Census numbers tell of stagnancy and slow recovery

Today is the big day that comes each year: the release of American Community Survey figures on income and poverty.

Ready for some numbers?

Michigan’s household median income in 2013 ($48,273) was a bit higher than in 2012, but is nearly $1,000 lower than in 2009. The income bracket that grew the largest from 2009 to 2013 was the share of Michigan households who make under $10,000 a year. The only other income bracket with a significant share increase was households making more than $200,000 a year. These numbers taken together suggest that the slow economic recovery in Michigan is primarily benefiting those at higher incomes.

The 2013 poverty rate remained basically the same as the year before at 17%. Child poverty went down from 24.9% to 23.8%. While a 1 percentage point decrease is not the type of thing to make headlines, it still is a good trend.  But unfortunately, the child poverty rate remains higher than in 2009.

The percentage of renters with unaffordable rent (rent that consumes over 1/3 of household income) also improved over the past several years. In 2009, nearly 47% of renters paid more than 35% of their income for rent, and in 2013, that number was down to nearly 44%. But 44% of renters paying unaffordable rent is still too many!

One area that showed decisive improvement is in the educational level of Michigan residents over 25 years of age. The respective percentages with associate, bachelor’s and graduate degrees all significantly increased from 2009 to 2013, while the percentages with no high school diploma or only a high school diploma significantly decreased. (This is important because having a postsecondary credential is becoming increasingly important, even in trades which traditionally required only a high school diploma and on-the-job training.)

Overall, the 2013 census figures have little by way of good news or terrible news. The main story is one of stagnancy, which in Michigan’s current climate means the improvement we have been hoping for has not really happened yet.

The Michigan League for Public Policy has outlined some options that we urge policymakers to consider:

  • Restore the Michigan Earned Income Tax Credit, which helps over 1 million children in families receiving the credit in Michigan. It was cut from 20 percent of the federal credit to 6 percent of the federal credit in 2011.
  • Raise the minimum wage to a higher level than what has recently been legislated ($9.25 by 2018). Polls show strong public support for $10.10 an hour and studies show that such an increase will not hinder job growth.
  • Resist more business tax cuts that would starve education and other needed state programs that help families.
  • Return unemployment benefits to a maximum of 26 weeks to provide a safety net while unemployed workers look for work.  The Michigan Legislature cut the maximum to 20 weeks in 2011.
  • Find ways to get more food assistance to the hungry. Michigan has options to expand federal food benefits in the state.
  • Enact policies that make it easier for workers earning low wages to develop skills and obtain credentials.

– Peter Ruark

Healthcare coverage on the upswing

There is some good news out today in terms of health insurance.

The share of uninsured people in Michigan fell from 11.4% in 2012 to 11% in 2012, according to today’s Census Bureau release, with major additional improvements expected ahead due to the Affordable Care Act.

Still, more than 1 million in Michigan were without health insurance in 2013, according to the Census Bureau. That number is expected to decline dramatically as the Healthy Michigan Plan (Michigan’s Medicaid expansion), Marketplace enrollment and other provisions in the Affordable Care Act get counted in the numbers that will be released next fall.

One big driver of that will be the unexpectedly high number signing up for the Healthy Michigan Plan. In last than six months, starting April 1, nearly 386,000 uninsured adults were enrolled, well beyond the state’s year-long goal. In addition, nearly 273,000 have enrolled for health coverage through the federally facilitated Marketplace. And let’s not forget the popular Affordable Care Act provision that allowed parents to cover their adult children until age 26.

Two new studies are documenting the positive impacts already.

The Urban Institute’s Health Reform Monitoring Survey finds that states such as Michigan that have expanded Medicaid are making far greater progress in covering parents of children in low-income families than states that have not expanded Medicaid.

New data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released today also indicates a 3.8 million drop across the country in the number without health coverage in 2014, a period not yet covered in today’s census release.

Last year, Gov. Snyder and the Michigan Legislature voted to expand Medicaid, one of 27 states that have now taken that step.

As the League President & CEO Gilda Z. Jacobs said in a news release today: “This is good not only for the people getting the coverage they need, it’s also good for our state’s businesses, communities, and economy.’’

– Judy Putnam

League supports Michigan’s move to cleaner energy

The Michigan League for Public Policy has recently added clean energy as a focus area in our policy and advocacy work.

Clean energy is an important issue for the organization, as well as our state, as Michigan looks to implement Environmental Protection Agency’s policy to reduce carbon emissions nationwide. While the state has been on the way to supplying some of its electricity with renewable energy sources such as wind, solar and bioenergy with a goal to meet 10% by 2015, we need to do more.

Michigan currently has nine coal-fired electricity generating units, with health-related costs associated with emissions from these facilities totaling $1.5 billion annually. These health issues range from asthma to cancer, and heart and lung disease.

According to a 2011 study by the Michigan Environmental Council, 180 premature deaths, 680,000 cases of asthma irritations and 140 asthma emergency room visits are attributed to pollution from burning coal in Michigan every year.

