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

Contact:
Alex Rossman
arossman@mlpp.org
517-487-5436

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 www.mlpp.org/calculator 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 www.mlpp.org/resources/making-ends-meet-in-michigan.

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The Michigan League for Public Policy, www.mlpp.org, 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.

Sequestration hits Michigan housing

Some 3,000 fewer low-income households in Michigan — including seniors, those with disabilities and families with children — used housing vouchers to rent private housing in December, compared with a year ago, according to new estimates from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

That’s the fallout from across-the-board federal sequestration cuts, which started nearly a year ago. The projections were based on new Department of Housing and Urban Development data. (more…)

Data cheat sheet for census releases

This week, the U.S. Census Bureau will start releasing 2012 data from two of its largest surveys – the Current Population Survey and the American Community Survey.

While most people associate the Census Bureau only with the decennial census, it actually is responsible for dozens of surveys. In fact, the decennial census only gathers very basic information and primarily serves as a population count. (more…)

Cato gets it wrong

The Cato Institute recently released a report  purporting to prove that in most states, it pays more (and therefore it’s more rational) for low-skill workers to pursue government assistance rather than work. This is patently false.

According to the report, for a single mother with two kids in Michigan, the total “welfare benefits package” (which includes cash, food, housing and heating assistance, as well as Medicaid and other low-income programs) is $26,430 (or $12.71 per hour) in wage-equivalent terms, compared with just $15,390 in pretax annual wages from working full-time at a minimum wage ($7.40 per hour) job. The authors of the study then falsely conclude that this leads to a disincentive for work, and that the way to address this problem is to reduce assistance and tighten work and other requirements associated with this assistance. (more…)

How Sequestration Will Impact Michigan

  Full report in PDF

Deep cuts to programs that help many Michiganians gain economic security took effect March 1, 2013, following Congress’ inability to reach an agreement on an alternative to sequestration. Although President Obama was able to negotiate a “Fiscal Cliff Bill” in January, which lessened the severity of sequestration for the current fiscal year (which ends September 30, 2013), the automatic across-the-board cuts will severely cut federal investments in education, healthcare, employment, and other programs that lift up lowincome families and grow the middle class.

Over the past decade, Michigan’s reliance on federal funds has steadily grown, from 27.6% of the state’s total budget in 2000, to 41.3% today. As noted in the chart, that percentage was 44.3% in 2010-2011 due to temporary stimulus funds.

As full effects of the sequester continue to unfold, Michigan’s most vulnerable residents will feel the brunt of the budget cuts and the state’s economic recovery will be compromised.

HEALTH

The health of thousands of Michiganians will be affected by sequestration cuts. Particularly vulnerable are low-income children and their families. The  table to the left shows a sample of affected programs.

JOBS

As the economy continues its recovery, investment in jobs remains an important strategy for strengthening the private sector, reducing unemployment and growing the middle class. Programs that target unemployment will be subjected to sequestration cuts. Right is a sample of affected programs.

COMUNITY & FAMILY WELL-BEING

Community resources and the well-being of families affect the opportunities available to children as they grow into adults. Sequestration will cut funding for programs that keep many families out of poverty, and keep them healthy and safe. Below is a sample of affected programs.

HOUSING

Sequestration cuts will affect the housing options of many low-income Michigan families, homeless individuals, seniors and people with disabilities. A lack of affordable and safe housing puts the lives and safety of thousands of Michiganians at risk, and can have a negative impact on the academic success of low-income children. Some of the affected housing programs include:

  • The Community Development Block Grant, which will see a cut of around $5.6 million. The CDBG helps local governments provide affordable housing to low-income families, and create jobs by attracting and retaining businesses in struggling communities across the state.
  • The HOME Investment Partnership Program, which will be cut by an estimated $1.5 million. The HOME program helps Michigan cities and countries purchase and rehabilitate properties to create affordable rental housing for low-income households. This program also helps low-income families purchase or renovate non-luxury homes.
  • The Housing Choice Voucher program, which willbe cut by $2.6 million and leave an estimated 2,640 very low-income Michigan families, seniors and disabled individuals without rental vouchers to help them stay in their apartments. Affected households will likely be forced to cut back on food, medicine and other necessities in order to afford their rent. Others may be put at risk of becoming homeless.
  • The Public Housing Program, which will see a reduction of about $4.4 million. The loss of funds will impact local housing authorities’ ability to operate housing projects in Michigan, forcing them to consider furloughing staff, reduce security in housing projects, postpone or forego needed repairs to buildings, and even raise rents and utility costs for new and current residents. The end result will likely be a deterioration of public housing complexes, and decreased access to safe and affordable housing for low-income residents in the state.
  • Homeless Assistance programs, which will be cut by around $3.6 million. Lost funds for these programs will affect the state’s ability to provide emergency shelter for thousands of homeless Michiganians, and undermine efforts to end homelessness in the state.

EDUCATION

Sequestration cuts to education programs will cost the state millions of dollars in lost funds, affect thousands of children, and cause the loss of thousands of jobs. Programs that would be subjected to deep cuts are those that help low-income children succeed academically, strengthen our public school system, promote social mobility by facilitating access to higher education, and create a workforce capable of competing in an increasingly demanding global economy. Below is a sample of affected programs.

