Census numbers tell of stagnancy and slow recovery

Today is the big day that comes each year: the release of American Community Survey figures on income and poverty.

Ready for some numbers?

Michigan’s household median income in 2013 ($48,273) was a bit higher than in 2012, but is nearly $1,000 lower than in 2009. The income bracket that grew the largest from 2009 to 2013 was the share of Michigan households who make under $10,000 a year. The only other income bracket with a significant share increase was households making more than $200,000 a year. These numbers taken together suggest that the slow economic recovery in Michigan is primarily benefiting those at higher incomes.

The 2013 poverty rate remained basically the same as the year before at 17%. Child poverty went down from 24.9% to 23.8%. While a 1 percentage point decrease is not the type of thing to make headlines, it still is a good trend.  But unfortunately, the child poverty rate remains higher than in 2009.

The percentage of renters with unaffordable rent (rent that consumes over 1/3 of household income) also improved over the past several years. In 2009, nearly 47% of renters paid more than 35% of their income for rent, and in 2013, that number was down to nearly 44%. But 44% of renters paying unaffordable rent is still too many!

One area that showed decisive improvement is in the educational level of Michigan residents over 25 years of age. The respective percentages with associate, bachelor’s and graduate degrees all significantly increased from 2009 to 2013, while the percentages with no high school diploma or only a high school diploma significantly decreased. (This is important because having a postsecondary credential is becoming increasingly important, even in trades which traditionally required only a high school diploma and on-the-job training.)

Overall, the 2013 census figures have little by way of good news or terrible news. The main story is one of stagnancy, which in Michigan’s current climate means the improvement we have been hoping for has not really happened yet.

The Michigan League for Public Policy has outlined some options that we urge policymakers to consider:

  • Restore the Michigan Earned Income Tax Credit, which helps over 1 million children in families receiving the credit in Michigan. It was cut from 20 percent of the federal credit to 6 percent of the federal credit in 2011.
  • Raise the minimum wage to a higher level than what has recently been legislated ($9.25 by 2018). Polls show strong public support for $10.10 an hour and studies show that such an increase will not hinder job growth.
  • Resist more business tax cuts that would starve education and other needed state programs that help families.
  • Return unemployment benefits to a maximum of 26 weeks to provide a safety net while unemployed workers look for work.  The Michigan Legislature cut the maximum to 20 weeks in 2011.
  • Find ways to get more food assistance to the hungry. Michigan has options to expand federal food benefits in the state.
  • Enact policies that make it easier for workers earning low wages to develop skills and obtain credentials.

– Peter Ruark

Holy smoke Batman! We can reduce poverty

Like Batman and Robin, raising the state Earned Income Tax Credit and minimum wage are best when working together, a new report concludes.

The two strategies are better than one, according to State Income Taxes and Minimum Wages Work Best Together, by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

The dynamic duo complement one another to boost income, widen the path out of poverty and reduce income inequality.

Michigan has increased the minimum wage modestly, starting with a 75-cent an hour bump on Monday to $8.15 an hour. It will eventually go to $9.25 by 2018.

While a positive move, the motivation behind the increase was to sidestep a popular ballot initiative to take it to $10.10 an hour, index it to inflation, and eventually raise the tipped wage to that level, meaning that waiters and other tipped workers would earn the regular minimum hourly wage from employers, not count on tips to make up the difference. Polls showed the public supported the proposal, which narrowly missed the November ballot.

Michigan could and should do more. The state EITC was slashed from 20% of the federal credit to 6% of the federal credit, starting in 2012. That means that more than 1 million children living in households qualifying for the EITC have less income and more than 15,000 families fell below the poverty line because of that decision.

Restoring the state EITC and raising the minimum wage even more than planned would lift families from poverty, reward work and get our economy moving.

And holy cow! That just makes sense.

– Judy Putnam

 

Shooting ourselves in the foot

Michigan and the seven other states that cut unemployment benefits in the wake of the Great Recession caused financial hardship for unemployed workers and failed to boost the overall economic outlooks of the states, a new report from the Economic Policy Institute concludes.

Problems with the unemployment system actually stemmed from underfunding the state trust funds in good times, rather than paying out benefits too generously, the report concludes. And cutting benefits not only shortchanged jobless workers and their families, it undermined the countercyclical role of the unemployment system that is designed to kick in when times are tough. (more…)

Healthy Michigan Plan gets healthy start!

The Healthy Michigan Plan, Michigan’s Medicaid expansion, opened for enrollment on April 1, and within the first 72 hours, 36,329 applications were submitted through the MIBridges website and 20,995 were approved for coverage. By Tuesday, the number of enrolled shot up to 59,280 — an amazing number for a two-week period.  That means that more than 109,000 people are now covered, including those who were transferred over to the plan from the Adult Benefits Waiver program.

The program is off to a great start — great news for Michigan’s low-income uninsured. The online enrollment system is working well with the majority of applications being processed in a matter of minutes or even seconds. (more…)

Healthy Michigan Plan enrollment opens April 1

The Department of Community Health has announced open enrollment will begin for the Healthy Michigan Plan on April 1. This long-awaited announcement is great news for Michigan’s low-income uninsured residents.

Starting next week, adults (ages 19-64) in families with incomes below 133% of the federal poverty level (up to $15,521 for an individual or $31,721 for a family of four) who are not currently eligible for Medicaid or Medicare, and not pregnant, will be able to apply for the comprehensive coverage offered by the Healthy Michigan Plan. Citizenship, or lawful admittance to the U.S., is also required. (more…)

Constitutional amendment: misguided and reckless

A resolution passed by the Michigan House on Thursday calling for a federal balanced budget amendment is misguided and reckless. While a balanced budget amendment may seem appealing on the surface, it would create serious challenges for our economy while threatening the U.S. Constitution.

Requiring a balanced federal budget would threaten critical services such as schools, highways, public safety and more in our state. Michigan has already experienced a decade of cuts in education, local communities and roads. We cannot afford to lose federal dollars that are helping us invest in the important engines of our economy. (more…)

Raise Michigan raises hope

The possibility of a long-overdue increase to Michigan’s minimum wage is on the horizon with the kickoff of the Raise Michigan campaign to put the issue before voters on the fall ballot.

If successful, it will raise Michigan’s $7.40 an hour wage minimum wage to $10.10 over three years and index it to inflation. It also includes a gradual increase of the $2.65/hour “tipped” wage for restaurant servers.

With so many problems to report on – rising income inequality, growing number of low-income working moms and shrinking windows of opportunity for our young people – it’s good to be able to talk about a positive solution. (more…)

EITC is perfect vehicle for the governor

From the League’s First Tuesday newsletter
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Gov. Rick Snyder unveils his fourth executive budget Wednesday and worthy of applause is the fact that he has rejected the across-the-board rollback of Michigan’s personal income tax.

The governor indicated in his State of the State address last month that he wants a tax cut but one that is targeted to working families — those “hardworking Michiganders who get up every day and pack their lunch and go to work.” (more…)

Priorities Michigan launch

Last week marked the launch of a new organization, Priorities Michigan, a civic engagement and education project aimed at changing the conversation around the state budget and promoting needed investment in public goods.

The Michigan League for Public Policy is proud to be a partner organization on this as we join with others to highlight the effects of over a decade of devastating budget cuts to schools, communities, higher education, infrastructure and human services. (more…)

War on Poverty: Part 2

From the League’s First Tuesday newsletter
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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…)

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