Originally published in the Michigan League for Public Policy’s 2018 Kids Count in Michigan Data Book.
In 2016, more than 1 in 5 children in Michigan still lived in poverty. That is an improvement from 23% in 2010 when our state was beginning to recover from the Great Recession. However, that means that 444,100 children lived in poverty. And while unemployment levels are down to their lowest in decades and median income has slowly risen, jobs in Michigan have been disproportionately low wage1 and when adjusted for infl ation, income levels are still below pre-recession levels.2 Even when families are working—two-thirds of young children have both parents in the workforce—it is a struggle to make ends meet. Families need access to jobs that provide family-supporting wages and benefits.
Levels of children living in high-poverty neighborhoods have also remained steady at 17%, with ranges up to over 43% in Schoolcraft and Wayne counties. Children of color are much more likely to live in poverty and in concentrated poverty: 55% of African-American and 29% of Latinx children live in high-poverty neighborhoods where the poverty rate is 30% or higher. Neighborhoods with high levels of poverty are less likely to off er opportunities that improve outcomes—schools without adequate resources, fewer jobs for parents and higher rates of crime and violence are generally found instead.3 The chronic stress that can occur when living in poverty and high-poverty neighborhoods can also negatively impact child development and overall health and well-being.4
Poverty remains one of the best predictors of outcomes for kids. It is connected to homelessness, which results in instability and trauma for children. It appears in the child welfare system, where there is a greater risk of neglect causing adverse eff ects for kids. Educational outcomes vary greatly based on income and the availability, or lack of, resources to support learning. Children’s health is aff ected by poverty whether through environmental issues, such as high levels of lead in older housing, or hunger and poor nutrition.
The racial and ethnic disparities that exist in poverty and other indicators of well-being for children in Michigan are unacceptable. The 2017 Race for Results report by the national KIDS COUNT project revealed that African-American kids in Michigan fare worse than their peers in any other state and no state is doing particularly well in outcomes for Latinx children.5 Systems and institutions have historically worked against people of color, which has led to deep diff erences in opportunity. As a state and a country, we need to develop policies using a racial equity lens and that includes prioritizing the collection and availability of data disaggregated by race and ethnicity.
Recent reforms to the state’s zero-tolerance school discipline law, which disproportionately impacts kids of color, are an example of how policy can begin to tackle disparities in the school-to-prison pipeline. Another opportunity for lawmakers to make a signifi cant impact would be to raise the age of juvenile jurisdiction from 17 to 18 years old. Youth of color are overrepresented in the number of 17-year-olds entering the state’s adult criminal justice system, strapping them with an adult criminal record and denying them of future economic and educational opportunities.
The 2018 Kids Count in Michigan Data Book continues to demonstrate that race and income are critical factors to be addressed if we are to create a Michigan where all children have opportunities to reach their potential. While there have been some signifi cant wins and investments in programs for children, such as increased funding for the At-Risk School Aid program and improvements in the state’s child care subsidy program, these come after more than a decade of disinvestments and the erosion of safety net programs meant to assist families experiencing poverty and fi nancial diffi culties. The research is clear: money matters for child well-being. Increasing fi nancial resources to families through policies like the state’s Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) and cash assistance programs improves outcomes, including education attainment.6 There is much more work ahead.