Around the globe, Forbes magazine estimates the number of billionaires last year rose by nearly 8.1 percent to a record 2,208 individuals who collectively had a net worth of $9.1 trillion.
"The super rich continue to get richer, widening the gap between them and everyone else," Forbes magazine reported last week in releasing its annual Forbes 400 list of the richest Americans.
Nine Tennessee billionaires are among the 400 wealthiest Americans, including Chattanooga's Jeffrey Lorberbaum who amassed a fortune by building the carpet company his parents began, known as Aladdin Mills, into the world's biggest floorcovering company based in Calhoun, Ga. Lorberbam, who lives in North Chattanooga, is worth an estimated $2.4 billion.
But a handful of other Tennesseans are richer than Lorberbaum and placed higher on the Forbes 400 annual list.
Forbes estimates Tennessee's governor, Bill Haslam, is worth $2.5 billion, making him the richest of any governor or national politician in the country. Haslam didn't make his fortune in politics, where he is paid $155,000 a year as governor. Haslam's wealth reflects his family's ownership of American's biggest privately held truck stop and fuel business, Pilot Flying J, which his father started in 1958. The Haslam family sold 38.6 percent of the company last fall to Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway.
Bill Haslam's older brother, Jimmy, still runs Pilot Flying J is is worth 30 percent more than his brother, according to Forbes. Jimmy Haslam is also majority owner of the Cleveland Browns NFL franchise.
But even wealthier than Jimmy Haslam's $3.6 billion fortune are three other Tennesseans, including FedEx Founder Fred Smith of Memphis, worth an estimated $4.9 billion, and Hospital Corp. of America (HCA) co-founder Thomas First Jr. of Nashville, worth an estimated $8.1 billion. Frist is also the brother of former Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, also of Nashville.
To make the Forbes 400 list this year you had to be worth at least $2 billion. As a result, billionaires such as Forrest Preston, the Cleveland, Tenn., businessman who started Life Care Centers of America, was not on the Forbes 400 list. Forbes has estimated that Preston is worth nearly $1.5 billion.
Forbes said that Amazon Founder Jeff Bezos is the richest person in the world with a net worth of $112 billion.
Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates is the second richest person in the world with a net worth of $90 billion. Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg is the fifth richest person in the world, with a net worth of $71 billion.
Forbes said two third of those on the list of richest people are self-made billionaires.
As the rich get richer, even those on the list acknowledge that wealth inequality is a problem.
"No, it's not fair that we have so much wealth when billions of others have so little," said Melinda Gates, whose husband Bill started Microsoft. "And it's not fair that our wealth opens doors that are closed to most people."
Billionaire investor Warren Buffett has also publicly addressed the problem of wealth inequality.
"The real problem, in my view, is — this has been — the prosperity has been unbelievable for the extremely rich people," said Buffett on PBS Newshour in June.
The investor also noted that in 1982, according to Forbes, the richest 400 Americans were worth $93 billion. In 2017, Forbes tallied that group at $2.4 trillion, said Buffett.
"This has been a prosperity that's been disproportionately rewarding to the people on top," Buffett said. "The economy is doing well, but all Americans aren't doing well."
Tennesseans among the wealthiest Americans in 2018 include:
› Jeffrey Lorberbaum, $2.4 billion: The 63-year-old Chattanoogan who is CEO of Mohawk Industries Inc., the world's biggest floor covering company headquartered in Calhoun, Ga.
› Forrest Preston, 1.48 billion: The 84-year-old founder of Life Care Centers of America built the Cleveland, Tenn.-based nursing home chain into the largest privately owned senior living business in the country.
› Jimmy Haslam, $3.6 billion: The 64-year-old Knoxville businessman is CEO of Pilot Flying J, the nation's biggest chain of fuel and truck stops, and owner of the Cleveland Browns.
› Bill Haslam, $2.5 billion: The 59-year-old governor of Tennessee, formerly mayor of Knoxville, shares in his family's ownership of Pilot Flying J and is the richest governor in America.
› Thomas Frist Jr., $8.1 billion: The 79-year-old Nashvillian who founded Hospital Corp. of America with his father. He is the brother of former Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist.
› Frederick Smith, $4.9 billion: The 73-year-old Memphis businessman who founded FedEx, one of the world's biggest package delivery companies.
Other Tennesseans on the Forbes 400 list include:
› Martha Ingram, $4.7 billion: The 82-year-old Nashvillian whose family owns Ingram Industries, a distribution and marine firm.
› Brad Kelley, $2.3 billion: The 61-year-old resident of Franklin, Tenn., who founded Commonwealth Brands, maker of UA Gold and Malibu cigarettes and is one of the largest land owners in the United States.
› Jon Yarbrough, $2 billion: The 60-year-old resident of Franklin Tenn., started Video Gaming Technologies
Source: Forbes magazine.