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Grand Rapids has the largest wealth gap of any city in Michigan

July 7, 2016

Recently, the Economic policy Institute published a new report on income inequality in the US and found that Grand Rapids has the largest gap between the richest people in the community and the poorest. 

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However, none of the West Michigan news media chose to run a story about the wealth gap in Grand Rapids. WDET radio in southeast Michigan did produce a story about the new report and interviewed the head of the Grand Rapids Urban League. 

The link to this story provides a summary of the interview with Joe Jones (GR Urban League) and Karen Holcomb-Merrill with the Michigan League for Public Policy. However, we encourage our readers to click on the audio file at the top of the link page, since the full interview is worth listening to.

What the text version of the story doesn’t share is that Joe Jones acknowledges that Grand Rapids is a highly gentrified community. The Michigan League for Public Policy spokesperson also stated that one reason why Grand Rapids made the top of the list in Michigan for income inequality is because the top 1% in Grand Rapids is making more than top 1% in Detroit.

Karen Holcomb-Merrill goes on to say that there are clear policy decisions that have been made in recent years that impact income inequality, such as a regressive tax structure that benefits the wealthy and the earned income tax credit has been reduced. Joe Jones said that the reduction in the Earned Income Tax Credit has particularly been devastating in communities of color, with 52% for blacks and 31% for Latinos unemployment in certain neighborhoods.

Who are the wealthiest people in Grand Rapids?

It is difficult to find out exactly how much the wealthiest people in the area are worth, since many of them do not like to reveal this information to the public.

We do know, based on the Forbes list of wealthiest people, that Hank & Doug Meijer are worth $8.2 billion and Richard DeVos is worth $4.7 billion.

In addition to these billionaires, we know that data from the Michigan Department of Treasury’s tax filings shows that when comparing 2010 to 2014, the number of millionaires in Kent County increased from 407 in 2010, to 600 in 2014. 

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Other people in Grand Rapids who are part of the millionaire plus club are:

Dick & Betsy DeVos

Dan & Pam DeVos

Doug & Maria DeVos

Steve Van AndelScreen Shot 2016-07-07 at 1.11.35 AM

David Van Andel

Pete Secchia

Michael Jandernoa

Sam Cummings

Scott Wierda

John Kennedy

Blake W. Krueger

Interestingly enough, many of these same people are not only amongst the richest in Grand Rapids, thus contributing to greater income inequality, they are part of the larger power structure that makes policy decisions or at least influences those same decisions in Grand Rapids, Kent County and at the state level.

Many of the people listed here are part of groups like the West Michigan Policy Forum, which has helped to push through legislation in recent years that made Michigan a Right to Work state and change the tax structure to benefit themselves.

Some of these millionaires and billionaires have contributed hundreds of thousands or millions of dollars to political campaigns to make sure that state legislators pass laws that support their political agenda or benefit their own economic interests. 

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So the next time the news media proclaims these people as great philanthropists, just remember that their wealth is directly contributing to greater income inequality in Grand Rapids.

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