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Meijer and DeVos got richer while West Michigan poverty increased

September 22, 2011

Today, MLive reported that Fred Meijer and Richard DeVos are tied for 60th place on the Forbes 400 richest people in the US.

Besides listing other rich people on the list from Michigan, MLive reporter Chris Knape echoes the message from both Meijer and DeVos about how they made their wealth. Meijer, because he practices “higher standards, lower prices,” and DeVos because of his “international multi-level marketing business in his basement.”

The article did have useful data, since it reported that DeVos’ wealth had increase by 43% since 2007 and Meijer’ wealth went up 150% during the same period of time. Both, according to Forbes are worth $5 Billion.

These substantial increases in their wealth raise numerous questions, which the Press writer doesn’t pursue. One question might be how has the federal and state tax structures benefited these obscenely rich men? Citizens for Tax Justice note in a recent fact sheet that corporations pay well below the amount of taxes they should be paying because of the current federal tax structure. We all know what kind of tax cuts for businesses have taken place in Michigan in 2011, with the elimination of the business tax legislation.

Another question, which could be asked by journalists, would be how both DeVos and Meijer were able to increase their wealth at 43 and 150 percent respectively during a major global economic crisis? Some Meijer employees are unionized, but that union has made significant concessions in recent years on wages and benefits. Amway isn’t unionized and isn’t likely to unionize since the DeVos family has been rabidly anti-union from the beginning of their pyramid scheme business.

Maybe the most important question to ask about the $5 billion dollars that DeVos and Meijer are worth is how one can reconcile this increase in wealth during a period when more people in Michigan are living in poverty?

According to a 2010 report by the Brookings Institute, poverty in the Grand Rapids area increased 8.9% between 2000 – 2008. The same report shows that the percentage of the population living in poverty in the Grand Rapids area went from 15.7 in 2000, to 22.7 in 2007 and 24.7 in 2008. This would mean that one quarter of the people living in this area are living in poverty.

This increase in poverty is just as bad for children. According to the Michigan League for Human Services children living in poverty increased 19.4 in 2008 to 22.1 in 2009.

Considering that one quarter of the population in the Grand Rapids area are living in poverty and having to rely on some form of assistance, the announcement that Meijer and DeVos are both now worth $5 Billion dollars should cause us to question how that is possible.

My own experience in Latin America is that the poor to not celebrate and idolize the rich. In fact, they see the rich oligarchies as the source of their misery. Here in West Michigan, Fred Meijer and Richard DeVos are labeled as generous philanthropists that everyone should be grateful for. This is a stunning achievement of class warfare being conducted by the wealthy elite, when working class people think fondly of the local robber barons. However, as long as MLive and the other local commercial news media continue to celebrate such individuals, the possibility of developing a class-consciousness amongst working people will be a difficult task.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. kswheeler permalink
    September 22, 2011 10:47 pm

    Jeff, I also was appalled to see this report. A 43% increase in net worth, let alone a 150% one, is stunning considering that the economic fate of the vast majority of people in this area is in a downward spiral.

    It certainly underscores the inanity of the conservative argument that the more money we give to capitalists in tax breaks, the more jobs they will add and that’s how to “turn the economy around.” These greedy bastards have no intention of turning the economy around, just making themselves the emperors of the global economy on the suffering of the majority.

    And two of the largest employers in Michigan have fattened their coffers while unemployment in Michigan continues to get worse. In 2006, the state’s “official” unemployment rate was about 7 percent; today it is between 11 and 12 percent. So all those tax breaks didn’t help the working class, even though tax cuts for capitalists is still being touted as the only solution to the current “economic crisis.”

    Meanwhile, we’ve only got a week to go before 40,000 people here lose their last lifeline–welfare–thanks to Snyder’s policies to break the poor and wring blood out of the bled-out poor.

    The so-called economic crisis is not one that DeVos, Meijer, Van Andel, or Rick Snyder share with the rest of us. Thanks, they’re doing just fine….in fact, better than ever.


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