Thanks to tax cuts, large budget shortfalls loom in North Carolina

Eric Figueroa

Eric Figueroa

Lawmakers often look at what is happening in other states to determine what Michigan should do. Over the last year, lawmakers repeatedly talked about—and even tried—rolling back our state income tax because of what other states do. Unfortunately, policymakers often don’t learn the lessons from other states, and continue to nick away at our state taxes, putting at risk funding for our schools, our roads and our communities. Just recently, the Michigan Legislature passed what amounts to a token tax cut to families but will have dramatic impacts on our state budget, economy and the vitality of our communities for years to come. Policymakers need to instead look at what happened to states like Kansas and North Carolina when they made drastic tax cuts, learn from their mistake, and say enough. This guest blog from Eric Figueroa, a senior policy analyst with the national Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, explains why.

By Eric Figueroa, Senior Policy Analyst, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities

Tax cut proponents claim that North Carolina’s tax cutting is a model for other states looking to boost their economies, but the state has not performed particularly well economically compared to its neighbors since the tax cuts took effect and those cuts have put North Carolina on a path to serious fiscal instability.

North Carolina since 2013 has enacted tax cuts that will cost $3.5 billion a year, or 15% of the state’s General Fund budget, once they take full effect in 2019. This massive revenue loss has yet to cause budget shortfalls, mainly because the tax cuts aren’t yet fully in effect, the governor and Legislature have left funding for schools and other services well below their levels before the Great Recession hit a decade ago, and the economy is relatively healthy. But large shortfalls loom in North Carolina’s future.

The Legislature’s budget experts project that the state will avoid shortfalls through the upcoming 2019 fiscal year, but will face major fiscal challenges after that, when more of the tax cuts are scheduled to kick in even as funding needs for schools and other services continue to rise. They project that North Carolina will face a structural shortfall of $1.2 billion in 2020, rising to $1.4 billion two years later. (See chart.)


CBPP NC Budget Graphic 400x353

Faced with such large shortfalls, the state will have a choice: cut funding for state services such as schools, healthcare, and transportation projects, or reverse course and repeal the tax cuts. (The state also could draw on “rainy day” funds, but those funds—which require a supermajority in the Legislature to access—are a one-time source of revenue that the state will need when the next recession hits and state revenues fall as a result.) Funding cuts would be particularly painful because the state already has deeply cut funding for core services. For example, state per-student funding for K-12 and higher education is down 7.9 percent and 15.9 percent, respectively, in inflation-adjusted terms since the Great Recession. The funding cuts have made it very hard for North Carolina to improve its low teacher pay and low per-pupil spending, and reverse sharp increases in college tuition.

Kansas, which like North Carolina faced large budget shortfalls after enacting deep income tax cuts, reversed course last year, repealing major parts of the earlier tax cuts in hopes of restoring fiscal stability.

Click on the following links for other recent posts explaining how North Carolina’s tax cuts:

— Eric Figueroa

Political theory meets practical public policy

Spike Dearing

Spike Dearing

First off, I know what you’re probably thinking: “there’s no way Spike is his actual name.” While I cannot fault you for thinking that (it is a rather odd, if not interesting name) it does in fact appear on my legal birth certificate (as a middle name, Jack is my first, but how can I not go by Spike, right?).

While my family now lives in East Lansing, I spent the majority of my childhood growing up in Denver, Colorado. What that means of course is that I spent most of my free time in the mountains hiking about, and enjoying the fantastic Tex-Mex food of the Southwest. Interestingly enough, I prefer the warmth of an indoor batting cage to the cold of a snow-covered slope, so I actually didn’t spend much time at all skiing or snowboarding. Hopefully that doesn’t discredit me as a Coloradan.

Upon moving to East Lansing and shortly thereafter graduating from East Lansing High, I enrolled in Michigan State University and chose to major within James Madison College. Currently, I am a junior, and my particular field of study is Political Theory and Constitutional Democracy. I am highly fascinated by the Constitution, the founding of our country, and the age-old debates of State vs. Federal authority, the role of civic participation in a democratic republic, the constant issues of class, and others, all pertinent at the conception of our nation and even now, as I write this blog.

