- Only five of the United States’ 607 billionaires are African American, Forbes’ Billionaires List shows.
- All five of the billionaires on this list are self-made, although their sources of wealth range from finance to technology to entertainment.
- The lack of diversity in the three-comma club highlights the growing wealth gap between black and white Americans.
It’s not easy for anyone to become a billionaire in America, but it’s likely even harder if you’re black.
Only five of the United States’ 607 billionaires are African American, Forbes’ Billionaires List shows. The staggeringly low number of American billionaires that identify as being of African descent highlights the widening chasm between the economic opportunities afforded to black and white Americans.
In 1992, the median net worth of white families was $100,000 above that of black families, according to McKinsey. By 2016, the median white family was $152,000 wealthier than its black counterpart. During that period, the median wealth of white families grew over $50,000, McKinsey reports, but the median wealth of black families did not grow at all in real terms.
The diversity problem among the world’s wealthiest people isn’t just an American one. Only 13 of the 2,153 people on Forbes’ 2019 billionaires list are black, the magazine reported. In 2018, that number was 11.
Keep reading to learn more about America’s black billionaires, in the order of their net worths.
5. Jay-Z grew the proceeds from his music career into a billion-dollar fortune with smart investments.
Net worth: $1 billion
Source of wealth: music, investments
Shawn Carter, better known as Jay-Z, may be hip hop’s first billionaire, but he didn’t make his fortune off his music career alone. Carter pocketed approximately $500 million from his 14 No. 1 albums before taxes, but a large portion of his wealth comes from his business ventures, according to Forbes. He founded a clothing line that he sold to Iconix for $204 million in 2007 and co-owns cognac brand D’Ussé, in addition to owning music streaming service Tidal.
Jay-Z bought Tidal for $56 million in 2015. In 2017, Sprint bought a 33% stake in the company for $200 million, which put the company’s valuation at $600 million. Jay-Z’s stake in the company is now worth $100 million, according to Forbes.
Jay-Z also has a private art collection worth $70 million, a stake in Uber worth $70 million, and he owns $50 million in real estate, Forbes reported.
4. Michael Jordan used his success as a basketball player to build a best-selling footwear brand.
Net worth: $1.9 billion
Source of wealth: sports, endorsements
Jordan, 56, is the highest-paid athlete of all time, but not because of his salary from the Chicago Bulls. Jordan earned $1.4 billion before taxes from corporate sponsorships during his professional basketball career. His film debut, “Space Jam,” also earned $250 million at the worldwide box office, according to IMDB.
He went on to purchase an NBA team, The Charlotte Hornets, in 2010. The Hornets may be the third least-valuable NBA franchise according to Forbes, but the team’s valuation at $1.05 billion is still a major part of Jordan’s wealth. Jordan has also made a lot of money from Nike’s Air Jordan line, which made him a billionaire in 2015, according to CNN Business.
3. Oprah Winfrey made a multimillion-dollar fortune from her media empire.
Net worth: $2.7 billion
Source of wealth: media
Born to a single mother in rural Mississippi, Winfrey started out as a news anchor before spending 25 years hosting “The Oprah Winfrey Show.” The investments Winfrey made with her share of the show’s profits are now worth about $2 billion, Forbes estimates. She became a billionaire in 2003, according to the Los Angeles Times.
Winfrey, now 66, also leveraged her show’s success to build a media empire and amassed a fortune of $2.6 billion in the process, according to Forbes. She owns 25.5% of her television network OWN, an 8% stake in WW International, and has a content creation deal with Apple TV+.
Oprah has also voiced characters in “Charlotte’s Web,” “The Bee Movie,” and “The Princess and the Frog,” in addition to starring in “Lee Daniels’ The Butler” and “Selma,” among others, according to The Oprah Magazine.
2. David Steward built his fortune running an IT service provider that counts Citi, Verizon, and the federal government as clients.
Net worth: $3.5 billion
Source of wealth: information technology services
Steward founded World Wide Technology, an IT services company that has generated over $11 billion in sales, according to Forbes. Steward, 68, serves as the company’s chairman. The Missouri-based billionaire still has a majority stake in the company
1. Investor Robert F. Smith is the richest black man in the country.
Net worth: $5 billion
Source of wealth: private equity
A Cornell graduate and former Goldman Sachs executive, Smith built his multibillion-dollar fortune running private equity firm Vista Equity Partners, Business Insider previously reported. Vista is one of the most successful private equity firms in the nation, with more than $46 billion in assets and posting annualized returns of 22%.
Smith became the first African American to sign The Giving Pledgein 2017, an invitation-only alliance of billionaires who have pledged to give away the majority of their fortunes. Smith is perhaps best known for his philanthropy. In May, he announced a $34 million giftto pay off the student loans of Morehouse College’s class of 2019 while speaking during the historically black college’s graduation ceremony. Smith later expanded the gift to cover the graduates’ parents’ educational debt.