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.

Survey highlights include:

  • Nearly one in 14 (7%) Michigan third-grade children were in need of immediate dental care for signs or symptoms of pain, infection, or swelling.
  • Over one in four Michigan third-grade children, 27.1%, have untreated dental disease.
  • Untreated dental disease was highest in the Detroit area at 41.9%, with a higher prevalence of African American, Arab, and Hispanic school children with untreated dental disease. 
  • Oral pain can impact a child’s learning, nutrition, and sleeping. Over one in nine parents of third-grade children, 11.3%, reported their child had a toothache when biting or chewing in the past six months.

Unfortunately dental caries (cavities) remain the No. 1 chronic disease in children, despite the fact they are preventable. Our children’s oral health has not been a high enough priority.  While Healthy Kids Dental will expand to Kalamazoo and Macomb counties in October, the children in Kent, Oakland and Wayne Counties will remain left out.

Third grade reading success has been in the news a lot lately with legislation under consideration to retain children in third grade if they do not demonstrate proficiency in reading. Based on the statistics from the Count Your Smiles survey, it should not be surprising that many children are unable to concentrate in school due to untreated dental disease. Research links oral health to academic performance not only from the ability to concentrate and learn, but also from the number of missed days of school due to dental issues.

The Kids Count in Michigan Data Profile 2013  provides the following snapshots for children not proficient in reading at the beginning of fourth grade for the areas not covered by Healthy Kids Dental:

  • Kent County – 27%
  • Oakland County – 24.9%
  • Wayne County – 43.7%
  • Detroit – 60.1%

As a state, we need to focus on the underlying causes that prevent children from learning to read rather than punishing the child and family. Improving the oral health of our children by expanding Healthy Kids Dental statewide would be a great place to start.

– Jan Hudson

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.

Employees who have to check their schedule every week, or even every day, do not have that predictability. Their children suffer in the process.

Take the story of Jannette, who must endure frequent and sometimes last-minute schedule changes that result in disrupted sleep, difficulty finding child care, an argument with her relatives or even a breakup with a significant other.

Jannette’s life is dictated by the whims of impersonal scheduling software that takes into account customer traffic, truck deliveries and shortstaffing, but not the needs of the employees. Many businesses that still use human schedulers also subject their employees to erratic or frequently changing work hours.

Fortunately, members of Congress, including Reps. John Conyers and Gary Peters from Michigan, have proposed legislation that addresses this problem. The Schedules That Work Act would give all workers the right to request a flexible, predictable or stable schedule. Certain categories of workers would also have the right to receive such a schedule unless an employer has bona fide business reasons to refuse the request. (More on the legislation can be found here.)

The Michigan League for Public Policy supports this legislation.  It is currently in committee in both the U.S. House and Senate, and when and whether the bills receive hearings is unclear.

To help get things moving along, please let your member of Congress and Michigan’s two U.S. Senators  know that you want workers to be able to have predictable, stable and flexible work hours. Urge them to co-sponsor the Schedules that Work Act.

(Starbucks has responded to the New York Times article, saying that it will change its scheduling practices. The Center for Law and Social Policy responds that while the Starbuck changes are a start, it is not just about Starbucks, and we need public policies that protect workers.)

– Peter Ruark

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.

In the eight states cutting benefits, African American workers made up a more disproportionate share of the long-term unemployed than African American workers in the other 42 states.

The Michigan Legislature cut the basic period of unemployment benefits from 26 weeks to 20 weeks beginning in January 2012 — even as unemployment remained high and long-term unemployment took its toll on families across the state.

In State Cuts to Jobless Benefits Did Not Help Workers or Taxpayers, EPI Research and Policy Director Josh Bivens, economist Valerie Wilson, and economic analyst Joshua Smith provide an overview of the U.S. unemployment insurance system, explain the interaction between federal and state financing of unemployment insurance, and examine the economic conditions of states that cut the duration and dollar amount of jobless benefits.

“There’s no evidence of any benefit to reducing the length or dollar amount of unemployment insurance when the economy is so weak,” said Bivens. “It’s hard to understand why states would shoot themselves in the foot like this.” (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…)

Vets lose benefits as we celebrate Fourth of July

Just as we head into one of our most patriotic celebrations of the year next week (the Fourth of July), a new estimate out shows that 285,000 unemployed veterans will lose jobless benefits by the end of June, including thousands of out-of-work vets in Michigan.

Extended benefits known as Emergency Unemployment Compensation expired Dec. 28. Congress’ failure to extend the benefits means that 1.3 million workers were cut off from unemployment benefits nationwide at the end of last year, with an additional 1.6 million exhausting their regular state benefits in the first six months of this year. Included in those numbers are nearly 300,000 jobless vets, Chad Stone, chief economist at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, estimates. (more…)

Maternal and infant risks in Michigan’s legacy cities

Roughly one of every four children in the state lives in one of Michigan’s legacy cities located across the southern half of the state’s Lower Peninsula. These legacy cities, once economic and social powerhouses, are now, in many cases, struggling with population loss and high unemployment.

Perhaps, not so surprising, risks to maternal and infant well-being are generally worse within these cities than the out-county areas in the counties where they are located.

The latest analysis of Right Start in Michigan, an annual report from Kids Count in Michigan, examines eight indicators to assess maternal and infant risks across the 15 so-called legacy cities. Only Ann Arbor, which has actually thrived in the new post-industrial economy, shows lower risk on almost all indicators than the out-county. (more…)

Mich.’s working families pay $247 million more

The numbers are in and they show that the reduction in the Michigan Earned Income Tax Credit from 20% of the federal credit to 6% has resulted in a $247 million tax increase on low-income working families.

Recently released data on the Michigan EITC for tax year 2012 from the Brookings Institution and the Michigan Department of Treasury reveal the actual EITC dollars lost for hardworking Michigan families. (more…)

A Mother’s Day minimum wage story

Imagine being a single mother, working full time and still living in poverty. Imagine losing your job after calling for a higher minimum wage so you can earn enough to care for your children.

That’s what happened to Donyetta Hill, a hardworking mom to three children who, prior to finding work as an organizer for ROC-Michigan, was working full time at a fast food franchise in Detroit.

Donyetta’s wage was exactly the state’s minimum of $7.40 an hour, or just $1,184 monthly before taxes. This amount left her unable to put food on the table without assistance, and pay rent or other bills on time. (more…)

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