Beyond my historicalMI Capitol and MI Flag and philosophical interests (which are numerous, and I love to discuss and debate these with anyone who is at all intrigued), I realize the importance and practicality of understanding policy, and the current political landscape. My knowledge of policy had been somewhat limited until debates really ramped up in early 2017 as the GOP set off on their first attempt to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act. The press coverage surrounding the event caught my attention, as I’m sure it did for many, but what I got from CNN, the New York Times or the Washington Post wasn’t enough for me; I wanted to critically comprehend the elements regarding healthcare, and why it was such a divisive issue.

While the argument as to whether or not the government should have a role in determining the healthcare of individuals is extremely important from an ideological standpoint, I knew that I needed to know more about why costs were so high, the quality of the care, who was going to be adversely affected should the Individual Mandate be repealed, the state of the healthcare market, and why, in the wealthiest and most technologically advanced country in the world, there was an uninsured rate higher than any other developed nation.

My drive to learn and create a strong foundation rooted in a mixture of philosophy, ideology and strong policy knowledge, plus a little nudging from my friend and fellow Madison student Lorenzo, has led me here, to the League. I am incredibly excited to be a part of this team, to learn from everyone, and to contribute to the fantastic body of work of this organization.

With that longwinded introduction out of the way (thanks, James Madison), I’m ready and eager to get to work with the rest of the League and its partners and supporters, and am thankful for the warm welcome and exciting opportunity.

— Spike Dearing

Wishing for the stork to bring some common sense

Having recently returned to work following maternity leave, I’ve been reflecting on my experience with pregnancy, childbirth and clumsily learning how to care for my now five-month-old baby. Humans aren’t delivered by storks and we don’t spring from our parents’ heads as fully formed adults capable of caring for ourselves, but the attitudes shaping this country’s policies surrounding pregnancy, childbirth and newborn care often seem to be based on ancient mythology and silly stories parents tell their kids to avoid awkward conversations about sex.

Sadly, these misguided notions have been invoked as justification to repeal the Affordable Care Act (ACA), as the law’s critics have asserted that men can’t get pregnant and pregnancy is not a disease (although before the ACA’s enactment, insurance companies could consider pregnancy a pre-existing condition warranting higher premium charges and deductibles if not outright denial of coverage).

Despite not experiencing any of the scary complications that can occur during the nondisease of pregnancy, I’m befuddled by a prevailing mindset that discourages prenatal coverage as a standard element of health insurance and paid leave time for new mothers and fathers. This attitude certainly isn’t conducive to good health for children, parents or families.

Some have suggested that the ACA’s requirement that insurance policies sold on the healthcare exchange cover obstetric care constitutes special coverage unfairly given to women at men’s expense. However, every single one of us, regardless of sex, exists because someone with a uterus carried us for months and then gave birth through a usually long, painful and sometimes traumatic process (which, in the United States, is shamefully often threatening to health and life). That some of the insurance premiums paid by people who will never become pregnant ultimately cover expenses associated with pregnancy, childbirth and postnatal care isn’t an injustice, it’s just paying it forward.

In waiting until age 37 to have a child, I’ve heard countless lectures about how selfish it is to be childless by choice and that we all have a duty to procreate for various reasons (all of them ironically selfish). But when it comes time to pay for it, human reproduction is suddenly viewed as an extraordinary burden to employers, other insurance subscribers and society at large rather than the natural process by which every one of us comes into this world.

Yes, healthcare for pregnant people, fetuses and newborns is expensive (as is healthcare for all other humans in the United States), and accommodating absences for new parents presents challenges to employers and coworkers. But it doesn’t look like nature will be changing the way our species perpetuates itself anytime soon–there’s no reason to single out pregnancy and childbirth from other naturally occurring health conditions, so we might as well learn to deal with them in ways that don’t cause further losses to society.

Family LeaveToday, my daughter is healthy and happy, largely because we have insurance that covered most of the costs, my employer provides paid parental leave and is accommodating of my family’s needs, and we could afford for my husband to take an extended unpaid leave along with me. But many American families aren’t so fortunate.

Families with low incomes, families of color and single parents have the least access to so many of the supports that save lives and strengthen families and are then cruelly stereotyped as inferior, while white, middle-class, married couples who are more likely to have robust insurance coverage, access to high-quality health providers and paid leave benefits are admonished to have more children so as to maintain an adequate population of “people like us”.

