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Cost of disparity makes economic case for equity

West Michigan Leadership Collaborative
West Michigan Leadership Collaborative

  A recent report puts a multi-billion dollar price tag on inequality in the state, and calls for action by local leaders.   

 Eric Williams is the executive director of Equity Affairs at Grand Rapids Community College, and a former city commissioner.

“One of the things we wanted to look at is, what’s the dollar cost?" Williams says. "And can we put a dollar cost on discrimination?” 

He’s one of two head researchers of a recent report highlighting the high costs of inequality.

One focus is lost economic growth.

“If we were to eliminate disparities in employment based on race, we would see – just by eliminating those disparities – the state’s GDP [gross domestic product] would increase to $452 billion,” Williams says. 

Williams says that represents a $19 billion increase to current gross state economic activity, and that’s driven by equalizing wages across races and lowering minority unemployment numbers.

The report says West Michigan’s share of that lost growth is estimated at $1.1 billion.

In short, the numbers present a business case for equity.

And in a presentation to Grand Rapids officials, Williams says real change has a real chance – if it happens at the institutional level.

“What we’re looking for is that organization, that institution, that will say, ‘this is important enough for us to spend time and strategize (for) how do we fix this’," Williams says. “Grand Rapids has the opportunity to be known nationally as the city that fixed the problem that every community in the country (is) wrestling with.” 

The report was published by the West Michigan Leadership Collaborative and its parent agency, the Michigan Department of Civil Rights.

Data was compiled through existing state, local and national research.

Funding came from a federal housing and development grant.

Hilary is a General Assignment and Enterprise reporter for WGVU Public Media. She joined WGVU in September 2014 after several years of experience as a local news reporter, anchor and photojournalist in Midland, Saginaw and Bay counties. She's also worked as a financial and business reporter and audio field producer.
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