Europe’s wealthy are falling behind – London just dropped out of the top 10 cities for very high net worth individuals

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  • A new report looks at where the very high net worth – between $5 million to $30 million – live.
  • London fell out of Wealth-X’s top 10 ranking for the first time dating back to 2004.
  • The US dominated the ranking, with seven cities in the top 10 including the top spot – New York.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

London is no longer a top-10 hub for very high net worth (VHNW) individuals.

In fact, the city’s share of VHNW individuals dropped by 16% in 2020, according to a Wealth-X’s second edition of the Very High Net Worth Handbook, which classifies VHNWs as having net worth between $5 million and $30 million.

London was knocked out of eighth place to 12th – the first time that London has been out of the top 10 since Wealth-X records dating back to 2004.

The report cites a few different factors for London’s fall down the ranks, including damages from Brexit, general pandemic economic conditions, and “poorly performing” equity markets. All was compounded by much stronger showings for the VHNW in the US and Asia.

As Insider’s Harry Robertson reported, the UK’s economy shrank by 9.9% in 2020 – the worst contraction on record as the UK fared the worst of the G7. The UK has also been particularly hard hit by the virus.

“The third major wealth region of Europe significantly underperformed its global peers, with the VHNW population declining by 7% to 623,880 individuals,” the report said.

Meanwhile, New York remained in first place, showing that a different story was unraveling across the pond. In fact, US cities represent the vast majority of the top 10 for the VHNW, with seven cities making the list. New York is holding fast to number one, and all of the US cities represented saw their VHNW populations grow.

The wealthiest Americans also saw substantial growth in 2020, with America’s billionaires adding $1.62 trillion to their wealth over the last 13 months.

On the whole, the VHNW population grew by 1.3%, amounting to a total of around 2.7 million. That’s a much smaller gain than prior years, but Wealth-X predicts a robust recovery and 1 million more VHNW individuals by 2025. Even still, the VHNW population’s total wealth rose by 1.2% to a total of $26.8 trillion.

On the other hand, a recent report from the Pew Research Center found 54 million people fell out of the global middle class, classified as those who earn about $14,600 to $29,200 a year, meaning they live on around $10 to $20 a day. A January report from Oxfam estimated that not only did 200 million to 500 million potentially fall into poverty in 2020 – it could also take a decade for the bottom to recover.

London’s drop on the VHNW list is another potential signal of its uncertain future as a financial hub, and as a home for the wealthy. In March, London saw drops in the Global Financial Centres Index, which ranks how competitive different finance hubs are. While it’s still the second top financial center, it fell over 10 points and barely ranks above Shanghai.

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One chart shows how the top 1% of Americans have grown their wealth in the last 20 years

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New Yorkers in need wait in a long line to receive free produce, dry goods, and meat at Lincoln Center on July 29, 2020.

  • The top 1% of Americans increased their wealth by $4 trillion from the end of 2019 to the end of 2020.
  • That group of households together held wealth of $38.61 trillion at the end of last year.
  • In contrast, the bottom 50% held $2.49 trillion, or 2.0% of household wealth.
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From the end of 2019 to 2020, the top 1% of Americans added just about $4 trillion to their wealth.

According to data from the Federal Reserve, the top 1% of Americans held about $34.58 trillion in the fourth quarter of 2019. By the fourth quarter of 2020, they had $38.61 trillion.

They gained just about that much in 2019 too; the top 1% had $30.35 trillion in the fourth quarter of 2018, and had $34.58 trillion by the end of 2019.

Meanwhile, the bottom 50% of Americans don’t even hold as much wealth in total as the top 1% gained in 2020. At the end of 2020, the bottom 50% had $2.49 trillion in total household wealth.

The bottom half increased their wealth by $0.47 trillion from the fourth quarter of 2019 to the fourth quarter of 2020. While that’s a far cry from the gains the top 1% saw, it’s still almost a 25% increase from the fourth quarter of 2019 to the fourth quarter of 2020.

The Federal Reserve provides data on household wealth for different groups, including broken down by wealth percentile. The following chart highlights household wealth by wealth percentile over the past two decades:

Even before 2020, household wealth did not increase much for the bottom 50%. The bottom 50% held 3.4% of wealth in the first quarter of 2000, higher than the 2.0% they held at the end of 2020.