Historically, the stork has been revered as a sign of good fortune, even enjoying special protection in some cultures. Why don’t we show such regard for the actual human bearers and nurturers of children? A society that claims to value children’s lives must also value their parents’ lives, especially during the early years when so much crucial development takes place, and reflect this value in its policies related to health and family.

— Julie Cassidy

Personalizing politics: Putting narratives at the forefront

Lorenzo Santavicca

Lorenzo Santavicca

At a time when we are more connected by online profiles and other technological means of communication, an unintended consequence is that we have become increasingly disconnected in listening and empathizing with one another in person. Many of our politics today—both in Lansing and Washington—are undercutting values that are a cornerstone to our democracy: listening to each other in the process of lawmaking.

By invitation, I recently participated in an inaugural summit called the “Intercollegiate Diversity Congress at the University of Southern California’s Shoah Foundation. I attended in my capacity as Student Body President at Michigan State University. Dedicated to indexing testimonies in our world history, the Foundation currently has stocked more than 55,000 video testimonies, a bulk of them that particularly expound on the Holocaust and the Rwandan Genocide. The Foundation’s work in compiling these stories serves as a powerful reminder that we all have a story to tell and a narrative that we live. Our stories cannot be taken away from us, nor invalidated by someone else’s poor policy proposals in a position of political power.

The summit hosted over 20 student leaders from around the country to brainstorm and strategize how we can foster a better culture of active listening with one another and the power of storytelling that follows. Most importantly, we discussed what it means to arrive at disagreement in dialogue in a civil manner, which is especially important in these polarizing times. I could not be more thankful to have been a part of this conference, considering our desperate societal need to reach out and listen to our peers, whether we agree with them or not.

League intern and MSU Student Body President Lorenzo Santavicca joins other members of the Intercollegiate Diversity Congress

League intern and MSU Student Body President Lorenzo Santavicca joins other members of the Intercollegiate Diversity Congress

Through my work at the Michigan League for Public Policy, I have already seen the power of storytelling influencing the ways in which policy faces scrutiny, feedback, and even an end without moving on through the legislative process. A notable example is the consistent measures taken by Congress to repeal the Affordable Care Act. Our ability to push back on the efforts of repealing healthcare through Congress was largely surrounded by discourse by fellow Americans on how the changes would affect their personal health, or someone they loved.

Another challenge to our society, but seemingly less controversial than healthcare, is jobs. One of the participants of the conference was a student leader from West Virginia University. His sentiments during a session of the conference referenced the stereotypes about coal jobs in his home state. While he mentioned that West Virginia largely supported President Donald Trump because of his unwavering support of the coal industry, he indicated that many individuals have expressed interest to find other jobs outside of the coal industry. However, due to a lack of education and other employers for the state, many of these workers are limited to believe their working potential is strictly within the coal industry.

It seemed to be that individuals in his state were largely fooled by politicians to believe that the best route forward continues to be in the coal industry, even at a time when China and other world superpowers are pulling back from this age-old natural resource. Though Michigan’s industries are different from West Virginia’s, we, too, face challenges in job growth. Specifically with respect to Michigan’s economy, we continue to see a need for greater state support to fund our higher education programs that encourage more individuals to obtain higher diplomas and degrees.

As individuals, we must continue personalizing our politics, and understand that every decision taken by elected officials will affect someone else differently. If we’re able to better understand and listen to the needs of voices, like blue collar laborers who are led to believe their industry is going to survive beyond generations, or the ones that are living on food assistance and face threats from the state with little funding support going forward, we might be able to make a change to support the overall well-being for our state’s economy.

— Lorenzo Santavicca, Intern

My favorite kind of bagels are “Keep Fighting” bagels

I’m no newbie to late nights (that often turned into early mornings) watching legislation be written, debated and voted on. During my four years working in the Michigan Legislature, I saw countless hastily written amendments being put up for votes, short fuses getting the best of everyone, and even chants of “Shame! Shame!” being shouted at the majority party reminiscent of an episode of Game of Thrones after they refused to let members speak.

So when I heard that the U.S. Senate was expecting a long night trying to pass their latest version of the Affordable Care Act, I settled in.

I’ll admit when the evening started, I figured it was a done deal. As the Senate began debate, the months we had spent fighting against efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act and the healthcare millions of Michiganians depend on were definitely hanging in the balance.

