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…)

Back-to-school success for kids — and adults

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Labor Day is over, and it’s back-to-school time in Michigan. But our kids are not the only ones in our state who need to hit the books.

It’s time for policymakers to study up and implement changes to help adults in families across Michigan.

The League mapped out strategies in a recent report to help adult learners attain the credentials they need to become successful  workers. It’s not pie-in-the-sky stuff. We need these adult learners to be part of the talent pool for a successful economy that works for all by offering opportunity and lessening the need for government assistance. (more…)

Lower unemployment rate but where are the workers?

Michigan’s declining unemployment rate does not tell the whole story, according to the League’s 2012 Labor Day Report.

Three years ago on Labor Day, we had just finished August with the highest monthly unemployment rate since the early 1980s — 14.2% and highest in the nation. Two years ago the August unemployment rate was 12.4% and second highest in the nation, and last year it was 10.4% and third highest. The rate for this past July was 9%, 10th highest.

A closer look shows that the picture is not all rosy. Michigan’s improving unemployment rate is driven less by an increase in employed workers and more by a decrease in unemployed workers and in the total labor force. The number of unemployed workers in a given month is now lower than the net number of workers Michigan has lost from its labor force since 2001 (when the labor force was at its numerical peak and unemployment was below 5%). (more…)

Begin at the beginning

In the space of a year most infants go from being wide-eyed babies who must be carried with care to children running about on their two feet. But some infants do not survive that first year; in fact, the majority of infant deaths occur within the first week of life.

Michigan has an infant mortality rate higher than most states and persistently higher than the national average. The state’s infant mortality rate for African Americans is triple that of non-Hispanic whites. The latest report from Kids Count in Michigan tracks eight maternal and infant indicators that place babies at risk for infant mortality. To begin to address infant mortality, we must start by reviewing trends in key factors that put babies at risk of an unhealthy birth. (more…)

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