The 2013 KIDS COUNT Data Book released today by the Annie E. Casey Foundation ranks Michigan No. 31 among the states for overall child well-being with No. 1 the best state. This year that honor goes to New Hampshire.
Michigan not only ranks behind 30 other states, it trails all Great Lakes neighbors. Minnesota is near the top at No. 4, followed by Wisconsin (12), Illinois (23), Ohio (24) and Indiana (30).
Last year, the only year where there is an apples-to-apples comparison, Michigan was No. 32. We inched up slightly but really we’re just treading water.
Before you throw your hands up and stop reading, let’s look at what’s positive in the report. One of the biggest areas of improvement was a drop in teen and child deaths from 31 deaths per 100,000 teens in 2005 to 27 deaths per 100,000 teens in 2010.
We’ve also done a good job on covering kids with health insurance – only 4% of children go without. As employer-sponsored insurance declined over the past decade, more families turned to Medicaid or MIChild for their children.
These examples show that good public policy can have a positive impact.
So why are we behind so many other states? Examining the 16 indicators arranged by Economic Well-Being, Education, Health and Family and Community, it’s very clear poverty continues to drag Michigan down well after the Great Recession officially ended in 2009.
Consider the most troubling ranking: High-poverty neighborhoods. We ranked in the bottom 10 states at No. 43 for that indicator, which measures children living in areas where 30% of residents are in poverty. There are 350,000 children in those neighborhoods where violence and crime affect even children not growing up in poor households.
For overall Economic Well-Being, we are at No. 36, same as last year. One in every four children (25%) in Michigan lived in poverty in 2011, up from one in five (19%) in 2005. Only nine states had bigger jumps in the child poverty rates. The report sums it up this way: “Growing up in poverty is one of the greatest threats to healthy child development.”
What can we do?
For starters, we need to restore the Michigan Earned Income Tax Credit, which was cut from 20% of the federal credit to 6% in 2011. The state and federal credits literally lift children in low-income families out of poverty. Studies show a strong correlation between income boosts and good outcomes for kids.
Other actions the League supports:
• Expand eligibility for Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act to provide health care to low-income parents and individuals.
• Make training for low-skilled adults a priority in the state budget.
• Increase the minimum wage and index it to inflation.
• Add reasonable exemptions to time limits for cash assistance and lift the asset test for food assistance.
— Judy Putnam