At around 1 a.m., the Twitterverse was going crazy. Things had stalled—votes weren’t being taken, reporters were analyzing body language and many people started predicting that things were not going well for the Majority Leader. Then in dramatic fashion, Sen. John McCain joined Senators Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski (who had been publicly outspoken about the repeal attempts) in opposition to what was considered the Senate’s last ditch effort to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act. At 2:30 a.m., I emailed my co-workers in celebration and headed to bed.

The next morning, I thought we needed to celebrate. I stopped at my favorite downtown Lansing bagel shop for bagels. It was there I ran into a friend and told him about my “celebration bagels,” but he reminded me that they should actually just be “relief bagels.” And he was right because the fight to protect all the gains made through enactment of the Affordable Care Act was and is not over.image2

In recent weeks, President Donald Trump has threatened to withhold cost-sharing reduction (CSR) payments and to stifle efforts to enroll people in the ACA exchanges during open enrollment. The Congressional Budget Office recently released a report on the impact of terminating cost-sharing reductions. Cost-sharing reductions are paid to insurers to cover costs of a requirement in the Affordable Care Act that requires them to offer plans with reduced deductibles, co-payments, and other forms of cost-sharing to individuals purchasing plans on the healthcare exchanges. The report found that by not continuing these payments the federal deficit would increase by $194 billion by 2026, would drive insurers to exit the marketplaces, and would cause premiums to increase by 20% in 2018 and 25% in 2020.

We are happy to report that President Trump has decided to fund these payments for the month of August. We encourage Congress to make a permanent, mandatory appropriation to ensure full funding of CSR payments in order to stabilize the marketplace and erase much uncertainty in the insurance market.

There is also word out of Washington that Senators Bill Cassidy and Lindsey Graham are working with the White House to push their plan to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act. The Cassidy-Graham plan continues many of the same flaws in the previous Senate and House Republican repeal and replace bills—and would have the same damaging consequences.

As an advocate, I get it—it’s been a long eight months and we are all exhausted. We are fighting battles on every corner. But it is important for us to remember why we do this work. Incredible work has already been done and it’s okay that we celebrate the little victories, but the next bagel you buy better be a “keep fighting” bagel, because as Congress returns to work next week, so will we.

Emily Schwarzkopf


A better budget for all Michiganians

From the First Tuesday newsletter
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In our world, “winning” isn’t clear-cut. There’s no finish line, no time limit, no line judges, and certainly no landslides. Our victories are determined not by a final score, but by a day-to-day analysis of how Michiganians are impacted by policies and programs. And when the state budget bills were passed by the Michigan Legislature in late June, they included several victories for us and the people we’re fighting for.

diversity 428x200Though we still have concerns about certain elements of the final budget, we are pleased that this budget was largely created with the well-being of Michigan residents in mind.

Food Security

One of our most important policy priorities is that of food security, and the new budget certainly earns solid marks in that area. A major goal of the League this year has been to support “heat and eat” to secure additional food assistance for hundreds of thousands of Michigan families, seniors and people with disabilities. Seeing this program funded is reassuring. The budget contains support for other valuable food programs, including “double-up food bucks” in Flint, which helps residents who receive food assistance make their dollars go further when purchasing fruits and vegetables that help combat the effects of lead exposure.

We had hopes that the Legislature would fund the Corner Store initiative, which provides grants to small food retailers, allowing them to make fresh, nutritious foods available in low- and moderate-income areas. However, we are grateful for the acknowledgment that this is an important program and hope that funding becomes available for it in the future. Another positive point in the healthy foods column is funding for farmers markets to purchase wireless equipment, allowing them to accept Bridge Cards.

Child Care and Education

Child care is another big focus of the League’s, not just due to the learning environment it provides for kids but because of the significant expense and concern it means for most parents. The final budget includes $8.4 million in state general funds and $19.4 million total to increase child care provider reimbursements—paving the way for more access to higher-quality care for families with low incomes. In addition, $5.5 million in federal funding from the Child Care Development Fund is appropriated to increase the entry eligibility level from 125% to 130%of poverty.

