Workers Lost Income Over the Pandemic While Arizona Billionaires’ Wealth Soared to New Heights

headshots of Arte Moreno, Bob Parsons, Joe Shoen, and Ernie Garcia III over top 100 dollar bills

Arte Moreno (Photo by Kiyoshi Mio/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images), Bob Parsons (Photo by Frazer Harrison/Getty Images for Celebrity Fight Night), Joe Shoen (AP Photo/Jeff Robbins), Ernest Garcia III (Creative Commons/Gage Skidmore)

By Lorraine Longhi

October 8, 2021

More than 20% of Arizona’s residents were collecting unemployment benefits last summer.

Arizona’s 11 billionaires saw their collective wealth more than double over the last 17 months, accumulating a combined $35.4 billion, according to a new report from Americans for Tax Fairness.

The report, released last week by Arizona advocacy groups Progress Arizona and Living United for Change in Arizona (LUCHA), comes as billionaires around the country saw their wealth grow to unprecedented levels while many Americans were laid off, furloughed, or otherwise unable to work amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

The report analyzed data from Forbes, which tracked billionaire wealth in March 2020 and August 2021.

In the US, overall billionaire wealth grew by 62% during the pandemic, or $1.8 trillion, according to the report. Since March of last year, Arizona billionaires saw their wealth grow by 161% through August.

The Arizona billionaires on the list include:

  • Ernest Garcia II, the owner of DriveTime
  • Garcia’s son, Ernest C. Garcia III, the CEO of Carvana
  • Brothers Mark and Joe Shoen, sons of U-Haul founder Leonard Shoen
  • Los Angeles Angels owner Arte Moreno
  • Bob Parsons, founder of GoDaddy

In January, workers worldwide had lost $3.7 trillion in income, according to the International Labour Organization. Around the same time, billionaires’ wealth had increased by $3.9 trillion worldwide.

More than 20% of Arizona’s residents were collecting unemployment benefits last summer, but the state is also nearing full recovery of jobs lost in the pandemic, according to The Arizona Republic

RELATED: Arizona Paid Out $16 Billion in Unemployment Over the Pandemic. Scammers Got Nearly 30% of It.

As of Friday, more than 20,300 people have died in the state from deaths related to COVID-19 since the start of the pandemic.

Abigail Jackson, the federal communications coordinator for Progress Arizona, said in a press release that it was time for Arizona’s billionaires and large corporations to pay their fair share in taxes.

“It’s time that lawmakers prioritize working people by rewarding work not wealth and closing huge tax loopholes,” Jackson wrote. 

Raising Taxes For Spending

America’s wealthiest residents don’t pay taxes on assets like stock and property, even as the value of those assets skyrocket. An investigation by nonprofit newsroom ProPublica found earlier this year that the richest 25 people in America paid a true tax rate of 3.4% between 2014 and 2018.

In Arizona, Gov. Doug Ducey recently passed a flat tax that would reduce every resident’s income tax to 2.5%, chiefly benefiting the state’s wealthiest residents. 

But opposition to the tax cut has arisen from education advocates, who say it would gut Proposition 208, a voter-approved tax hike on the state’s wealthiest residents that was meant to generate millions in education funding.

“The governor and the legislature decided to undercut the will of the voters…and further rob our children by passing tax handouts for the wealthy, at the expense of our kids,” Raquel Memani, an organizer and board member for Save Our Schools Arizona, said at a news conference last week where education groups turned in signatures to refer the tax cuts to voters.

But Jackson, with Progress Arizona, also called attention to federal legislation that could benefit from tax hikes on the rich.

RELATED: Opinion: Proposed Credit Card Changes will Harm the Latino Community

President Joe Biden’s Build Back Better Act, a spending plan currently making its way through Congress, would fund two free years of community college, extend the expanded child tax credit for parents, expand Medicare, and cut prescription drug costs. The plan would be paid for by raising taxes on Americans making more than $400,000 a year.

The plan has seen support from progressive Democrats in Congress, but some moderate Democrats have voiced their opposition, including Arizona’s Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, who has cited the cost and the prescription drug reforms.

Arizona’s senior senator’s lack of support for the proposal has prompted several confrontations with activists over the last three days: Organizers from LUCHA followed Sinema into an Arizona State University bathroom to firmly reiterate their support for the plan, while other protesters have confronted Sinema on an airplane and in an airport encouraging her to support the legislation.

Jackson said last week in a Progress Arizona press release that the Build Back Better Agenda “levels the playing field.”

““That plan will invest $3.5 trillion in working families and our communities by making the rich and corporations pay their fair share of taxes,” she wrote. “It will provide the funding we need to create thousands of good-paying jobs in Arizona and help people afford healthcare, eldercare, childcare, education, housing and more.”

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