Inequality has worsened during the pandemic

Broadly, the pandemic has seen a K-shaped recovery, where higher-income Americans see their wages and jobs grow, and lower-income Americans experience the opposite. But income inequality isn’t a new pandemic problem – as the chart shows, vast disparities existed prior to March 2020.

But low-wage and non-white workers have been continually hit the hardest throughout the pandemic. And post-pandemic prospects for low-wage workers are also murky: most of them may have to change careers, and pick up new skills to stay afloat.

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Biden is reportedly getting even more serious about taxing the wealthy

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President Joe Biden participates in a conference phone call with governors affected by a snowstorm in the Midwest and southwest Tuesday, Feb. 16, 2021, in the Oval Office of the White House.

  • Bloomberg reports that Biden is getting more serious about some taxes targeting the rich.
  • The increases come amidst growing economic disparity throughout the pandemic.
  • Capital gains, larger corporations, and high-earners could feel the impact of the hikes under talks.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

President Joe Biden is getting even more serious about raising taxes on the wealthy, according to a new Bloomberg report. It likely won’t look like a “wealth tax,” though.

Biden hasn’t said he’d enact a wealth tax like the one proposed by Sen. Elizabeth Warren, and instead he’s reportedly considering alterations to the tax code that would increase taxes on high earners without creating a brand-new tax that targets wealth.

Biden has already said that Americans making over $400,000 will see a “small to significant” tax increase. High-earning Americans could see their income taxes increase to 39%.

Now, the deputy director of the National Economic Council, David Kamin has told Bloomberg what other tax changes are currently under discussion. One is eliminating the stepped-up basis, something that Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen has already been eyeing.

That measure has to do with inheritance, and how inherited assets are valued for tax purposes. Current law lets assets that have gained value since they were originally acquired be valued at their market price and only taxed on increase from the value at the time of inheritance – not any of the prior gains.

Also under consideration, according to Bloomberg, is increasing the tax rate on capital gains, taxing them at the same rate as the income tax.

Capital gains – profits made from selling assets like stocks – are taxed differently from income once the owner has had the asset for over a year. The rates for those gains are generally lower than the income tax. Throughout his presidency, Donald Trump mostly weighed even more cuts to capital-gains tax rates. Biden’s proposal could bring the rates up to 39% for those making the most money, a far cry from rates that currently come to around 20%. Also, wealthier Americans are exactly the type of people likelier to own assets that can be sold for a capital gain.

Finally, Biden wants to raise taxes on business.

Yellen is working toward creating a global minimum corporate tax rate, under the idea that if the US can convince most other countries to set the corporate tax rate at a certain level, Biden can raise corporate taxes without fear of multinationals leaving the country.

Growing disparity has underscored the push for a tax increase

According to Bloomberg, the “administration’s intentions” have been reinforced by the K-shaped recovery taking place throughout the pandemic in which high-income Americans have seen their jobs and wages grow, while low-income Americans experience the opposite. Biden himself used the term during a 2020 presidential debate.

Throughout the pandemic, low-wage and minority workers have been hit the hardest; those low-wage jobs may also not return post-pandemic, requiring workers to learn new skills and move into different fields. On the whole, workers globally have lost $3.7 trillion in wages during the pandemic, while the world’s billionaires have added $3.9 trillion to their cumulative net worths. In the US alone, billionaires added $1.3 trillion to their net worths during the pandemic.

Biden’s $1.9 trillion stimulus did offer some relief – and increased consumer confidence – for low-income Americans. That package was passed through reconciliation, which seems to be the most likely route forward for any Democratic tax hikes.

Tax increases – and what the wealthy are (or aren’t) paying – have been a hot topic

A new report found that the top 1% of Americans are avoiding taxes more than anticipated; they’ve been failing to report about 21% of their income.

There’s also been a more targeted push by progressives to introduce a new tax on wealth. Warren introduced a new bill that would increase taxes on the top 0.05% of households. If the measure had been in place in 2020, it would have raised $114 billion from billionaires alone.

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki has said Warren and Biden share similar objectives for addressing that “those at the top are not doing their part,” but the two ultimately have different plans.

In an interview with Bloomberg, Warren praised the American Rescue Plan and Biden’s continual advocacy for it. “There is momentum now for real change, and tax policy is a critical part of that change,” she told Bloomberg.

Warren also recently Sen. Bernie Sanders and other progressive Democrats in introducing a bill that would target corporations where CEOs are at least 50 times more than the median worker. That bill could raise up to $150 billion in 10 years.

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