The expansion of At-Risk funding for students in struggling families is encouraging, as is the increase in per-pupil funding, particularly at the high school level. While the increase is not yet on par with inflation, it is certainly a move in the right direction. Another gain is the Legislature’s decision to increase funding for the Pathways to Potential program, which places ‘success coaches’ in schools to identify barriers faced by students and their families. This important program—left out of an earlier budget draft—will help students access important services, and the League commends Gov. Rick Snyder for recommending its expansion.


The decision to continue funding the Healthy Michigan Plan is a positive for all Michiganians—especially the 670,000 residents who rely on the plan for healthcare.

Department of Corrections

We are pleased that the Residential Alternative to Prison program was expanded. It provides low-risk probation violators an opportunity to avoid going to prison and instead enter a residential program in which they receive occupational training and cognitive behavioral programming. The budget not only continues this program in Wayne County, but adds $1.5 million to replicate it in 13 counties on the west side of the state.

Federal Cuts Loom

Unfortunately, the gains made in this budget could be undone by the senseless and insensitive policies being considered in Washington. If the Trump budget or the U.S. Senate’s Better Care Reconciliation Act (BCRA) are passed, the people of our state will lose many valuable resources and benefits. These federal cuts and program eliminations would dramatically shift costs to our state budget and force the Michigan Legislature to make cuts of their own.

While we celebrate the victories in the 2018 state budget, we urge you to take action against these proposals that would undo the good progress we’ve made. Please keep up the pressure in the fight against the repeal of the Affordable Care Act and the elimination of the highly successful Healthy Michigan Plan. And if you haven’t already, please contact your members of Congress and tell them you strongly oppose the Trump budget and its historically harmful cuts to the services our residents depend on.

Our success in the state budget process shows the power of persistence and advocacy. We will continue to put that same energy into policy work at the federal level, and we hope you will, too.

— Gilda Z. Jacobs

Helping women helps children

I’ve always been interested in how our society treats women. Women are impacted negatively in almost every sphere of their lives: social, personal, economic, professional. Women are less likely than men to be in the labor force, and more likely to live in poverty. And it’s even worse for women of color who face a number of institutional barriers.

Lately, we’ve been hearing a lot about how women are affected in policy: maternity leave and child care policies in the Trump budget that benefits the rich, the American Health Care Act’s negative affect on women, access to equal pay … and the list goes on. All of these policies that impact women usually have consequences—positive and negative—for our children. If women can’t afford healthcare, housing and basic necessities, it’s often children who suffer. We can only work to help our children through the equal support of their mothers.

Kids mom brushing teethData shows that a family’s struggles are a child’s struggles. In Michigan, 22% of our children are in poverty, 54% of third graders aren’t reading proficient, 9.1% have dropped out of high school and 15% live in households that were food insecure in the past year. The average median income for Michigan families with children is $61,600, and for Black/African-American households that number is less than half: $27,200. Ten percent of children live in extreme poverty, and 24% of Black/African-American children experience extreme poverty. All of these factors of children’s well-being are directly influenced by parents’ economic standing.

Parents often face significant obstacles in their daily lives. And when families can’t afford to provide food or buy school lunches, don’t have reliable forms of transportation, or have to work multiple jobs during teacher office hours, students experience challenges outside their control.

If you want to help children, you have to help the people in charge of them: parents. And often in cases of poverty, their mothers. Fifty-two percent of Michigan children living in one-parent (mother) households are in poverty.

Women and families need to be fully supported if they’re going to be successful and if we’re going to have a successful society. Our government needs to accept responsibility for better supporting our families and our children.

My experience as a woman, and as a child in a household with income instability, pushed me towards policy and political science, because disadvantaged and vulnerable people need to be heard in our world and our culture. I couldn’t ask for a better place to work. The League works tirelessly to improve the economic security of those living in Michigan, and to improve the lives of children.

To take care of children we must take care of their families.

As a new member of the League, this is why I do the work that I do. As a data lover, I hope to help inform work that improves the lives of kids, mothers and all families in Michigan.

— Harriet McTigue

CREC yourself before you wreck yourself

“CREC yourself before you wreck yourself.” For the last 11 years, I have been trying to slip that joke into my work in the Legislature and now the League. And I had an epiphany yesterday that I might finally be able to do it…as long as I put my own name on it.

