Economic recovery leaves Michigan children behind

Added July 21st, 2015 by Alicia Guevara Warren | Email This Entry Email This Entry
Alicia Guevara Warren

Michigan is the “comeback state,” so we’ve heard. But, for whom? Michigan has more children living in poverty now than it did in the last full year of the Great Recession. Not only that, but since 2008, there are more children whose parents lack secure employment and more children living in concentrated poverty. Children and families in Michigan are being left behind in the economic recovery.

According to the new 2015 Kids Count Data Book from the Annie E. Casey Foundation, Michigan’s ranking in overall child well-being has fallen for the second straight year. The state now ranks 33rd in the country overall, while other states that have chosen to invest in programs that support economic growth and people are doing better, like Minnesota, which ranks first in the country for overall child well-being.

The report, which focuses on key trends in child well-being in the post-recession years, ranks Michigan in four domains:

  • Education: 37th
  • Economic well-being: 33rd
  • Family and community: 29th
  • Health: 23rd

It is clear that the strategy to reduce taxes and disinvest in programs that support families has not worked. Even after significant tax breaks for corporations, parents are still struggling to find good-paying and stable jobs to achieve financial security for themselves and their children. The data book reveals that the number of children with parents without secure employment increased to 33%. That is a rate increase of 6% since the last year of the Great Recession and ranks Michigan in the bottom third of states.

We also continue to have an unacceptable number of children living in poverty and a widening economic gap between white children and children of color. The data book reports that the child poverty rate in Michigan increased by 26% with nearly one in every four children living in poverty, including nearly one in every two African American children and almost one in every three Latino children. Also startling is the increasing number of children living in high-poverty neighborhoods. The rate increased by 21%.

Given the impact that poverty has on educational outcomes, it isn’t surprising that the state’s lowest ranking is in education. The number of students considered not proficient in math and reading stagnated over the period in the data book. These trends occurred at the same time that the state made cuts in education spending. Although, in the upcoming budget year, over $31 million has been dedicated to initiatives and programs to improve third-grade reading, including some funding for early childhood investments—critical to long-term outcomes.

The state has had some substantial wins in children’s health since the Great Recession, such as a continued reduction in the number of kids without insurance, the number of teen births, and the number of teens using alcohol and drugs. However, these gains are overshadowed by the large number of kids living in poverty and poor educational outcomes.

If we are really to help children in our state thrive, we need to understand the importance of providing parents with the tools and support they need. Taking a two-generation approach is a proven practice to improve outcomes for children by ensuring that parents have access to opportunities like adult education, higher-wage jobs with benefits, and quality affordable child care. We also need a fair tax system that includes the state Earned Income Tax Credit, a proven poverty reduction tool. And, we need to continue strong investments in early childhood programs to ensure that kids are ready to learn by the time they get to school.

 — Alicia Guevara Warren

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