People of color and those who are economically vulnerable are most likely to suffer these health complications. This is because the coal-fired power plants tend to be in neighborhoods of low- to moderate-income people, affecting those populations disproportionately.

By transitioning from coal to clean energy, we can reduce pollution and improve the health of Michiganians across the state.

On June 2, the Environmental Protection Agency proposed a common sense plan to cut carbon pollution from power plants. EPA’s proposal builds on those actions that states such as Michigan are already taking, and will maintain an affordable, reliable energy system, while cutting pollution and protecting our health and environment now and for future generations. Michigan can meet the expectations put forth in this proposal, while improving the health of its citizens by increasing our use of clean, renewable energy, such as wind and solar, as well as reducing energy waste through increased energy efficiency.

Please support clean energy by commenting in favor of this proposal. You have until Oct. 16, to do so through the EPA site. See the League’s fact sheet for more information.

– Shannon Nobles

Holy smoke Batman! We can reduce poverty

Like Batman and Robin, raising the state Earned Income Tax Credit and minimum wage are best when working together, a new report concludes.

The two strategies are better than one, according to State Income Taxes and Minimum Wages Work Best Together, by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

The dynamic duo complement one another to boost income, widen the path out of poverty and reduce income inequality.

Michigan has increased the minimum wage modestly, starting with a 75-cent an hour bump on Monday to $8.15 an hour. It will eventually go to $9.25 by 2018.

While a positive move, the motivation behind the increase was to sidestep a popular ballot initiative to take it to $10.10 an hour, index it to inflation, and eventually raise the tipped wage to that level, meaning that waiters and other tipped workers would earn the regular minimum hourly wage from employers, not count on tips to make up the difference. Polls showed the public supported the proposal, which narrowly missed the November ballot.

Michigan could and should do more. The state EITC was slashed from 20% of the federal credit to 6% of the federal credit, starting in 2012. That means that more than 1 million children living in households qualifying for the EITC have less income and more than 15,000 families fell below the poverty line because of that decision.

Restoring the state EITC and raising the minimum wage even more than planned would lift families from poverty, reward work and get our economy moving.

And holy cow! That just makes sense.

– Judy Putnam


Back to school: Are children ready to learn?

For children to succeed in school, they must go to school “ready to learn” –  rested, fed and healthy. But how many children will start the school year with a toothache or other dental problem?

According to the Department of Community Health’s 2011 -2012 Count Your Smiles survey, the number is likely pretty high. (more…)

Erratic work schedules create erratic family life

A new bill in Congress reflects growing awareness that work scheduling can make or break a family’s well-being.

It is easy for those of us who enjoy regular work hours to take for granted that we can plan our days and paychecks with stability. We know when we need to drop off or pick up our children at school activities or child care, and we can plan other important aspects of our lives—college classes, social or civic activities or even second jobs—around a predictable work schedule. We also know that we will be compensated for the same number of work hours every week. (more…)

Shooting ourselves in the foot

Michigan and the seven other states that cut unemployment benefits in the wake of the Great Recession caused financial hardship for unemployed workers and failed to boost the overall economic outlooks of the states, a new report from the Economic Policy Institute concludes.

Problems with the unemployment system actually stemmed from underfunding the state trust funds in good times, rather than paying out benefits too generously, the report concludes. And cutting benefits not only shortchanged jobless workers and their families, it undermined the countercyclical role of the unemployment system that is designed to kick in when times are tough. (more…)

Need Facts About Your County?

How much does a parent need to earn to be able to afford a two-bedroom apartment in your county? What percentage of children receive free or reduced-price lunches at school? What percent of the population in your county is Native American?

Answers to questions such as these can be found in the new, updated county fact sheets called Mapping the Facts, by the Michigan League for Public Policy. We developed these fact sheets for advocates, policymakers and concerned citizens. The sheets have been updated with the latest data available, including 2012 poverty statistics. (more…)

F for no effort: Michigan fails working families

Workplace policies have been on the minds of many over the past two years, with minimum wage and right-to-work rising to the top of debate in Michigan.

Yet, two important labor issues have not received nearly as much thought, despite their relevance to a wide number of Michiganians: paid sick days, and family and medical leave.

A new report by the National Partnership for Women and Families, Expecting Better: A State-by-State Analysis of Laws that Help New Parents, could bring this issue the attention it requires. According to the report, Michigan is one of 17 states to score an F in family-friendly workplace laws for new parents, and it is the only Great Lakes state to receive this grade. Other states in the failing grade category include Alabama and Mississippi. (more…)

If there’s a will, there’s a way

A new video and visually engaging report out today strongly makes the case for rebuilding the state’s education system, protecting Michigan’s abundant natural resources and investing in roads and our communities.

The project is called The Michigan Dream at Risk, from the Michigan Economic Center, an affiliate of Prima Civitas, a nonprofit organization that works to create resilient, adaptable communities in Michigan.

Gilda Z. Jacobs, the League’s president and CEO, and board members Charley Ballard and Bob Kleine were interviewed for the project. (more…)

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