I also need to give it a proper explanation, as there’s probably a small sliver of people who know what CREC is AND get 90s Ice Cube lyrics. CREC stands for Consensus Revenue Estimating Conference. Held in January and May of every year, CREC is comprised of the directors of the House and Senate Fiscal Agencies and the state treasurer or budget director.

These fiscal experts analyze and report on economic indicators and state revenue projections. The consensus that is reached during the January conference becomes the revenue basis for the governor’s budget proposal, and the consensus reached during the May conference become the revenue basis for the budget bills passed by the Legislature.

The May Consensus Revenue Estimating Conference was earlier this week, and the news on state revenues is not great. But there is a silver lining, at least to me—it makes “wreck yourself” particularly relevant.

Since January, some Michigan legislators have been really hot on cutting the state income tax. This is a bad idea on its face, but especially in this current context. As League CEO Gilda Z. Jacobs said, “Given the fluctuations in state revenues, it was and continues to be foolhardy to consider tax cuts that would further jeopardize state services.”

if-only-i-had-checked-myselfSee! “CREC yourself before you wreck yourself” is not just a (bad) pun—it’s a valid point. The very intent of the Consensus Revenue Estimating Conference is for lawmakers to check themselves and incorporate these estimates into their state spending and budgets. And if they don’t take these forecasts seriously and make poor fiscal decisions, they stand to wreck our state budget, our state services and ultimately our state.

The Legislature needs to let talk of an income tax cut die. And when the House and Senate budget committees begin meeting soon, lawmakers should be sensible and strategic with our state dollars, investing in the programs and services that support our workers and families and get the most bang for our state bucks. For example, increasing state funding for child care and heating assistance can leverage hundreds of millions of dollars in federal funding.

The next few weeks are critical to the state budget and the priorities you and I value. To help you get involved, the League has put together a timeline and advocacy tips on the state budget. We also continue to produce budget briefs on some of the issues that are most important to us and to you: supporting education, including child care, K-12 schools and colleges and universities, protecting healthcare and the Healthy Michigan Plan, and reducing incarceration and providing adequate support for prisoners.

Whether you can work a rap reference in or not, I hope you will join the League in standing up for these budget priorities and urging lawmakers to make smart investments in our state’s future.

Alex Rossman

Lawmakers pass healthcare bill that will hurt millions of Michigan residents

For Immediate Release
May 4, 2017

Alex Rossman

LANSING—The Michigan League for Public Policy issued the following statement on the U.S. House Republicans’ passage of legislation today to repeal the Affordable Care Act. The statement may be attributed to League President & CEO Gilda Z. Jacobs.

“Today, congressional Republicans passed a healthcare plan that shows they don’t really care about health, and to add insult to injury, they did so with jubilation, not reservation. Instead of helping people, lawmakers voted today to eliminate insurance coverage for 24 million Americans, including the 650,000 Michigan residents who are covered through the Healthy Michigan Plan. They voted to end fair and affordable coverage for millions of people with pre-existing conditions, cut $800 billion in Medicaid funding, and eliminate nationwide bans on annual and lifetime limits.

“It’s particularly disheartening that it took making this bill worse to actually get it passed, but this fight is far from over—it’s just moving to a new venue. The League and our partners in Michigan and around the country will keep doing everything we can to protect healthcare coverage for residents who are struggling physically, mentally or financially. We hope that the Senate will be deliberative and put the real needs of Americans above the political rancor that has unfortunately dominated this debate.”

The League has been a strong advocate for the Affordable Care Act and the related Healthy Michigan Plan, and have opposed the U.S. House’s attempts to repeal it and change how Medicaid is funded. The League is also part of the Protect MI Care coalition, an organization of consumer, healthcare and insurer groups. More information is available at

Recent League Efforts on Healthcare:

March 16, 2017, Press Statement on AHCA: Major flaws exposed in U.S. House Republicans’ healthcare plan

Budget Brief: Protect Healthcare for 650,000 Michiganians

Fact Sheet: Medicaid Block Grants and Per Capita Caps Are Bad for Michigan’s Health

Fact Sheet: 10 Reasons the Affordable Care Act is Good for Michigan


The Michigan League for Public Policy,, is a nonprofit policy institute focused on economic opportunity for all. It is the only state-level organization that addresses poverty in a comprehensive way.

