Child poverty in the 21st century

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 – Jane Zehnder-Merrell

Why kids count

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

– Jane Zehnder-Merrell

Happy 40th Birthday, EITC!

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

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

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

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

–Alicia Guevara Warren

 

More child care oversight needed

Every day in Michigan, parents head out to work with their young children in tow, dropping them off at local child care centers or homes. Child care is a necessity for many working families because they rely on two incomes to make ends meet or because they are raising children as single parents.

Yet oversight of health and safety requirements is stretched far too thin in Michigan, a new policy brief from the League concludes.

Child care centers and homes are required to be licensed or registered with the state to ensure that basic requirements are met. Two federal audits and national studies have found that Michigan falls short in its efforts to inspect child care settings. The unacceptable reality is that parents cannot rest assured that their children are spending their days in care that consistently meets state licensing standards.

The risk to children is greatest in families earning low wages, including parents who are required to work 40 hours a week as a condition of receiving public assistance. Low-wage families have fewer options and face difficult choices because they cannot afford higher quality child care that comes at a higher cost.

These are the facts:

  • Michigan cannot provide adequate oversight of child care because the state’s child care inspectors have caseloads that are more than three times the national standard. Child care inspectors in Michigan have average caseloads of 153, with a nationally recommended ratio of 1 worker for every 50 child care programs.
  • In unannounced visits, federal auditors found that child care providers failed to comply with one or more state health and safety requirements. Most disturbing was the fact that half of the family and group child care providers had not done required criminal and protective services background checks, and none of the child care centers had completed those checks on their employees.
  • A national report gave Michigan a “D” grade for its child care centers regulations and oversight, citing ineffective monitoring.
  • Michigan was one of eight states that received a score of 0 out of a possible 150 points for its licensing of child care homes, primarily because of a failure to inspect homes before they are registered and children are placed into care.

The state inspects a range of services in order to protect the public including restaurants, roads and bridges, and grocery stores. Certainly the state’s youngest children, who are in child care so their parents can work to support them, deserve to be at the top of the list.

– Pat Sorenson

High poverty, unemployment harm economic growth

Often touted as the “Comeback State,” Michigan’s economic recovery has not included everyone as reflected in the state’s high poverty and unemployment rates. Leaving people behind will only hinder Michigan’s potential economic growth, which has already showed signs of slowing.

A recent report ranking states based on multiple indicators of economic security and opportunity reveals the state’s major lack of investment in its people. On almost every factor from poverty to education to affordable housing, Michigan is ranked worst or second-worst among the Midwest states. (more…)

Celebrating good public policy in Michigan

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

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

Michigan Families Continue to Struggle Since Recession

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Children thrive when parents succeed

Roughly half of Michigan’s young children ages 0-8 live in low-income families where meeting basic needs is a daily challenge.

Living in a financially stressed family during childhood has a long-term impact on education and employment. A child who spends the critical early years in poverty is less likely to graduate from high school and remain employed as an adult. To be more effective in assisting these families, public and private programs need to address the needs of both parents and children.

In the majority of Michigan’s low-income families with young children no parent has a year-round full-time job (56%) nor a credential beyond a high school diploma (79%) severely limiting their opportunities to secure well-paid job, according to the latest policy report, Creating Opportunity for Families: A Two-Generation Approach, from the Annie E. Casey Foundation.

Getting access to higher education as a nontraditional student has become much more difficult at a time the state needs a more educated workforce. Over the past decade Michigan policymakers have eliminated all public university and community college grants for older students. Most (85%) parents of young children in Michigan families with income below 200% of the poverty level (roughly $47,000 for a family of four) are over age 25.

Not only does the state not offer financial support to help with college costs for older adults, the state’s woefully inadequate child care subsidy fails to meet the needs of low-wage workers and students. It offers payments substantially below the market rate and only on an hourly basis — severely limiting child care options for families in need of care. Furthermore, eligibility for the subsidy ends when parental income rises only marginally above the poverty level where absorbing the cost of care, which averages over $500 a month, would not be feasible, thus disrupting the stability of care.

One of every eight parents in the state’s low-income families with young children reported that problems with child care resulted in changing, quitting or not taking a job.

Employer practices impose additional stress on working parents who struggle to meet their responsibilities as parents. Parents in part-time, low-wage employment typically lack benefits, as well as flexible and predictable schedules. The constant juggle of changing work schedules and family responsibilities exacts an emotional as well as a physical toll.

Unfortunately programs targeted to assist low-income families rarely address the needs of both parents and children in the family. For example, job training programs do not focus on the quality or accessibility of child care. This latest Casey report makes several recommendations on strategies to strengthen the whole family, including:

  • Providing parents with multiple pathways to family-supporting jobs and financial stability through access to employment and training programs, and state and federal assistance such as the Earned Income Tax Credit and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.
  • Structuring public systems to respond to the realities of today’s families through interagency collaboration and streamlined application systems.
  • Using existing neighborhood programs and platforms to build evidence for practical pathways out of poverty.

In order for children to thrive, their parents must have access to the tools and supports they need to be successful as parents, as well as workers in an economy that requires postsecondary training or education for a job with a family-supporting wage. We cannot afford to delay addressing these issues. The future of over half a million of the state’s young children is at stake.

– Jane Zehnder-Merrell

11% of Mich. vets in households receiving food aid

More than one in every 10 Michigan veterans lives in a household that receives food assistance, a new policy brief estimates.

The report from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, released today in time for Veterans Day, is a reminder that thousands of struggling veterans use food assistance (formerly food stamps) to put food on the table.

The program, called Food Assistance Program in Michigan and SNAP at the federal level, helps 73,100 veterans — about 11% of Michigan’s vets. Michigan is one of 10 states where more than 10% of veterans are in households on food assistance.

“For low-income veterans, who may be unemployed, working in low-wage jobs, or disabled, SNAP provides an essential support that enables them to purchase nutritious food for their families,’’ the report states.

Food assistance has been a vital lifeline to many in Michigan as the state continues to recover from heavy job losses and falling income from the Great Recession.

Despite high unemployment and stagnating poverty, Michigan policymakers have made it harder rather than easier to get food assistance:

  • For a relatively small amount of additional heating assistance, Michigan could have opted to keep a ‘heat and eat’ provision that secured extra federal food assistance to families needing help with utilities. Only four states, including Michigan, of 16 using this option declined to continue by increasing help with utilities.
  • Michigan is bucking the trend nationwide by requiring a harsh food asset test that is not required by the federal government. Considering that the benefits are 100% federally paid, it’s unnecessary for Michigan to make it harder for veterans and others to access food assistance.

As policymakers continue to look for ways to tighten eligibility for public assistance in Michigan, it’s a good reminder that among those being harmed are veterans, who deserve help when they need it in return for the sacrifices they have made.

– Judy Putnam

 

 

High-quality, affordable child care elusive

Although Michigan has started to address its long-neglected child care system, the state has a long way to go to make high-quality child care affordable and easily accessible, especially for low- and moderate-income working parents.

That is the conclusion of a new report on child care assistance policies. (more…)

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