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A Year of Billionaire Pandemic Gains: Reimagining Hank & Doug Meijer’s Wealth

March 31, 2021

Last week, the Institute for Policy Studies published a new report entitled, A Year of Billionaire Pandemic Gains.

The report is full of data and numbers on how much money the billionaire class has profited over the past year, a year that saw over a million die from COVID and millions struggle under the economic, social and health conditions created because of the pandemic.

More importantly, as this new report demonstrates, the pandemic exposed the ugliness, the utter cruelty of the economic system of Capitalism. How is it, that so few could profit so much during the pandemic? But here is the thing, Capitalism will continue to benefit the super rich, even after the pandemic, because that is the nature of Capitalism, particularly in this Neoliberal age of Capitalism.

Here are highlights from the last 12 months of billionaire wealth growth:

  • The combined wealth of the nation’s 657 billionaires increased more than $1.3 trillion, or 44.6%, since the pandemic lockdowns began. [Master Table] Over those same 12 months, more than 29 million Americans contracted the virus and more than 535,000 died from it. As billionaire wealth soared over, almost 80 million lost work between March 21, 2020, and 20, 2021, and 18 million were collecting unemployment on Feb. 27, 2021.
  • There are 43 newly minted billionaires since the beginning of the pandemic, when there were 614. A number of new billionaires joined the list after initial public offerings (IPOs) of stock in companies such as Airbnb, DoorDash, and Snowflake.
  • The increase in the combined wealth of the 15 billionaires with the greatest growth in absolute wealth was $563 billion or 82%. [Table 1] The wealth growth of just these 15 represents over 40% of the wealth growth among all billionaires. Topping the list are Elon Musk ($137.5 billion richer, 559%), Jeff Bezos ($65 billion, 58%) and Mark Zuckerberg ($47 billion, 86%).

According to the data provided in this new report from the Institute for Policy Studies, there are 7 Billionaires living in Michigan. The billionaire in Michigan who profited the most during the pandemic so far is Dan Gilbert. Gilbert is the owner of Quicken Loans, which capitalized on cloistered citizens tapping online financing, plus Gilbert is a major player in the massive gentrification of Detroit. His wealth during the pandemic grew from $6.5 Billion to $41.7 Billion, which was a 642% increase.

We have a few of those 7 Michigan Billionaires right here in West Michigan. The DeVos family is collectively worth billions, but because of the way they hide their wealth it is hard to determine what their total collective wealth is, especially since Richard & Helen DeVos are now deceased. 

However, we do know how much the Meijer family is worth. According to the data from the Institute for Policy Studies, Hank & Doug Meijer’s wealth went from $10.2 Billion at the beginning of the pandemic to $12.6 Billion today. This means that Hank & Doug Meijer’s wealth increased by 23.5% in just one year. 

Now, starting pay for a grocery store clerk is $10 an hour at Meijer and these workers have been considered front line and essential workers in the past 12 months. Do you think that the lives of Hank and Doug Meijer would have been negatively impacted at all if they paid these workers $20 an hour as a starting wage? If a Meijer essential worker was making $20 an hour at 40 hours a week, they would make $45,000 a year. So, if we took the $2.4 billion that the Meijer brothers made during the pandemic and divided it by  $45,000, we would get 53,333. This means that Hank & Doug Meijer could have employed 53,333 store workers at $20 an hour/40 hours a week.

Of course, Meijer does not even have 53,333 store employees, so let’s double the salary once again to $40 an hour. This would mean that a Meijer store clerk, which we have been calling an essential worker for the past 12 months, would make $90,000 a year. With the $2.4 billion that Hank & Doug Meijer made during the pandemic, they could pay 26,666 employees earning $40 an hour for 40 hours a week. Again, I doubt that Meijer employees that many store workers, but you get the point. The wealth of people like Hank & Doug Meijer, which has increased by $2.4 Billion during the pandemic, is always about exploitation and it is always about policy. Let’s organize and demand more!

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