New League report and online tool calculate how much it really costs to make ends meet in each county

For Immediate Release
May 3, 2017

Alex Rossman

For 20 years, League has been publishing report to help policymakers understand true economic struggles of Michigan families

LANSING—It costs a Michigan family between $2,580 and $4,722 a month to pay for necessities and provide for themselves and their family according to Making Ends Meet in Michigan, a new report released by the Michigan League for Public Policy today. The monthly income necessary to make ends meet for a single parent with two kids is $3,943, and it costs a single worker $1,923 a month to get by.

The report analyzes and compiles state and county data on the costs of housing, food, child care, healthcare, transportation, and clothing and other household necessities along with likely taxes owed, to identify the Basic Needs Income Level. The Basic Needs Income Level is the amount of household income a family or individual must have to have in order to meet basic needs without public or private assistance. It’s what it really costs to live in a county.

An online calculator available at can be used to calculate the cost of living by county and family size. This report uniquely analyzes four different household sizes in each county—single, single parent, two parents/both working and two parents/one working. All families assume two children under age 5.

“For too long, policymakers have only used the poverty level and unemployment to assess how people in Michigan are doing, but there’s so much more to every Michigan family’s story and struggles than that,” said Gilda Z. Jacobs, president and CEO of the Michigan League for Public Policy. “This report seeks to draw attention to how much it really costs for families to make ends meet both statewide and in each county, and how our state’s current wages and services are not cutting it.”

The federal poverty threshold determines who is counted as officially poor but tells us little about whether a person or family is living in economic security. It does not reflect regional and local differences in the cost of living and is based on a model that, while adequate when first devised in 1965, is less reflective of today’s economic realities.

The Basic Needs Income Level calculated in this report is intended to help lawmakers and residents easily understand how much income a family needs in order to pay for all of its basic expenses. The Basic Needs Income Level can be used to measure the economic security of Michigan’s working families, assess the adequacy of worker wages and benefits, promote programs and policies that assist families in need, and as a benchmark by which to assess the quality of jobs being created in the state.

With this localized data on how much it really costs for families to make ends meet, the Michigan League for Public Policy’s report reframes the discussions around need, wage standards, public assistance and what it means to live in economic security. The League is focused on ensuring all Michigan residents have economic security because simply lifting people out of poverty is not enough. In addition to showing that the poverty level alone is not an adequate measure of stability, this data also shows that the state’s unemployment rate is not the only—or an adequate—benchmark for economic recovery.

“This data backs up what we’ve been saying the last few years as Michigan has ‘recovered’: the recovery is still not reaching everyone, many people are working in low-wage jobs and barely getting by, and the high costs of child care and healthcare are breaking people at all income levels,” Jacobs said. “There are a variety of policy changes lawmakers can make to help address this, including increasing the minimum wage, upholding healthcare and strengthening child care supports, passing a statewide earned sick leave law, and creating a fairer tax system that helps struggling workers as much as it does the wealthy.”

The League continues to connect the challenges facing Michigan kids and residents with the policy solutions to help them. To that end, Making Ends Meet outlines the following policy recommendations for lawmakers to better support their constituents:

  • Protect Michigan’s expansion of Medicaid and the federal Affordable Care Act as a whole;
  • Restore and strengthen the Michigan Earned Income Tax Credit;
  • Update Michigan’s child care subsidy;
  • Raise the minimum wage;
  • Invest in skills training and adult education.
  • Enact workplace protections such as earned sick leave and predictable scheduling; and
  • Create a more adequate tax system, including a graduated income tax.

In this report, housing costs are based on the Fair Market Rent (the 40th percentile of rents in each county) provided by the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). Food expenses are from the United States Department of Agriculture’s Low-Cost Food Plan. Child care costs are based on the 2015 Cost of Care Report from the Early Childhood Investment Corporation and healthcare expenses are calculated using the federal healthcare marketplace exchange. Finally, costs for clothing, household necessities, personal care and telephone come from the Bureau of Labor Statistics Consumer Expenditure Survey and may vary depending on the family’s circumstances. Taxes are based on income and family size. For additional information, including data appendices and more details on how each of these expenses was calculated, go to


The Michigan League for Public Policy,, is a nonprofit policy institute focused on economic opportunity for all. It is the only state-level organization that addresses poverty in a comprehensive way.

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