What affects one, affects all

Danielle Smith

Danielle Smith

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…)

It’s about all of us

If your neighbors are struggling, you will feel it, see it in your back yard.

If your family members are struggling, you will feel it, see it at the dinner table.

If your school is struggling, you will feel it, see it on your child’s face. (more…)

Equity as a superior growth model

By 2020, the majority of children in the United States under the age of 18 will be children of color. By 2050, the country will be a majority minority nation, with people of color representing slightly over half of the population.

In Michigan, children of color make up over 31 percent of the state’s child population. Over the last 10 years, the population of children of Asian descent grew by more than 29 percent and Hispanic and Latino children by close to 40 percent. The population of white children  declined by more than 14 percent. (more…)

Rise in poverty clouds future

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As a lifelong Metro Detroiter, it’s heart-breaking to see the latest poverty statistics for our already troubled region.

Among the country’s 50 largest cities, Detroit has the dubious distinction of having the largest share of children living in poverty or in low-income families.
Four out of every five kids in Detroit lived at less than 200 percent of poverty — the level many experts consider necessary to cover the most basic needs, according to KIDS COUNT. (more…)

The canary in the coal mine

Historically, canaries were used to detect the levels of any dangerous gas buildups in coal mines, signaling to workers whether it was safe to enter. If the canary was heard singing, work would move forward, if there was silence, you did not enter. The rate of infant mortality is like the canary in the coal mine. It is an overall indicator of the quality of life in an area by telling us the health and well-being of the state’s most vulnerable population—infants. And in Michigan, the canary continues to be silenced. (more…)

The facts, the future and the budget

Two recent reports starkly present the challenge of demographic trends in the U.S.

The first highlights the rapidly increasing diversity among children in the U.S., and the second focuses on the dropout rates for youth in poor and minority communities in an era when a high school diploma is the minimal standard of education in the job market.

Unfortunately, the implications of these reports are being ignored in budget discussions and decisions.

In 2010, in 10 of the country’s most populous states, including Texas and California, the majority of the child population were minority, and they represented more than 40 percent of the child population in an additonal 23 states, according to an analysis by the Brookings Institution. It is now anticipated that “minorities” will be in the majority by 2020.

The report’s author, William H. Frey, sees this growing diversity as a great national asset, but that will only be true if the challenges revealed by another study for the Annie E. Casey Foundation are addressed.

Based on longitudinal survey data, report author Donald Hernandez found that:

• One of every six children not proficient in reading in third grade do not graduate from high school—four times the rate of their peers who were proficient in reading.

• Almost one-quarter (22%) of youth who ever lived in poverty do not graduate from high school compared with 6 percent of those who never experienced poverty.

• The dropout rates for black and Hispanic students who haven’t mastered reading skills in third grade are roughly twice as high as that of their white counterparts.

Hernandez points to three stakeholders to improve these outcomes: schools; family; and federal, state and local policy. Given the profound impact of the early years, maternal well-being, and the concentrations of economic and social disadvantages, the policy environment should be the first step.

As the United Kingdom has demonstrated, national policies can have a substantial impact on reducing child poverty—a condition that has particularly devastating consequences during the earliest years of life—long before these children reach the schoolhouse door.

Family is important, but families exist within communities affected by larger social and economic trends and conditions over which they have limited control. Witness the impact of the recession and the housing collapse on families. Similarly schools with shrinking resources have to cut programs and academic supports that assist the most disadvantaged children to become successful learners.

In the budget battles at the federal level, the programs targeted for cuts are those that disproportionately affect children, particularly the economically disadvantaged, who are disproportionately minority. While these cuts are being touted as necessary to reduce the national debt, the same concern is not voiced when tax cuts are proposed.

Under the U.S. House Budget resolution for 2012, two-thirds of the proposed cuts would come from programs serving low-income people. Proposals to cap programs such as Food Stamps/SNAP could jeopardize the well-being of children and families; roughly half of the SNAP recipients are children under age 18, according to analysis by the Center for Budget & Policy Priorities.

Given the demographic trends, the tough choices are not so difficult. The future of the country is grounded in the health, economic security, and opportunities for the next generation. This future must be weighed against cutting taxes for the wealthiest Americans who have benefited the most from the economic growth of the last decade.

— Jane Zehnder-Merrell

Post-racial America? Think again

The U.S. Census Bureau Tuesday released the results of its annual American Community Survey, which surveys approximately 3 million households across the United States. This data reveals a lot about the economic conditions Michigan residents are facing and particularly how these challenges are hitting people of color the hardest.

According to this new data, which is much more comprehensive than the Current Population Survey released on September 16, not only did Michigan’s median household income continue to fall, but our poverty rate also increased.

Overall, Michigan’s inflation-adjusted median household income declined 6.2 percent between 2008 and 2009 and the poverty rate increased from 14.5 percent in 2008 to 16.2 percent in 2009. Child poverty jumped from 19.4 percent to 22.1 percent in just one year. This means more than 1 in 5 children under 18 are living in families where the total income is at or below $17,285 for a family of three. 

While things got worse for many Michigan residents in 2009, communities of color were harder hit. The median household income fell for all racial groups, but the drop was highest for African Americans  (7.5 percent) and Hispanics (6.6 percent). For white, non-Hispanics, it fell 5.6 percent, less than the overall decline of 6.2 percent.

Just as concerning is the poverty rate for communities of color. Over a third of African Americans (34.6 percent) and 29 percent of Hispanics lived below the poverty line in 2009. In 2008 the poverty rate was 30.3 percent for African Americans and 26 percent for Hispanics. The poverty rate was significantly lower for whites — 12 percent in 2009, up from 10.8 percent in 2008. 

With people of color experiencing higher rates of unemployment, thus lower income and higher rates of poverty, it is clear disparities between races still exist and that communities of color have been hit harder by this recession than whites.  But overall, more people, regardless of race, are turning to safety net programs just to make ends meet and are looking to job training programs such as No Worker Left Behind and adult education programs to increase their skills to be prepared for the knowledge-based jobs of the future.

However, cuts to job training programs, as well as safety net programs, will do nothing to help any Michigan resident, regardless of race, prepare for potential employment opportunities. And in an economy such as this, and in the state that has been hardest hit by this recession, we should be giving all people who want to increase their skills the opportunity to do so to help erase the disparities that clearly still exist.

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