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Inequality in Michigan is business as usual: Labor Day Part I

August 31, 2018

As we approach Labor Day 2018, it is always important for us to pause for a moment and look at the realities of the economy in Michigan.

We constantly hear in the commercial news media, from the business press and from politicians that the economy is doing well and has recovered from the 2007-2008 crash. We are also reminded by the capitalist class in West Michigan that the economy is strong and that those with tremendous wealth are working to make the economy even stronger.

However, the question we should always ask is for whom is the economy strong……..who benefits? In 2016, we reported that Grand Rapids had the largest wealth gap of any city in Michigan. It that report we documented that there were 600 millionaires in Kent County alone. The one percent class continues to grow daily, with the wealth gap growing at an unprecedented level. The new graphic below, shows by state, how much money one needs to make to be part of the one percent class.

In Michigan, according to this data/graph, you need earn $918,000 to be part of the one percent class. In West Michigan, we know the names of some of these one percenters, like DeVos, Van Andel, Secchia, Jandernoa, Kennedy, Hunting, etc, which also happens to be the class of people who spend a great deal of their time working to influence public policy, through groups like the West Michigan Policy Forum. 

In contrast, there are huge sectors of the population across the state and right here in West Michigan, who are struggling to stay alive. According to a new report from Prosperity Now, 29.2% of Michigan households live in poverty and 49.4% of renters in Michigan are cost burdened.

The national trend isn’t much better. According to the Kids Count national data, as you can see in the graphic here on the right, millions of families are experiencing poverty while the wealth gap continues to grow.

This dynamic of family and child poverty disproportionately impacts communities of color, with African American, Native American and Latino/Latinx communities suffering the worst of the wealth gap. The data below comes from the 2018 Kids Count report.

In Michigan, the data for children living in poverty, especially children from communities of color, demonstrates the deep racism and white supremacy that permeates the structural realities for millions across the state. (see graphic on the right)

This data is disturbing, but we have to come to terms with the fact that it is the result of how policy works and how it benefits the one percenters in this state. This wealth gap, with so few having so much, with so many having so little, is by design.

Those who craft policy, who contribute the most to political campaigns and who are part of the one percent class, benefit from the poverty of families and children, especially families and children from communities of color.

There are the occasional news reports about this kind of poverty and the structural racism that is part of it, but those few stories are drowned out by the constant celebration of new market rate housing developments, the new breweries, the new restaurants, the ongoing development stories and the stories about the benevolence of the one percent class “who give us so much.”

Make no mistake about it, there is a class war going on and the one percent class, the business class, the capitalist class is winning……………but it doesn’t have to remain that way. In Part II of our Labor Day series, we’ll look at the status of unions in Michigan and how we need to imagine a different strategy for working class families.

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