Big Macs and American dreams

A new report from the League focuses on Michigan’s immigrant community and the ways policymakers and institutions can strengthen outcomes among immigrant families.

Like many children of immigrants, my story begins with the story of my parents and the sacrifices they made to come and work in this country. My parents’ story began in the Midwest, where they had arrived separately from Mexico City in the late 1980s and early ‘90s, moving from one big city (Mexico City) to another—Chicago, Illinois. It was their first time setting foot on U.S. soil, and though they immigrated to the U.S. before they met one another, they both took part in an All-American tradition when they arrived: buying a Big Mac at the nearest McDonald’s!

Moving to the United States, however, meant a whole lot more than just tasty fast food to them. For many immigrants like my parents, living in the United States often means having the ability to work hard and earn a better living to support loved ones. It can also mean having the opportunity to pursue professional and educational dreams and making first big purchases like buying a home.

Yet, even with hard work and perseverance, many immigrant families still have a hard time achieving the “American dream.” The realities of life in America today can be vastly different across immigrant groups, and factors such as race, socioeconomic status, English language proficiency and legal status can determine the level of access immigrants have to opportunities. Public policies can also determine whether or not immigrant families have access to healthcare, education and economic opportunities.

Here are some of the key characteristics of Michigan’s immigrant community:

chart for blog_big mac and amer dreamsImmigrants in Michigan are diverse.

The latest Census data tell us a lot about the diversity of immigrants in Michigan. Almost half of Michigan immigrants (49%) emigrated from Asian countries, making it the most common world region of origin for immigrants in the state. Foreign-born neighbors from this region of the world most commonly arrive from: India, Iraq, China, Korea and Lebanon. Among the other top regions of origin for Michigan immigrants were: Europe (22%), followed by Latin America (19%) and Northern America (6%). At the League, we recently put together county-level fact sheets on immigrant communities across the state that provide a deeper look into how immigrant families are doing. 

Immigrants work hard and are employed across the occupational spectrum.

Immigrant families contribute to our state socially and culturally. As workers and business owners, they also contribute economically, and help make regional economies competitive. Most immigrants in Michigan work in Sales, Office, Service, and Management or Professional jobs. Almost a fifth (19%) work in Service occupations, while another 18% are employed in Production, Transportation and Material Moving occupations. In 2016, approximately 58% of Michigan immigrants were employed. Access to good-paying jobs helps immigrant workers grow their household income and support their families. In 2016, 69% of immigrant families had an annual income of at least $40,000, and 41% had an annual income of at least $80,000.

Children living above 200 percent of povertyChildren of immigrants are doing comparatively better than kids in U.S.-born families, but a closer look at the data reveals that there is still much work to be done.

Like the rest of Michigan children, children of immigrants also need access to healthy food, a stable home and a quality education to succeed. In Michigan, almost 7% of all native-born children under age 6 have at least one immigrant parent, while approximately 15% of children with at least one immigrant parent are immigrants themselves. Data from the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s new Kids Count report, Race for Results: Building a Path to Opportunity for All Children, shows that children of immigrants in Michigan are doing comparatively better than Michigan children in U.S.-born families when it comes to key indicators in education, economic security and family. A closer look at the data, however, reveals that children of immigrants of color are doing worse across nearly every indicator. This finding mirrors that of children of color in U.S.-born families, and highlights the need for stronger supports for families of color in the state.

The data on immigrant families in Michigan tells a story of strength, resilience and hope for a better future. While immigration policy coming out of Washington is proving to be harmful to immigrants in Michigan, elected officials at the local, state and federal level can turn this around and act immediately to ensure that immigrant parents and their children have the necessary tools and supports needed to thrive and contribute in Michigan.

Today, my parents are nearing retirement age, but they continue to work hard and give back to their community in rural North Carolina, and every so often, they still enjoy a Big Mac at the nearby McDonald’s. I’ll always be incredibly thankful for the sacrifices they made in coming to this country, learning a new language and balancing multiple jobs so that their kids could have access to better opportunities than they did in Mexico. Their American dream will live on, in me.

— Victoria Crouse, State Policy Fellow

Michigan policies must create opportunity and remove barriers for kids of color, immigrants

For Immediate Release
October 24, 2017

Contact:
Alex Rossman
arossman@mlpp.org
517.487.5436

2017 Race for Results report shows Michigan has lowest child well-being score for African-American children in the country

LANSING—A new national report on child well-being released today shows that African-American children in Michigan fare worse in key indicators than in any other state in the country. The report also shows that Latino children in Michigan fall behind children of other ethnic groups on key milestones. The report, 2017 Race for Results: Building a Path to Opportunity for All Children, produced by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, shows that all Michigan kids are struggling academically, but children of color are doing worse in nearly all indicators across education, health, family and community, and economic security.

