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.

Unemployment rate masks the real story of lost workers

In July, Michigan’s unemployment rate dipped to 3.7%, the state’s lowest unemployment rate since 2000. Given the economic hardship our state endured for more than 10 years, let’s acknowledge and celebrate that.

Now for the bad news: while the unemployment rate tells us that a higher percent of people who are looking for work are finding it, the labor force participation rate tells us that a lower percent of the population are working or looking for work.

More bad news: Michigan’s 2016 workforce was still 326,000 workers short of what it was in 2000. The state has not gotten back even half of the nearly half-million workers that Michigan lost between 2000 and 2012.

As this year’s Labor Day Report shows, Michigan’s workforce is graying: the share of the labor force that is age 55 or older has nearly doubled, from 11.6% of the total workforce in 2000 to 22.2% in 2016. Yet retirements don’t explain the loss of workers, because a higher percentage of Michigan residents in that age group are working than in 2000.

LDR Labor force 55+

On the contrary, it is the population age 16-24 that is less likely to work than before. The labor force participation rate of 16-24-year-olds was at 72% in 2000 (consistent with the previous two decades), dipped alarmingly to 55% by 2011 and 2012, and had risen to only 63.4% by 2016. The nonparticipation of younger Michigan residents in the workforce is a major factor in both the state’s lower labor participation rate and in the inability to replace the workers lost since 2000.

LDR Labor force by age group 450x407Much of this reflects national trends. Teenagers and young adults are not entering the labor force in the proportions that they used to, and the Bureau of Labor Statistics cites as possible reasons stagnant wages and competition for low-wage jobs by older unskilled workers due to the loss of higher paying jobs. The lower participation rate is true for both the population that is in school (secondary or postsecondary) and the population that is not in school.

As a state, we must address this situation. Immigration is one way for some of the lost workers to be replaced, and Governor Snyder has made it clear that Michigan is a welcoming state for immigrants. Immigrants arriving with higher skills can fill some job vacancies immediately, while those with lower skills often raise their children to become educated and skilled at a higher level than they themselves are.

For the young people already in our state who come from households with low incomes, Michigan should seek out ways to provide more access to training that leads to career-path employment—not just four-year college degrees, but “middle skills credentials” such as licenses, certificates and associate degrees. Michigan should also seek out ways to help participants in such training succeed by addressing barriers such as child care, transportation and the need for basic skills remediation.
Michigan may be rebounding, but it is obvious we still have a ways to go.

— Peter Ruark

The RAISE Act raises no one

For the past year, my 87-year-old grandmother has been studying American civics from her living room in preparation for her naturalization test. With determination and focus, she studied the story of how our nation came to be, pausing every so often to practice her pronunciation of names and events—“Abraham Lincoln,” “Martin Luther King, Jr.,” “The Vietnam War,” and so on. Last week, her efforts finally paid off when she passed her naturalization interview and became a U.S. citizen.

My grandmother’s story in this country began more than 30 years ago when she came to America from Mexico and became a permanent resident through a family-based visa category that enables U.S. citizens to petition for visas for immediate family members. Her daughter, my aunt, petitioned for my grandmother’s visa immediately after becoming a citizen herself and the two were reunited in Chicago, Illinois.

New League Policy Fellow Vikki Crouse celebrates her graduate school graduation in May 2017 with her grandmother, husband, parents, sister and aunt

New League Policy Fellow Victoria Crouse celebrates her graduate school graduation in May 2017 with her grandmother, husband, parents, sister and aunt

My grandmother’s journey is similar to that of hundreds of thousands of immigrants who apply to obtain legal residency in the United States each year and often endure long waiting periods before they are issued a visa. Unfortunately, the family-based visa categories that created a path to citizenship for my grandmother and her children are being threatened today. In the coming weeks, Congress will consider the RAISE Act, a bill that would drastically change our country’s approach to immigration and refugee resettlement. If passed, the bill would:

  • Eliminate the Diversity Immigrant Visa Program which issues 50,000 immigrant visas to immigrants from countries with low rates of immigration to the U.S. through a lottery system annually.
  • End some family-based visa categories, and in doing so, close the door on tens of thousands of immigrants hoping to reunite with their families in the United States.
  • Cap the number of refugees who are able to resettle in the United States at 50,000 annually. The previous administration had lifted the admission ceiling to 110,000 for fiscal year 2017. This cap would drastically lower the number of refugees admitted into the country and prevent the sitting U.S. president from lifting the ceiling in response to humanitarian crises.
  • Shift away from a demand-driven model for employment-based immigration that allows employers to petition for foreign workers.
  • Introduce a points-based system that would score who is eligible to enter the country. This system would cap the number of visas issued each year at 140,000 and disproportionately exclude women, older adults, those without a formal education and those from less-developed countries.

The net effect of this legislation would be a drastic reduction of legal immigrants coming to the United States, and a long term loss for our economy and our state’s labor market. If the RAISE Act is passed, the United States would stand to lose approximately 1.3 million jobs over the next 10 years. Immigrants of all skill sets keep Michigan’s economy solvent and help to revitalize and enrich our communities. We need a system that treats people as people, values the contributions of our immigrant population and helps us maintain a strong modern economy.

