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