Fiscal cliff in sight — again

Just two months after the last fiscal cliff threat, we’re in sight of yet another one.

If the sequester is allowed to go into effect on March 1 (just one week from today), fewer Michigan kids will be served by Head Start, emergency shelters will lose support and heating assistance to low-income households will be cut.

Congress is unlikely to take up discussion of taxes in this round of negotiations (most were resolved permanently by the American Tax Payer Relief Act earlier this year). Instead, the new fiscal cliff is all about how to avoid the spending cuts required by sequestration. (more…)

A new toolkit for addressing foreclosure

Our friends at the Community Economic Development Association of Michigan  started the Michigan Foreclosure Task Force in 2007 to address foreclosure problems in Michigan.  The task force is focused on reducing the number of foreclosures, keeping families (both homeowners and renters) in their homes and softening the impact of foreclosures on communities. (more…)

Foreclosures down but for how long?

Michigan foreclosure activity is down 30 percent between February 2010 and February 2011, according to a Foreclosure Market Report released by RealtyTrac. Nationally, February 2011 had the lowest foreclosure activity in three years. This is great news, right?

Think again. Experts argue that this sudden decrease in foreclosure activity is largely due to the recent scandal surrounding the way many mortgage lenders conduct their foreclosure filing process. Lenders have temporarily suspended a large number of foreclosures in order to overhaul their filing processes. 

Even though foreclosure activity is down and will likely continue to decrease in the upcoming months, the numbers do not accurately reflect the high number of homeowners who are struggling to stay afloat.

An astounding 136,000 properties in Michigan, or 1 in every 33 housing units, received a foreclosure filing in 2010 alone. Experts are uncertain whether the number of foreclosure filings will ever return to the record breaking numbers of 2010, but they note that many homeowners are still struggling to pay their mortgages and are at a high risk of eventually losing their homes. RealtyTrac estimates that over 4 million homes nationwide have seriously delinquent mortgages.

Sometimes the numbers don’t paint the full picture. The foreclosure crisis has already affected thousands of homeowners and many more are still at risk. Now is not the time to forget about them.

— Audrey Dowell

Help fight homelessness in your community

There are more than 100,000 people experiencing homelessness in Michigan. Because of this, they all too often forgo the little things that most of us take for granted, like warm clothing and hair cuts.  You can do something to help. 

Project Connect is an effort to help those who are at risk for, or currently experiencing homelessness. For the past five years, Project Connect has been offering a variety of important services at events held throughout the state. These services include such practical things as assistance with filling out job applications and government forms,  to the provision of much needed medical care.

In 2009-2010, Project Connect offered services to more than 14,000 people at over 50 events throughout the state. More than 3,200 citizens volunteered their time at these events to reach out to those who have difficulty obtaining life’s basic necessities.

This year, a number of Project Connect events have already been scheduled and volunteers are welcome and needed. In Charlotte on Thursday, for example, volunteers will staff the Eaton County Project Homeless Connect.

To find out more information about when Project Connect events are scheduled in your community, go to the Michigan Campaign to End Homelessness website. Your help can make a difference in the lives of our most vulnerable citizens, and help assure all the residents of our great state a brighter future!

— Audrey Dowell

Happy Holidays?

Each year, as I sit down to look back and write about what the year has brought Michigan residents in terms of income, health insurance, housing, and poverty, it gets harder and harder. This year was no exception. As we all know, even with the unemployment rate dropping in recent months, Michigan residents especially those of color are still hurting. And the numbers back it up. This year’s retrospective on what the economy has brought low-income families this holiday season, “Michigan’s Economy Continues to Cause Pain: Communities of Color Take a Harder Hit” shows that not only has unemployment remained high, but income is in a near freefall and poverty keeps going up. It also found that more families are spending an ever-increasing share of their income on housing and bankruptcies are on the rise.

In 2009, Michigan’s unemployment rate averaged 13.3 percent, the poverty rate was 16.2 percent, and median household income ranked 35th in the nation, which is now 10 percent below the national median. And for communities of color, the story is even worse:
•    The unemployment rate for African Americans in 2009 was 21 percent and was 16.6 percent for Hispanic/Latinos. For whites it was 12.2 percent.
•    Median household income fell 10.5 percent for all Michigan residents between 2005 and 2009, but for communities of color, who already have significantly lower earnings than whites, income fell 14.4 percent for African Americans and 13.9 percent for Hispanic/Latinos.
•    The poverty rate for African Americans is more than double that for whites and the rate for Hispanic/Latinos is nearly double that of whites.
•    Nearly 25 percent of all Hispanic/Latinos and 15.7 percent of African Americans were without health insurance in 2009. For whites, this was 11 percent and the state average was just over 12 percent.

Unfortunately, even as more people are turning to public support to get by day to day, the  state budget does not recognize this. The fiscal year 2011 budget does not account for the slowly rising cash assistance caseload, which has been creeping up over the last couple years.

As Gov. -elect Snyder and the new Legislature prepare to take office in January, they need to pay attention to the challenges that many in Michigan still face.  Upcoming policy and budget decisions should be viewed as an opportunity to help Michigan residents, not a chance to make further cuts.   An approach that takes into account the years of cuts that have already occurred and also preserves the programs many Michigan residents rely on, will be the best approach.

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