Wouldn’t it be great if all the children in Michigan lived in communities with great schools, quality medical care and safe outdoor places to play?
Unfortunately one of every seven of the state’s children doesn’t.
They live in communities where almost one-third of the population subsists on income below the poverty level ($17,000 for a family of three and $22,000 for a family of four), according to an analysis by the KIDS COUNT project at the Annie E. Casey Foundation.
Even if their own family has income above the poverty level, children living in such areas are more likely to suffer from harmful stress and severe behavioral and emotional problems than children overall. Living in a community where so many people lack income to cover their basic needs has a ripple effect on the quality of life for everyone there.
Over the last decade, as unemployment persisted and poverty encompassed more state residents, more Michigan children found themselves in such communities. Between 2000 and 2006-10, the number of children affected jumped by 124,000—a number equal to the entire population of first graders in the state. Overall 341,000 children in the state lived in high-poverty areas.
Among the Great Lakes states Michigan has the largest percentage of children living in high-poverty communities—nearly triple that of Minnesota (5%). In fact, among the 50 states Michigan ranks 44th (with No. 1 being the best or lowest rate) on this indicator, and the state rate (14%) is well above the national average (11%).
Even more troubling, two of every three Detroit children live in such areas. Among the 50 largest cities in the nation, Detroit has the largest percentage of children living in high-poverty neighborhoods; its percentage of children affected (67%) is 10 percentage points above the next worst city, Cleveland (57%). Roughly 146,000 Detroit children are growing up in areas of concentrated poverty.
But concentrated poverty in Michigan does not occur only in Detroit and Wayne County. Eight other counties had at least 20 percent of their children living in high-poverty communities—and half of those counties were in northern Michigan and the Upper Peninsula.
So what are state and local policymakers doing to address this issue? Certainly Gov. Rick Snyder’s proposal to promote regional transportation in southeast Michigan would provide more opportunities for employment and education to those in areas of concentrated poverty. In Fiscal Year 2012, however, state policymakers have intensified economic insecurity for many low-income families by making substantial cuts to work supports such as the child care subsidy and the Earned Income Tax Credit at the same time as Michigan families struggle with eroding wages and job opportunities and rising costs for transportation and rental housing.
The Casey report recommends a number of approaches to address concentrated poverty. Among them:
— Promoting mixed-income communities combining physical revitalization with human capital development
— Leveraging anchor institutions, such as hospitals and universities, to provide employment for area residents
— Advancing federal and state policies that support work, asset building and employment
— Connecting neighborhood improvements to citywide and regional efforts
— Increasing access to affordable housing in low-poverty communities.
Shouldn’t all children have the opportunity to live in a supportive community with adequate resources? Should place dictate fate in a democratic state? If we believe in equal opportunity for all children, why are we not having serious conversations about the growing numbers of children living in concentrated poverty and the strategies to address the issue? If we need an educated workforce for our economic recovery, why is it not a priority that more children in the state have what they need to become successful learners, earners and citizens?
— Jane Zehnder-Merrell