The report also indicates that Michigan children in immigrant families are doing relatively well, but uncertainty and outright hostility in state and federal policies continue to pose threats to their well-being and the stability of their families. Additionally, not every group of immigrants has the same experiences, with many struggling with housing, financial security, education and language barriers.

“Seeing how our kids in Michigan fare compared to national numbers is startling. We are failing all of our children, especially our kids of color, and we need policies to remove barriers that have created systemic inequities.

“Some policies like stringent immigration changes are specifically targeting certain kids, some policies are perpetuating historic racial disparities generation after generation, and some policies are just having inadvertent or unintended consequences. If we want Michigan to be a diverse and vibrant state, we have to start doing more to better take care of all of our kids,” said Alicia Guevara Warren, Kids Count in Michigan Project Director at the Michigan League for Public Policy.

This is the second Race for Results report by the Casey Foundation; the Foundation released the first report in 2014. The report measures children’s progress on the national and state levels on key education, health and economic milestones by racial and ethnic groups. The report’s index uses a composite score of these milestones on a scale of one (lowest) to 1,000 (highest) to make comparisons.

The 2017 Race for Results shows that Michigan’s overall index score for White children, 667, is lower than the national average of 713, and the state score of 260 for African-American children is the lowest score in the country—far below the national average of 369 for this group. However, Michigan’s scores for other ethnic groups were higher than the national average. The well-being of American Indian/Alaska Native children in Michigan was scored at 511 compared to 413 nationally, and Asian and Pacific Islander kids in the state scored 804 overall compared to 783 nationally. The report scored the welfare of Michigan’s Latino children at 446, while nationally this group’s score was 429. The index scores for Latino children across the country are alarming, with the vast majority, including Michigan’s, below 500.

“Michigan is not the best state for meeting the needs of African-American kids,” said Alice Thompson, CEO of Black Family Development, Inc. “At a time when racial tensions are running high in our nation, our government and our society are letting these kids down and leaving them behind. ‘Separate but equal’ was a foolish and flawed policy, but so is ‘Together but inequitable.’ We need to help all kids move up together, and we’re going to need an overhaul of our policy approach to do that.”

Regionally, Michigan had the second lowest score for White kids in the Midwest. The lowest score in the Midwest for White children was Indiana with a score of 664, while Minnesota had the highest at 789—the fifth highest score in the country.

The academic indicators continue to be some of the lowest and most distressing for Michigan. The percentage of fourth-graders proficient in reading is lower in all racial and ethnic groups in Michigan than the national average for each group. The starkest difference is among African-American fourth-graders in Michigan, where nine percent are proficient in reading compared to the national average of 18 percent. This is the lowest rate of any state. White and Latino kids in Michigan fall into the bottom five states nationally for the rate of fourth-grade reading proficiency. Similar struggles are seen for all racial and ethnic groups in eighth-grade math, and the math proficiency rate for African-American eighth-graders in Michigan is tied with Alabama for the worst in the country.

“As we work to help Latino children in Michigan thrive, we need to take a broader, two-generation approach to better support their parents,” said Angela G. Reyes, Executive Director and Founder of the Detroit Hispanic Development Corporation. “Over a quarter of our Latino kids live with a householder without at least a high school diploma, and their parents’ struggles to finish school affect their own reading proficiency and ability to learn.”

Around 284,000 immigrant kids currently live in Michigan. Some children face the same struggles, whether they were born in the United States or abroad. More than 20 percent of children in immigrant families live with a householder without at least a high school diploma compared to only eight percent of children in U.S.-born families. More than 25 percent of Latino children in Michigan live with a householder without at least a high school diploma. Conversely, all the other U.S.-born racial and ethnic groups have rates between nine and 15 percent.

“Not all immigrants are the same, and our experiences are as varied as the countries and cultures we come from,” said Aamina Ahmed, Executive Director of Asian & Pacific Islander American Vote – Michigan. “Gov. Rick Snyder is trying to bring more immigrants to Michigan, President Donald Trump is trying to keep more immigrants out of the country, and policy approaches to immigration sway with the political winds. Immigrants come here in search of a brighter future, but right now, that search is clouded with fear and uncertainty, leaving them very vulnerable.”

