Many kids stuck in poverty without solutions

Contact: Judy Putnam or Jane Zehnder-Merrell, 517.487.5436

Kids Count in Mich. ranks 82 counties on child well-being

LANSING, Mich. – Too many kids in Michigan remain mired in poverty at a time when policymakers have reduced help for struggling families, according to the Kids Count in Michigan Data Book 2015 released today.

Three measures of economic conditions worsened over the trend period with nearly one in every four children living in an impoverished household, a 35 percent increase in child poverty over six years. The trend period measured from 2006 to 2012 or 2013, depending on the availability of data.

“The unraveling of family’s economic security cries out to be addressed by state leaders but what’s happened is just the opposite of what is needed,’’ said Jane Zehnder-Merrell, Kids Count in Michigan Project director at the Michigan League for Public Policy.

The state Earned Income Tax Credit was cut 70 percent in 2011. It goes to working families earning the least. (Voting ‘yes’ on the May 5 road funding proposal will restore it to 20 percent.) Other barriers are hard caps on lifetime limits for cash assistance, fewer weeks of unemployment, an asset test that limits federally funded food assistance, and child care subsidies that haven’t kept up with inflation.

“These are the tools we have to make sure a family in a crisis doesn’t spiral downward and is able to survive. The shredding of these programs is bad policy when it comes to the well-being of Michigan’s children,’’ Zehnder-Merrell said. “It’s hoped that the merger of the state departments of Community Health and Human Services will offer improved services for children and families, though budget pressures could bring more cuts.’’

In addition, Michigan in recent years eliminated financial aid grants for adults attending public colleges and universities and slashed adult education to a fraction of where it was a decade ago.

The toxic effect of poverty on children cannot be overstated. Research shows that children growing up in poor homes are more likely to drop out of school and less likely to have stable employment as adults. Boosting income in those families through such strategies as tax credits pays off with children in those families earning more and working more hours when they grow up.

More than a half-million Michigan kids lived in poverty, defined as $23,600 or less a year for a two-parent family of four. Child poverty is particularly high in communities of color where a lack of jobs and transportation has deepened economic woes. Detroit, a majority African-American city, has the highest level of concentrated poverty of the 50 largest U.S. cities, a recent report from the Annie E. Casey Foundation found.

The Kids Count report also highlights the racial inequity in access to oral health that needs to be addressed in the 2016 budget. The Healthy Kids Dental program, which provides additional payments to dentists for children on Medicaid, is in 80 counties. The three remaining counties left out of the program, Wayne, Oakland and Kent, have large populations of children of color.

That means that only 28 percent of white children eligible for Medicaid are in counties without Healthy Kids Dental compared with 63 percent of African-American children eligible for Medicaid.

“Gov. Snyder has called for the Healthy Kids Dental to be available in all communities. That needs to happen this year. Using public dollars in a way that mainly benefits white children and leaves out African American children is simply unacceptable,’’ said Gilda Z. Jacobs, president and CEO of the Michigan League for Public Policy.

Of the 15 trends in child well-being examined in the report, eight improved, five worsened, one stayed about the same and one could not be tracked over time. The report also ranks 82 of the 83 counties for overall child well-being with Livingston and Ottawa counties tied for the best rating of No. 1.

Statewide, all four education trends improved while fewer children remained in foster homes or relative care. Yet nearly 200,000 children live in families investigated for abuse or neglect, a 41 percent jump in the rate between 2006 and 2013, while nearly 34,000 were confirmed as victims of abuse or neglect.

A partner in the release of the Kids Count report, Matt Gillard, president and CEO of Michigan’sChildren, said p revention and early intervention are the keys to ensuring safety at home.

“It’s so very important that we focus on interventions that work – the earlier the better. This includes increasing evidence-based services for the most challenged families in local communities to prevent child abuse or neglect, and targeting services to vulnerable families with infants,’’ Gillard said. “A two-generation approach that helps parents get the resources and tools that they need, while at the same time supporting children, is critical.”

The Michigan Coalition for Children and Families, representing 20 child and family advocacy groups across the state, will use the report to focus on improvements to benefit children.

“This report offers communities and state level officials a treasure trove of information so they can know what’s working and what needs to be improved,’’ said Michele Strasz, chair of MCCF and the director of the Capital Area College Access Network.

More contact information: Matt Gillard, matt@michiganschildren.org, 517.488.9129 (c); Michele Strasz, programdirector@capitalareacan.org, 517.712.2014 (c).

###

Kids Count in Michigan project is part of a broad national effort to improve conditions for children and their families. Funding for the project is provided by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, the Detroit-based Skillman Foundation, Steelcase Foundation, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan Foundation, United Way for Southeastern Michigan, Battle Creek Community Foundation, Kalamazoo Community Foundation and John E. Fetzer Fund of the Kalamazoo Community Foundation.