Forrest Preston / Photography by Life Care Media Center

Tennessee and Georgia has 20 billionaires who collectively saw their wealth increase by nearly $19 billion, or nearly 29%, during the first three months of the COVID-19 pandemic shutdowns in the United States.

A new study by Americans for Tax Fairness (ATF) and the Institute for Policy Studies (IPS) said nearly all of the richest Tennesseans and Georgians grew their wealth since mid March while the economy was reeling from a huge spike in joblessness and a collapse in taxes collected.

The new report said the $4.4 million increase in wealth of Tennessee's eight richest billionaires exceeded the $2 billion state budget hole projected due to the pandemic.

This trend of billionaire wealth growth dwarfing state revenue declines is similar in nearly half the states, according to a new ATF analysis.

"It's immoral that billionaires are getting richer and richer while average Americans are treading water if they are lucky, or drowning, from the economic crash caused by the pandemic," said Frank Clemente, executive director of Americans for Tax Fairness. "Congress needs to urgently provide a major new financial aid package to ensure working families can recover and critical state and local services can keep being provided. The package should repeal the huge tax break for millionaires in the first major financial aid law and block any new tax cuts for corporations and the wealthy."

Between March 18—the rough start date of the pandemic shutdown, when most federal and state economic restrictions were in place—and June 17, the total net worth of the Tennessee's top eight billionaires rose from $24.7 billion to $29.1 billion, based on an analysis of Forbes data. In Georgia, 12 billionaires, including UTC graduate Gary Rollins and McCallie School graduate Ted Turner, collectively enjoyed a 35% gain in wealth from March to June, boosting their total wealth from $41.6 billion to nearly $56.2 billion.

Tennessee billionaires

1. Thomas Frist, Jr., founder of HCA and brother of former U.S. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, net worth rose from $7.5 billion to over $10 billion

2. Martha Ingram, chairman of Ingram Industries, net worth rose from $4.4 billion to nearly $5 billion.

3. Fred Smith, founder and CEO of FedEx, net income rose from $2.7 billion to nearly $3.4 billion

4. Jimmy Haslam, CEO of Pilot/Flying J and brother of former Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam, net worth rose from $2.7 billion to $2.78 billion

5. Brad Kelley, founder of the Commonwealth Brands tobacco company and one of the nation’s largest landowner, net worth fell from $2.4 billion to $2.36 billion.

6. Jon Yarbrough, founder of Video Gaming Technologies, net worth rose from $2.2 billion to $2.21 billion

7. Bill Haslam, former Tennessee governor and owner of part of Pilot/Flying J., net worth rose from $1.6 billion to nearly $1.7 billion.

8. Forrest Preston, founder and CEO of Life Care Centers of America, net worth rose from $1.2 billion to over $1.75 billion.

While stock values and net worth grew for billionaires since March 18 when many businesses first shut down or limited operations due to the virus, most wealthy investors suffered huge losses in the month leading up to March 18 as the stock market plunged by more than a third from Feb. 19 to March 18. The study by the liberal-leading ATF and IPS groups did not account for investment and wealth declines earlier in 2020. The stock market closed last week near the highs reached in February before the market selloff earlier this year.

Forrest Preston, the owner of Life Care Centers of America Inc, based in Cleveland, Tennessee, saw his wealth jump by 46% during the three months in the study. Thomas Frist, Jr., of HCA and Fred Smith of FedEx saw their wealth grow by 34% and 26%, respectively during the same period.

Those wealth gains came as Tennessee shed an estimated 586,000 jobs, 32,000 persons contracted the virus and 500 COVID-19 victims died.

The biggest wealth gains came for the founding family of Chick-fil-A with both Dan and Bubba Cathy more than doubling their wealth in the three-month period and adding an estimated $7.4 billion of wealth.

Forbes' annual billionaires report was published March 18, 2020, and the real-time data was collected June 17 from the Forbes website.

Over the same three-month period, the nation's 600-plus billionaires saw their combined wealth increase by $584 billion or 20%—rising from $2.948 trillion to $3.531 trillion, based on ATF's analysis of Forbes data. Meanwhile, the Federal Reserve reported that as of the week of June 10, total U.S. household wealth had shrunk by $6.5 trillion during the first three months of the pandemic.

Georgia billionaires

1. Jim Kennedy, chairman media giant Cox Enterprises, net worth rose from $7.6 billion to $8.76 billion

2 & 3. Dan Cathy and Bubba Cathy, top executives of Chick-fil-A, net worth more than doubled from $3.4 billion to $7.1 billion

4. Bernard Marcus, co founder of Home Depot, net worth rose from $4.6 billion to nearly $7.03 billion

5. Arthur Blank, co-founder of Home Depot, net worth rose from $4.6 billion to over $5.7 billion

6. Gary Rollins, a UTC graduate and CEO of Rollins Inc., net worth rose from $3.6 billion to over $4.2 billion

7. Randal Rollins, chairman of Rollins Inc., net worth rose from $3.5 billion to $4.1 billion

8. John Brown, former chairman of Stryker Corp., net worth rose from $3 billion to nearly $4.1 billion

9 & 10. Ben Chestnut and Dan Kurzios, co-founders of email marketing company Mailchimp, net worth rose for each from $2.2 billion to $2.23 billion

11. Ted Turner, McCallie School graduate and founder of Turner Broadcasting and CNN, net worth rose from $2.1 billion to $2.115

12. David Zalik, co-founder and CEO of financial technology company GreenSky, net worth rose from $1.4 billion to $1.47 billion.

Source: Forbes magazine estimates of net worth, comparing June 17 with March 18.