program) incentives on top of their hourly wages. VCP incentives, which are dependent on good attendance and hitting productivity targets, could get Amazon workers an 8 percent monthly bonus, and a 16 percent bonus during the peak November and December seasons.
Amazon workers have been responding to Sen. Bernie Sanders’ tweet praising the minimum wage raise, citing that on November 1st, many workers will have their paychecks cut, not raised.