Child poverty in the 21st century

The number of Michigan children living in families with income below the poverty level drops by half when tax and non-cash benefits are included as income, according to the latest analysis from the national KIDS COUNT project at the Annie E. Casey Foundation.

The percentage of the state’s children who would be living in poverty if no government program benefits and tax credits were available, however, stood at 30 percent, as calculated by the Supplemental Poverty Measure.

This new measure, implemented in 2011 by the U.S. Census Bureau, was created after decades of research and recommendations from a National Academy of Sciences panel. The updated SPM not only adjusts for income but also for the variation in cost of living and work-related expenses, unlike the traditional poverty measure created over 50 years ago.

While 341,000 children in the state live in families lifted above the poverty level as calculated by the SPM, 339,000 remain in families with income inadequate to meet basic needs. Some may live in families ineligible for food assistance because of the state’s new asset test or those denied cash assistance due to redefined time limits that ignore the restrictive realities of low-wage work with unpredictable schedules and no benefits.

Child poverty undermines all aspects of child well-being, physical and mental health, safety and education.  Similar to the traditional poverty measure, the SPM shows that Latino and African-American children experience roughly triple the risk of poverty as their white counterparts.

Given the capacity of government interventions to lift families above poverty, state and federal policymakers who are concerned about improving educational achievement and workforce skills for the 21st century should be looking at ways to extend such benefits to more families and children, not reduce access.

In Michigan family savings must be depleted below $5,000 for family eligibility for food assistance, and the months that families receive as little as $10 cash assistance now count against the 48-month limit.  The eligibility level for the state child care subsidy and the hourly amount have not been adjusted for inflation in over two decades, severely limiting child care options for low-income families.

The SPM provides valuable information about the effectiveness and limitations of government investments in the next generation and its capacity to address the inequities of place and race.

 – Jane Zehnder-Merrell

Why kids count

Recent news reports celebrate the decline in the unemployment rate and the quickened tempo of the recovery. But four years into the recovery, Michigan’s child poverty rates remain consistently high.

In 2013, one of every four children in Michigan lived in a family with income below the federal poverty level (roughly $18,800 for a single-parent family of three and $23,600 for a two-parent family of four), according to the latest Kids Count in Michigan Data Book, released today.

It’s not just the economy that results in these high levels of child poverty. State and federal policies shape the social and economic environment in our communities. Full-time minimum wage yearly earnings at the level passed last year by the Michigan Legislature ($8.15 an hour) leaves a family of three almost $2,000 below the poverty level and a family of four by almost $7,000. Proposals to raise the federal minimum wage to $10.10 an hour would at least lift a family of three above the 2013 poverty level.

The over half-million Michigan children living in financially strapped families are likely to face severe disadvantages not only during childhood but also during adulthood, as documented by a substantial body of research. Children who spend extended periods in poverty are more likely to be troubled by poor health and to attain minimal education as adults. They will not be equipped to fill the jobs that require postsecondary skills and training.

The 2015 Kids Count report highlights the problem areas for children and suggests state policy changes. For example, strengthening the safety net programs, including Food Assistance Program and the child care subsidy, would shield children from some the economic impact of the sluggish recovery.

Voting ‘yes’ May 5 on the road funding package will trigger the reinstatement of  the state Earned Income Tax Credit to 20% of the federal credit, which will help more than 1 million Michigan children in working families.

State policies are currently restricting, rather than expanding, access to families in need. Increased access to the child care subsidy would help both children and parents. A recent survey revealed that one of every eight parents in Michigan’s low-income families with young children reported changing, quitting or not taking a job due to child care constraints.

High-quality child care enhances child development during the critical early years so why would we curtail access by depressing the payment structure to roughly half the market rate in the state’s child care subsidy program? We want parents to work to support their families but low-wage workers can ill afford the average monthly cost of roughly $500 for full-time child care for a preschooler in Michigan. It represents over 40% of gross earnings from a full-time minimum wage job.

As Michigan retools for the 21st century, it will need to count on the next generation, and their future depends on their well-being today.

– Jane Zehnder-Merrell

‘Yes’ on road funding is right direction

From the League’s First Tuesday newsletter
Sign up for the newsletter, enews and alerts 

It’s a pivotal time for Michigan public policy. Decisions made in the next few months will determine the path Michigan takes into the future.

In three short months, voters on May 5 will decide Proposal 1, the road funding package. There’s no doubt that this is Michigan’s single best chance to raise sorely needed money to pay for road repairs and put new dollars into school classrooms all while protecting families earning the least.

A ‘yes’ vote on May 5 would end the era of delaying needed road repairs or paying for them with borrowed dollars. All with a penny sales tax increase. The sales tax increase to 7 cents will put Michigan in the middle of the pack of states — the same as Indiana’s.

For working families earning the least in Michigan, the penny tax will be offset by a full restoration of the state Earned Income Tax Credit to 20% of the federal credit.

The EITC is the best tool we have to reward work and lift families from poverty. More than 1 million Michigan children will benefit. What a win-win!

Also, this month, on Feb. 11, Gov. Snyder will unveil his executive budget, offering both challenges and opportunities.