Other indicators showed some significant differences in family structure. Eighty-seven percent of children in Michigan’s immigrant families live in two-parent households, a significantly higher rate than the 66 percent of children in U.S.-born families. Michigan immigrant kids are in the top five nationally in this category. Only 69 percent of all children in Michigan live in two-parent families (just above the national average of 68 percent), ranging from a low for African-American children of 33 percent to a high of 89 percent for Asian and Pacific Islander kids.

While this data is eye-opening, it also raises questions about how policies are affecting children of color and in immigrant families. Michigan policymakers in Lansing and Washington should embrace the following policy recommendations to address the low scores for child well-being and drastic racial disparities for kids of color identified in this report:

  • Use a racial and ethnic equity lens in evaluating and developing public policies, like the Raise the Age effort to keep kids out of adult prisons;
  • Keep families together and in their communities;
  • Increase economic opportunity for all parents, especially immigrants and people of color; and
  • Provide a quality education to help all children meet key developmental measures.

The Michigan League for Public Policy continues to make racial equity a focal point of all of our policy work, recently analyzing the state budget’s impact on Michigan kids and residents of color. The League also strives to lift up the contributions of immigrants and their families to our state at a time when they are coming under severe attack from policies out of Lansing and Washington. A new report, Immigrant Families in Michigan: A State Profile, analyzes Michigan’s immigrant population and the positive impacts they have on our economy and labor force. The League has also compiled immigration profiles for all 83 Michigan counties in conjunction with the Race for Results release.

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Release Information

The 2017 Race for Results report is available at www.aecf.org/raceforresults. Additional information is available at www.aecf.org. The website also contains the most recent national, state and local data on numerous indicators of child well-being. Journalists interested in creating maps, graphs and rankings in stories about Race for Results can use the Data Center at datacenter.kidscount.org.

About the Kids Count in Michigan Project

The Kids Count in Michigan project is part of a broad national effort to improve conditions for children and their families. Funding for the project is provided by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, The Max M. and Marjorie S. Fisher Foundation, The Skillman Foundation, Steelcase Foundation, Frey Foundation, Michigan Education Association, American Federation of Teachers Michigan, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan Foundation, United Way for Southeastern Michigan, DTE Energy Foundation, Ford Motor Company Fund, Battle Creek Community Foundation and the Fetzer Institute.

About the Annie E. Casey Foundation

The Annie E. Casey Foundation creates a brighter future for the nation’s children by developing solutions to strengthen families, build paths to economic opportunity and transform struggling communities into safer and healthier places to live, work and grow. For more information, visit www.aecf.org. KIDS COUNT is a registered trademark of the Annie E. Casey Foundation.

What Muslim ban 3.0 means for Michigan

Two weeks ago, a coalition of Muslim and immigrant grassroots groups gathered together at Wayne State University to protest the most recent rollout of anti-immigrant policies at the federal level. Since the 2016 election last fall, advocates from across the state have gathered time and time again to push back on the increasingly hostile climate toward Muslim and immigrant communities. Beginning in his first week in office, President Trump began to make good on his campaign promise to ban Muslims from entering the country by issuing a travel ban targeting Muslim majority countries. Last week, advocates came together once again to oppose the latest iteration of the Muslim ban unveiled on Sept. 24 by the Trump administration. The ban, which again mostly targets Muslim-majority nations, continues to restrict travel from Iran, Libya, Somalia, Syria and Yemen (Sudan is no longer included). It now also includes a ban on certain residents from North Korea, Chad and Venezuela, and goes into effect tomorrow, Oct. 18. Unlike its predecessors, this Muslim ban has no end date.

Refugee arrivals chartThe scope of the president’s power over our borders and the legal future of travel bans in the U.S. Supreme Court is somewhat uncertain. The court allowed portions of the second travel ban order to go into effect in an unsigned opinion in June and set a date for arguments for Oct. 10. But when that 90-day ban expired, Trump issued a third iteration of the ban and the high court dropped the earlier case. Since this third travel ban is indefinite, legal challenges to it—which began Monday—will be pivotal in resolving these issues.

