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

Many kids stuck in poverty without solutions

Contact: Judy Putnam or Jane Zehnder-Merrell, 517.487.5436

Kids Count in Mich. ranks 82 counties on child well-being

LANSING, Mich. – Too many kids in Michigan remain mired in poverty at a time when policymakers have reduced help for struggling families, according to the Kids Count in Michigan Data Book 2015 released today.

Three measures of economic conditions worsened over the trend period with nearly one in every four children living in an impoverished household, a 35 percent increase in child poverty over six years. The trend period measured from 2006 to 2012 or 2013, depending on the availability of data.

“The unraveling of family’s economic security cries out to be addressed by state leaders but what’s happened is just the opposite of what is needed,’’ said Jane Zehnder-Merrell, Kids Count in Michigan Project director at the Michigan League for Public Policy.

The state Earned Income Tax Credit was cut 70 percent in 2011. It goes to working families earning the least. (Voting ‘yes’ on the May 5 road funding proposal will restore it to 20 percent.) Other barriers are hard caps on lifetime limits for cash assistance, fewer weeks of unemployment, an asset test that limits federally funded food assistance, and child care subsidies that haven’t kept up with inflation.

“These are the tools we have to make sure a family in a crisis doesn’t spiral downward and is able to survive. The shredding of these programs is bad policy when it comes to the well-being of Michigan’s children,’’ Zehnder-Merrell said. “It’s hoped that the merger of the state departments of Community Health and Human Services will offer improved services for children and families, though budget pressures could bring more cuts.’’

In addition, Michigan in recent years eliminated financial aid grants for adults attending public colleges and universities and slashed adult education to a fraction of where it was a decade ago.

The toxic effect of poverty on children cannot be overstated. Research shows that children growing up in poor homes are more likely to drop out of school and less likely to have stable employment as adults. Boosting income in those families through such strategies as tax credits pays off with children in those families earning more and working more hours when they grow up.

More than a half-million Michigan kids lived in poverty, defined as $23,600 or less a year for a two-parent family of four. Child poverty is particularly high in communities of color where a lack of jobs and transportation has deepened economic woes. Detroit, a majority African-American city, has the highest level of concentrated poverty of the 50 largest U.S. cities, a recent report from the Annie E. Casey Foundation found.

The Kids Count report also highlights the racial inequity in access to oral health that needs to be addressed in the 2016 budget. The Healthy Kids Dental program, which provides additional payments to dentists for children on Medicaid, is in 80 counties. The three remaining counties left out of the program, Wayne, Oakland and Kent, have large populations of children of color.

That means that only 28 percent of white children eligible for Medicaid are in counties without Healthy Kids Dental compared with 63 percent of African-American children eligible for Medicaid.

“Gov. Snyder has called for the Healthy Kids Dental to be available in all communities. That needs to happen this year. Using public dollars in a way that mainly benefits white children and leaves out African American children is simply unacceptable,’’ said Gilda Z. Jacobs, president and CEO of the Michigan League for Public Policy.

Of the 15 trends in child well-being examined in the report, eight improved, five worsened, one stayed about the same and one could not be tracked over time. The report also ranks 82 of the 83 counties for overall child well-being with Livingston and Ottawa counties tied for the best rating of No. 1.

Statewide, all four education trends improved while fewer children remained in foster homes or relative care. Yet nearly 200,000 children live in families investigated for abuse or neglect, a 41 percent jump in the rate between 2006 and 2013, while nearly 34,000 were confirmed as victims of abuse or neglect.

A partner in the release of the Kids Count report, Matt Gillard, president and CEO of Michigan’sChildren, said p revention and early intervention are the keys to ensuring safety at home.

“It’s so very important that we focus on interventions that work – the earlier the better. This includes increasing evidence-based services for the most challenged families in local communities to prevent child abuse or neglect, and targeting services to vulnerable families with infants,’’ Gillard said. “A two-generation approach that helps parents get the resources and tools that they need, while at the same time supporting children, is critical.”

The Michigan Coalition for Children and Families, representing 20 child and family advocacy groups across the state, will use the report to focus on improvements to benefit children.

“This report offers communities and state level officials a treasure trove of information so they can know what’s working and what needs to be improved,’’ said Michele Strasz, chair of MCCF and the director of the Capital Area College Access Network.

More contact information: Matt Gillard, matt@michiganschildren.org, 517.488.9129 (c); Michele Strasz, programdirector@capitalareacan.org, 517.712.2014 (c).

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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 Detroit-based Skillman Foundation, Steelcase Foundation, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan Foundation, United Way for Southeastern Michigan, Battle Creek Community Foundation, Kalamazoo Community Foundation and John E. Fetzer Fund of the Kalamazoo Community Foundation.

