From the average Joe to the most bloated fat cat, Americans have more money. But the richest are a lot richer and their ranks have swelled by nearly a third.
The 1996 annual ranking of the 400 wealthiest Americans by Forbes magazine includes a record 121 billionaires, 27 more than last year. The ranking appears in the magazine's Oct. 14 issue, released Sunday.
Bill Gates and Warren Buffett again lead the list with a combined fortune between them of $33.5 billion. That's nearly as much as President Clinton's proposed tax break to help middle-class parents pay for their children's college education.
The Forbes ranking came as the Census Bureau reported that Americans' earning power increased last year for the first time in six years, reducing the number of poor as wages climbed faster than inflation.
But while regular folks' salaries inched up, the coffers of the rich have ballooned, helped by the stock market's extended rally and the American fervor for computers, phones and the Internet.
For the first time, the average net worth of the Forbes 400 exceeds $1 billion.
Longtime multimillionaires in businesses such as finance, retail, oil and real estate remain on the list, joined this year by many fresh faces.
Kenneth Tuchman, a 36-year-old entrepreneur now worth $1 billion through his telephone marketing company TeleTech Holdings Inc., and Joseph Liemandt, a 28-year-old self-made software developer worth $500 million, are two of the 43 new entrants.
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The Wealthiest of America's Wealthy
Here are the 10 richest Americans as ranked by Forbes magazine. Dollar figures are estimated net worth.
1. William Henry Gates III; Bellevue, Wash.; $18.5 billion
2. Warren Edward Buffett; Omaha; $15 billion
3. Paul Gardner Allen; Mercer Island, Wash.; $7.5 billion
4. John Werner Kluge; Charlottesville, Va.; $7.2 billion
5. Lawrence Joseph Ellison; Atherton, Calif.; $6 billion
6. Philip Hampson Knight; Portland, Ore.; $5.3 billion
7. Jim C. Walton; Bentonville, Ark.; $4.8 billion
8. John T. Walton; Durango, Colo.; $4.8 billion
9. Alice L. Walton; Rogers, Ark.; $4.7 billion
10. Helen Walton; Bentonville, Ark.; $4.7 billion