My grandmother’s naturalization ceremony is just around the corner. On that day, she will wave the American flag and recite an oath of allegiance to this country. I will always remain thankful for her sacrifices. It is because of her courage and resilience that I am a first-generation college graduate. Her triumphs and struggles are part of the reason why I developed a passion for immigration policy, and why I decided to join the League as a policy fellow this year so that I could continue to advocate for the rights of all immigrants. It’s time that our members of Congress and state legislators join me and other advocates in standing up to harmful anti-immigrant proposals, and push for positive immigration reform that can deliver promise and prosperity to everyone.

— Victoria Crouse

Protecting food assistance to preserve our future

While in Washington, D.C. last month for the 2017 National Anti-Hunger Policy Conference (AHPC), I visited the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian. I was particularly fascinated by the exhibit on the Inka, who developed an expansive system to store surplus food for redistribution during hard times to ensure the empire’s survival. It was a timely experience since the AHPC was bringing together more than 1,300 anti-hunger advocates from all over the country just as the federal food assistance programs that so many American families rely on to survive—programs that have traditionally had bipartisan support—have come under attack by the president and congressional Republicans.

Conference presenters outlined threats to the mainstays of federal food assistance, most notably a proposal to convert funding for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program from an entitlement structure to a block grant. Recognizing the interconnection of hunger, health and the economy, speakers also touched on feared cuts and structural changes to Medicaid and several tax credits that encourage work and empower families with low income to achieve economic independenceThemes that came up over and over again were the disproportionate impact of poverty and hunger on children, people with disabilities and people of color, and the disturbing effect that recent hateful, dishonest rhetoric and changes in immigration enforcement policy have had on access to public benefits by eligible immigrants and their children.

Under such gloomy circumstances, what can anti-hunger advocates to do to protect the programs that have lifted so many, enabling them to contribute to the American economy and society? How can we be effective when we’re on the defensive? Conference speakers and attendees alike spoke of the power of storytelling and shared values in framing statistics in a way that humanizes the frequently maligned recipients of food assistance and connects federal policy changes to the lives of real people in our communities and neighborhoods. (Note: If you receive food assistance and would like to share your story, please email our Communications Director Alex Rossman.)

Armed with lots of new information and propelled by the energy of my fellow conference attendees, I was proud to join a well-organized group of Michigan anti-hunger advocates in visiting nearly all of the members of the Michigan congressional delegation to educate them about the impact of federal nutrition programs on their constituents’ lives and the critical need to protect the funding and structure that make these programs so effective.

As the Inka wisely recognized, a robust nutrition assistance program isn’t merely charity to people having a tough time, it’s an essential investment in the nation’s future. At this critical time in our history, it’s vital that stakeholders from all sectors, ranging from anti-hunger advocates and human service providers to the healthcare and agriculture industries, band together to defend the food programs that help today’s children grow into tomorrow’s parents, workers and leaders. To get the latest news and find out how you can get involved in the federal fight against hunger, check out the Food Research and Action Center.

— Julie Cassidy

Families left in limbo after Supreme Court ruling on immigration

The United States Supreme Court recently tied 4-4 on a long-awaited decision to allow undocumented parents of U.S. citizens a pathway to citizenship. Due to the tie vote an injunction on Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents (DAPA) will remain in place, continuing to leave tens of thousands of parents in limbo. It is estimated that the DAPA program would have kept 43,000 children with their parents.

Children of MI immigrants graphicsThis would have been an important step forward because immigrant children live in fear of deportation of family members and friends. Under the Obama administration more immigrants have been deported than under any other president, making this fear imminent. Recent declines in deportation are attributed to fewer people illegally migrating. While the administration has stated that the focus of these policies is not intended to affect law-abiding residents, many such families have been separated in the process. (more…)

Children of Michigan immigrants are waiting for an answer

Approximately 43,000 immigrant children in Michigan are currently living in fear of their parents being deported and their families being torn apart. President Barack Obama’s executive orders Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents (DAPA) and Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) were positive steps taken to address the large number of immigrants stuck in limbo in Michigan and around the country. (more…)

65,600 taxpayers in Michigan

Immigration reform could mean millions in new tax revenue in Michigan – more than enough to offset the modest additional health care costs that would result from reform.

Michigan is home to an estimated 65,600 undocumented families who already contribute an estimated $126 million a year in state and local taxes, a new report from the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy finds. That’s expected to jump to $161 million a year should Congress finish its work on immigration reform, which has passed the U.S. Senate but is stalled in the U.S. House. (more…)

Immigration and Michigan’s economy

The positive economic impact of welcoming immigrants is echoing across the state. As a daughter of immigrant parents, I feel grateful that our governor is publicly taking a stance against any Arizona-type immigration law in Michigan and speaking on behalf of initiatives that hone in on the importance of rolling out the welcome mat. (more…)

Michigan rolls out welcome mat

During tough economic times, we must take time to celebrate any victories that come our way. Last week marked a victory for our state when Gov. Rick Snyder announced he would reject any Arizona-style immigration law in Michigan.

I feel proud to live in a state that publicly recognizes my family and me as important assets to our community and our economy. The League’s report, Good for Business: Rolling Out the Welcome Mat, outlined the economic benefits of the immigrant population and how Michigan cannot afford to roll up the welcome mat. Luckily, the facts rang true for the administration and we can now take our name off the list of states with govenors that support anti-immigrant legislation.

House Bill 4305 would require state police to enforce federal immigration laws and request immigration documents from anyone they suspect of being in the state illegally. It has become clear that immigrants are not a drain on the economy, but instead increase our state revenues, start businesses, and contribute to a better-educated workforce.

Rolling out the welcome mat in Michigan improves our state because: (more…)

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