Back to school: Are children ready to learn?

For children to succeed in school, they must go to school “ready to learn” –  rested, fed and healthy. But how many children will start the school year with a toothache or other dental problem?

According to the Department of Community Health’s 2011 -2012 Count Your Smiles survey, the number is likely pretty high. (more…)

Today’s lesson: Poverty is not a learning disability

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My Brother’s Keeper is a White House initiative aimed at addressing what is truly a crisis in Michigan and across the nation: The lack of opportunity for young males of color.

Attendees at the Opportunity and Equity Convening Monday in Novi, an event sponsored by the Prosperity Coalition and the League, heard directly from Cabinet Secretary Broderick Johnson, who attended the gathering to preview the initiative – with a report due to President Obama May 28. (more…)

80-mile walk

On this cool, windy spring morning I joined other advocates to show support for the youth who walked the 80 miles from Detroit to the Capitol steps in Lansing to express their concerns with Michigan’s zero tolerance policies and the impact on their lives.

Michael Reynolds, an organizer of the 80- mile event, said zero tolerance policies are "kicking good kids out of school.''

For the uninitiated, “zero tolerance” in this context refers to those education policies that mandate automatic suspension or expulsion for offenses deemed a threat to the safety of other students or school staff. The big problem in Michigan is that the list of such offenses now includes relatively minor infractions such as not having a school ID badge or wearing clothing that doesn’t adhere to the uniform code, according to the students who spoke this morning.

“I hope that legislators understand that youth around Michigan want to modify zero tolerance, and we’re willing to walk 80 miles to show it,” said Michael Reynolds, co-president of Youth First and an organizer of the march.

In 1995, Michigan enacted a series of laws in response to the federal Gun Free Schools Act of 1994 that required expulsion for at least one year any student who brought a weapon onto school property. Unfortunately Michigan legislators enacted some of the most stringent policies in the country by expanding the list of “expulsion” offenses to include assault whether or not a weapon was involved, verbal “assaults,” vandalism, disobedience and an expansive definition of “weapon” that included toys and plastic knives. (more…)

War on Poverty: Part 2

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Today marks the 50th anniversary of President Lyndon Baines Johnson’s now-famous State of the Union address that launched the War on Poverty:

“Unfortunately, many Americans live on the outskirts of hope — some because of their poverty, and some because of their color, and all too many because of both. Our task is to help replace their despair with opportunity.

While some pundits will undoubtedly seize the anniversary as an opportunity to wrongly declare the War on Poverty a failure, we should instead recommit to LBJ’s vision, as there is plenty of evidence that it worked. And what an incredible return on investment! (more…)

What a difference 30 years makes

What were you doing in 1982?

Perhaps some readers were finishing up high school and beginning college, like I was. That year, Michigan’s unemployment rate was at its worst (16.8% in December) as automobile and other manufacturing jobs disappeared and in turn affected other parts of the economy. My graduating class expected that getting a postsecondary credential would help inoculate us from the worst effects of the recession and increase our wages.

Despite high unemployment, wages in Michigan were still generally high that year—our state had the  fourth-highest median wage in the nation. Unfortunately, in the 30 years since then, Michigan dropped to 24th. It was one of only eight states to have a median wage drop—a loss of 7%, second only to Alaska (largely due to the disappearance of high-paying manufacturing jobs). (more…)

Making Michigan truly a ‘comeback state’

As the annual Mackinac Policy Conference continues, we’re sure to hear a lot about Michigan as the “comeback state.” (Just check out #MPC13 on Twitter and Gov. Rick Snyder, who tweets under @onetoughnerd.)

Sponsored by the Detroit Chamber of Commerce, the conference brings together business people and politicians on Mackinac Island for an annual confab on policy. (more…)

Right Start in Michigan and Its Great Start Collaboratives 2013 – Executive Summary

 Full Report  | Executive Summary 

From the very beginning of life, children experience vastly different circumstances. Public policy can ease or exacerbate these disparities. The sustained public health and education campaign to reduce teen pregnancy and birth shows the success of such focus over the past two decades. Between 1990 and 2011, the state’s teen birth rate was cut in half.

The investment in early childhood in Michigan must begin with assuring more children have the “right start” at birth. Currently Michigan compares poorly with other states on several measures and recent trends are troubling. Overall Michigan saw little improvement between 2005 and 2011 in maternal and infant well-being.

This report reviews eight key indicators at birth to assess the extent of differences by race/ethnicity in Michigan and among its 54 Great Start Collaboratives.1 Children of color continue to experience a disproportionate disadvantage, which will have significant implications in the state’s efforts to improve educational achievement and promote health to create a more competitive workforce, as their share of the birth cohort increases.

