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