The governor, in his State of the State address, announced the merger of the Department of Community Health and the Department of Human Services to a new Department of Health and Human Services under the leadership of Nick Lyon, the director of DCH and interim director of DHS.

At DCH, Lyon continued impressive strides in implementing the Healthy Michigan Plan so that a half-million previously uninsured or underinsured adults in Michigan get wellness care and care when they are sick.

Lyon has kept the League and other advocates informed about the merger and he seems sincere in efforts to help Michigan families and children. I pledge to work with him to find solutions that will make a positive difference in the lives of Michigan’s economically vulnerable kids and adults.

As the new department works to streamline programs with a “people first” rather than a “programs first” approach, we’ll monitor with this principle in mind: True efficiency must be found in making sure services match the needs of families rather than measuring success by the number of kids and adults dropped from programs.

In addition, there will be strong pressure to cut programs as the deep business tax cuts from 2011 resulted in revenue shortfalls that are now apparent.

Next year, business tax revenue is projected to contribute a small share (8.3%) of Michigan’s General Fund — the state’s main checking account that covers public safety, higher education, healthcare and other needed services.

That’s a far, far cry from two decades ago when business revenue contributed nearly a third (29%) of the General Fund. To succeed, businesses need those public services, and it’s a reminder, once again, that business tax cuts do not grow the economy.

So buckle your seat belts as we head into 2015 public policy debates! It’s going to be a bumpy ride. The League will keep you informed of developments, and we hope you will be engaged in these important decisions ahead.

– Gilda Z. Jacobs

Happy 40th Birthday, EITC!

Today is EITC Awareness Day, and this year marks the 40th anniversary of the widely recognized tool that lifts millions of working families and children out of poverty each year. States have the opportunity to build on the federal credit, which Michigan does. However, in 2011 the state’s Earned Income Tax Credit was cut leaving behind over 15,000 families in poverty in 2012. On May 5, the voters will have the opportunity to restore the credit by supporting an increase in the sales tax by one penny.

The Michigan EITC is only available to families who have earned income from working. The credit ensures that working families are better able to make ends meet. When combined with the federal EITC, working families are lifted out of poverty and children experience better outcomes, such as improved infant and maternal health; better school performance; greater college enrollment; increased work and earnings in the next generation; and Social Security retirement benefits. All of which also benefit Michigan’s economy.

The EITC works to reduce the amount of taxes paid to help struggling families keep more of what they earn. However, when the state EITC was cut by 70% low-income workers experienced a significant tax increase and fewer families were able to move out of poverty. The restoration of the state EITC back to 20% will help these families, who include over 1 million children.

In May, voters will have the ability to do this. By supporting an increase in the state’s sales tax by one penny, people in Michigan will be able to help reduce poverty all while voting to reform and increase funding to fix our roads. As we recognize the 40 years of evidence backing the EITC, let’s spread the word about how we can strengthen it!

–Alicia Guevara Warren

 

Restoring the Michigan EITC Will Help Working Families

 

The Michigan Earned Income Tax Credit is one of the most effective tools for supporting working families and reducing poverty. Michigan lawmakers approved restoration of the state EITC to 20%, if voters approve the penny sales tax increase on May 5 to pay for needed road repairs and to support schools.

The Michigan EITC was cut by 70% as a result of major tax changes that took place in 2011. The Michigan Legislature and Gov. Snyder reduced Michigan’s EITC from 20% of the federal EITC to 6%. Most EITC recipients claim the credit only temporarily when a job disruption or other significant event reduces their income. A recent study found that, of people who received the EITC over an 18-year period, 61% received the credit for only one or two years at a time. The EITC has also been shown to have a long-lasting, positive effect on children, helping them do better and go farther in school. The EITC also increases work effort and expands Michigan’s economy.

The EITC provides working families with additional options for housing, child care, and transportation so that the family can remain in the labor force and take steps toward self-sufficiency. Restoring the EITC to 20% will lift an estimated 15,000 families above poverty and lessen the impact of poverty on 800,000 families, including more than 1 million children.

 

 

Celebrating good public policy in Michigan

Restoring the Earned Income Tax Credit, part of the bipartisan compromise on road funding approved early today, will be a boost to struggling families across Michigan.

If voters agree to the package, it will put extra dollars into working households where families have the hardest time making ends meet. It’s designed to offset additional costs from an increase in the state sales tax and wholesale gas tax to pay to fix Michigan’s battered roads. (more…)

Oh Michigan!

From the First Tuesday newsletter
Sign up for the newsletter and e-alerts 

‘O’ stands for October — and it also stands for Opportunity.

With just a few short weeks before the Nov. 4 election, now is your best chance as a concerned Michigan citizen to make a difference. (more…)

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. (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…)

A stronger Michigan economy is within reach

Yes we can grow Michigan’s economy, create good jobs and expand opportunities for all Michiganians with the right public policy decisions. A new report by Erica Williams at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities outlines how policymakers can make that happen.

Williams explains that states need to invest adequately in education, healthcare, transportation and workforce development. And in order to do that, they need to make decisions about how to raise and spend revenues with an eye toward the future. (more…)

Next Page »