MICHIGAN MADE LITTLE PROGRESS IN IMPROVING MATERNAL AND INFANT WELL-BEING BETWEEN 2005 AND 2011.

    • Only two measures of the five where a change could be calculated reflected substantial change.2
      • Nonmarital births escalated by 18%: rising from 36% of births to 42%. Soaring unemployment and dwindling wage levels most severely affected men and women without a college degree, limiting their capacity for family formation. Unemployment, particularly among men, is a major reason cited for delaying or rejecting marriage, according to findings from the Fragile Families Survey.
      • Births to teens already mothers declined who were by 9%—from 19% of teen births to 17%.
    • In 2003 birthrates among women in their early and late 30s exceeded those among women in their early 20s and teens, respectively, and the gap continued to widen through the rest of the decade.

Maternal and infant well-being varied dramatically across Michigan’s Great Start Collaboratives. The risks to maternal and infant well-being were least prevalent in Livingston GSC, which had the lowest rates on four of the eight measures tracked in this report. Wayne and Genesee GSCs tied for the worst ranking.

Maternal/infant well-being varied dramatically by race/ethnicity: In 2011 infants born to mothers in Michigan’s two major minority groups were at much higher risk than their white counterparts on a number of key measures, including teen births, preterm births, nonmarital births and births to women without a high school diploma or GED. White women were the most likely (23%) to report smoking during pregnancy.

Maternal/infant well-being worsened on most measures among Hispanics. Between 2005 and 2011, all the major racial/ethnic groups in Michigan experienced declines in their percentages of repeat teen births and increases in their nonmarital births with whites reflecting the most dramatic changes on both measures. Only African American infants saw increased risk of being born to a teenager and decreased likelihood of low-birthweight while only Hispanics experienced worsening trends in low birthweight and preterm births.

PUBLIC POLICY CAN IMPROVE MATERNAL AND INFANT WELL-BEING.

Public policies that improve access to health care so that more women are healthy before they become pregnant and that allow women access to family planning services are critical. Programs to provide opportunities for low-income workers to improve their skills so they have the financial resources to care for their children would provide more young children the “right start.” The Affordable Care Act extends federal funds to accomplish some of these objectives, and state policymakers should support its implementation and look to establish other family-friendly initiatives to improve the circumstances for more children at the beginning of their lives.

Medicaid expansion: The federal Affordable Care Act, which extends access to medical care and preventive services to all Americans, will particularly benefit low-income individuals. Medicaid expansion to all Michigan residents in households with incomes under 138% of the federal poverty level offers a critical opportunity to increase access to health services for the most economically disadvantaged women who have the highest probability for several risk factors for pregnancy and birth.

Home visiting: The federal ACA also extends funding to the states to improve home visiting programs and expand services in high-risk communities. This effort supports the evidence-based home visiting models that achieve better birth outcomes for mothers and babies. Michigan has successfully applied for this funding. Improved coordination across home visiting programs and centralized access are some initiatives being piloted in communities to target services to fit family needs. Michigan now requires all funding for home visiting through any department support only promising or evidence-based programs. An annual report to the Legislature is required on a set of common outcomes across all home visiting programs.

Pay equity: With rising nonmarital births, more women are on their own in supporting children. As noted, the feasibility of marriage is often grounded in economic realities, so low wages and high unemployment discourage family formation despite childbirth. Michigan has one of the worst ratios in gender pay in the country, so pay equity would improve the lives of women and their children. Increasing job training opportunities for high school graduates would help more young parents and parents-to-be secure jobs with family-supporting wage levels.

ENDNOTES:

  1. There are 54 GSCs—37 single counties and 17 with two or more counties. Three county-based ISDs—Manistee, Oceana and Iosco—have been integrated into nearby multiple county ISDs. The ISDs match the county lines in the more highly populated southern counties but encompass as many as six counties in the northern rural areas.
  2. Due to changes in the Michigan birth certificate implemented in the summer of 2007, only five indicators can be assessed for trends between 2005 and 2010.

 

 

 

What affects one, affects all

On Jan. 16, the day after Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday and just days before the nation is to honor the civil rights leader on MLK Day, nearly 200 members of the League’s Prosperity Coalition came together to change the conversation on economic opportunity at the Opportunity & Equity Statewide Convening.

At the convening we tackled ways to frame messages that dismantle the race wedge and influence opportunity-creating and equitable policies in our state. During our discussion, the concept of equity was defined by saying:  “Equality is giving everyone a pair of shoes; equity is giving everyone a pair of shoes that fits.” (more…)

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