Two generation policies offer support for parents and kids

On Monday, October 26th, the Michigan League for Public Policy held our annual meeting and public policy forum, “Secure Parents and Successful Kids.” We were joined by more than 250 people from around the state and a host of national and state experts and innovators in the fields of education, economic security and child well-being to discuss a two-generation approach to tackling poverty.

Our keynote speaker was Anne Mosle, who directs Ascend at the Aspen Institute in Washington, D.C. Ascend is a national hub for breakthrough ideas and collaborations that move children and their parents towards educational success and economic security—the very definition of a two generation approach.

Anne began her presentation with a short video on the Jeremiah Program. Jeremiah provides single mothers and their children with a safe, affordable place to live, quality early childhood education, life skills training and support for career-track education. The video summarizes the dilemma many low-income families face, and how two generation strategies can help. Oftentimes these families are so focused on surviving and getting by that they are unable to succeed and move up. But if they have support in the moment, they can start planning for and building toward the future.

As Anne stated, we have to meet people where they are and develop a plan for where they want to go. Equity doesn’t just happen. It has to be an intentional commitment instead. For example, $3,000 in extra family income can increase a child’s economic trajectory by over 20%.

Anne and her colleagues at Ascend have put together a booklet, Top Ten for 2Gen, that includes policy ideas and principles to advance two-generation efforts. It outlines the keys to success and stability that all families need, and they are the same areas where the League is working in Michigan: early education, postsecondary education and employment pathways, health and well-being, social capital and economic assets.

Anne’s presentation was followed by a panel discussion on two-generation policies and approaches in Michigan with Tim Becker, chief deputy director, Michigan Department of Health and Human Services; Carol Goss, former CEO of the Skillman Foundation; Dr. Ali Webb, director of Michigan programs, W.K. Kellogg Foundation; and Mindy Ysasi, executive director, The SOURCE.

Tim Becker shared a presentation on the “River of Opportunity” and noted that it is in his department and the state’s best interest to try a two generation approach to better help children and families together. Having worked in human resources for some of the state’s leading organizations, Mindy Ysasi said that workplace policy is a key area where a two generation approach is needed and that “the people who need the most flexibility have the least flexibility.”

The panel also delved into Michigan’s political climate and racial inequity. The League also recently examined the racial disparities in the state budget that are perpetuating poverty for people of color in Michigan.

A large focus of the discussion was that everyone’s work on poverty and two generation policies is still largely dependent on the Legislature and the budget. Dr. Ali Webb and Carol Goss talked about the efforts of foundations like theirs, but that it is not enough without policy changes at the state level. Michigan’s state budget of a couple hundred billion can have way more of an impact than any one foundation.

Research shows that two-generation programs and policies are a win-win for children, their families and the state, and should have universal appeal to nonprofit and service organizations and elected officials. The League’s public policy forum was a good start, but there is much work ahead to truly start implementing two generation policies in Michigan.

 – Gilda Z. Jacobs

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. (more…)

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.


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.


    • 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 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.


  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.




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