Nowhere to go but up on racial equity

I had the privilege recently of chaperoning my daughter’s fourth-grade class to our local children’s museum for two days in a row. Wow, they are amazing little people, who are also full of an enormous amount of energy (Thank you to all the teachers who care for these kiddos every day of the school year!).

"Kids Count Director Alicia Guevara Warren hopes to watch her daughter grow up in an equitable world."

“Kids Count Director Alicia Guevara Warren hopes to watch her daughter grow up in an equitable world.”

Our school district is one of the most diverse districts in the state—something we are very proud of! As a woman of color raising a child of color who has friends of many backgrounds (and as a data geek), I couldn’t help but think about all of the data on racial disparities as I observed this group of bright and curious elementary students. The experience magnified for me the importance of working to help implement strategies to start changing outcomes for all kids, but especially for kids of color who disproportionately face barriers to opportunity.

A report released by the Annie E. Casey Foundation and national KIDS COUNT project, Race for Results, revealed some very disturbing information: African-American kids in Michigan fare worse in child well-being than their peers in every other state in the country. That’s right, worse than Mississippi, Arkansas, Louisiana and Alabama—states that all fall in the bottom rankings nationally for overall child well-being. Out of a child well-being index score of up to 1,000, African-American kids in Michigan score 260, while the national average—albeit troubling as well—was 369. That’s a difference of over a hundred.

When we look at how most kids of color in Michigan fare compared to their White peers, not only are their index scores significantly lower, but their well-being by key milestones in early childhood, education and early work experiences, family resources and neighborhood context are also worse. How did we get here and how do we change this?

A quick look at history shows how many disparities were created and perpetuated over time. And many of today’s policy decisions have led to the overrepresentation of people and kids of color in the child welfare and justice systems, disparate job and educational opportunities and unfair targeting in immigration policies. This has to change. Michigan’s future depends on how well we care for all children, and that includes eliminating current racial and ethnic disparities that appear in just about every indicator of child well-being.

UpdatedMI_RaceForResults_social-index-state_v4We need to urge our policymakers—at all levels of government—to use a racial and ethnic equity lens to review current and proposed policies. Some local governments in Michigan, like Grand Rapids and Washtenaw County, have started taking those steps by joining the Government Alliance on Racial Equity to use tools to address and reduce racial and ethnic disparities in their communities.

As child advocates we can also support efforts like “Raise the Age” to address racial disparities in the justice system. The most recent figures show that while kids of color make-up only 23% of the 17-year-old population in Michigan, they are 53% of the total number of 17-year-olds entering our state’s corrections system. By raising the age of juvenile jurisdiction from 17 to 18 years old, we can ensure that kids are treated like kids and receive age-appropriate treatment and services and begin reducing the lifelong consequences that these youth of color endure with an adult criminal record. This is only one example of how we can start addressing disparities in outcomes for kids of color. There are many others.

My community is important to me—as yours is to you! I want to be sure that as I’m watching my daughter and her classmates grow up that we are doing our best to implement solutions that work to remove barriers for children and families of color, so that all of our kids have access to better opportunities to reach their potential, and so that Michigan is stronger and better for everyone.

— Alicia Guevara-Warren, Kids Count in Michigan Project Director 

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