The initial version of the travel ban, which expired in September, narrowed travel from listed countries for those with “close family ties” in the United States. Though narrower in scope than the January version, the second version of the ban kept out refugee families fleeing natural disasters and war-torn countries who had no previous connections in the United States. The refugee restrictions in the second iteration of the travel ban are set to expire on Oct. 24. The current version of the ban has different travel restrictions set for each country listed. Some of the new restrictions include a ban on tourists, relatives of American residents and those seeking medical visas. Legal experts and community advocates argue that the administration is attempting to hide the ban’s discriminatory intent towards Muslim refugees by adding countries that are not majority Muslim in its latest version.

While the latest version of the travel ban does not include refugees in its scope, the refugee restrictions from the second version of the ban are still in effect and are set to expire on Oct. 24. These restrictions will likely continue to slow the resettlement process for families and resettlement agencies in Michigan in the latter half of the year, and the process is also likely to be affected by a new cap on refugee admissions for the coming budget year. According to a report from the Trump administration, the refugee cap will be set at 45,000. This is a stark drop from the Obama administration’s cap which had been raised by 30% to 110,000 refugees for budget year 2017.

When it comes to refugee resettlement, Michigan has a history of being a good global neighbor as a site for resettlement. In fact, for the past several years, Michigan has remained among the top 10 resettlement states in the country. In the first seven months of budget year 2017, for example, Michigan resettled 2,121 refugees, and was the fourth highest initial state of residence for refugee arrivals to the country during that time period. Michigan is also one of 12 states that has resettled more refugees from Iraq than any other group in the past 10 years.

Despite these gains, there is still much work to be done to truly make Michigan a welcoming state for all refugees and immigrants. Policies like a Muslim ban will undo the progress Michigan has made in the area of immigration, and will only lead to pain and separation for countless families from around the globe. Residents, business owners and elected officials should all speak out against a Muslim ban and the countless other xenophobic and anti-immigrant policies coming out of Washington.

— Victoria Crouse, State Policy Fellow

Is Michigan a welcoming state?

When I was in college, I helped mentor a young high school student who had recently moved to the area with his parents from Oaxaca in Mexico. While in school, we spent time working on school work and learning English. But we also talked about missing his family back home and about why his family chose southwest Michigan, of all places, as a place to land.

While this young man and I haven’t kept in touch over the years, he has stuck with me. Our conversations come to me more today as we face a pervasive anti-immigrant sentiment throughout our state and nation.

Within a week of taking office, President Donald Trump signed an executive order that essentially restricted travel to the United States from several Muslim-majority nations. Many people, including legal residents, refugees fleeing war-torn countries and students, got caught by this ban and were forced into limbo, to remain at airports or to return to the country they traveled from. This ban has since been halted, and a subsequent one will soon be heard by the United States Supreme Court.

Since then, it seems some people, lawmakers and government agencies think they’ve been given license to discriminate.

More than once in the past six months, I’ve seen newspaper stories about immigration raids in cities near where I live, and in other cities, I’ve heard stories of immigration officials waiting outside of schools. In Michigan, legislation is pending on the House floor that takes aim at any local government that might have a “sanctuary policy,” and there was recently discussion on a bill that would make English the state’s official language. These bills are unnecessary—solutions in search of a problem—and are simply meant to divide “us” from “them.” The League and many of our partners opposed these bills, but the Legislature may move forward anyway.

ITEP Undoc Immigrant State 400x225Furthermore, the Trump tax plan and budget call for requiring a Social Security number to qualify for the federal Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) and Child Tax Credit, which just stokes the anti-immigrant sentiment. The IRS already requires a taxpayer to have a Social Security number to receive the EITC. So this really isn’t a policy change. Furthermore, by targeting assistance intended to benefit children, and which studies have shown have long-lasting positive impacts on the lives and well-being of children, this only hurts many U.S. children who have no control over their parents’ immigration status.

Did you know immigrants pay taxes? In fact, in Michigan, undocumented immigrants pay roughly $86.7 million in state and local taxes (and would pay more if they were granted full legal status). Their effective tax rate is already higher than the top 1% in Michigan. And regardless of legal status, they are not stealing our jobs or our benefits.

Too often immigrants are treated as culprits for whatever ails us, when really they make this nation a richer place to live. The young man I mentored over a decade ago saw the United States—and the great state of Michigan—as an opportunity for a better life. And while I hope I helped him, I know he improved my life greatly.

I do have hope though. I have hope when I look at my son with one of his best friends, whose family comes from a country in northern Africa. While I know my son sees their differences, all he really wants to do is play with his friend. And in the future, I hope that he doesn’t see those differences as something that divides them but rather as something that unites them.

— Rachel Richards