Lawmakers need to fix harmful policies that are failing kids
LANSING—Child poverty went up in 80 of 83 Michigan counties since 2006 and leads to struggles in every other area of a child’s life, the Kids Count in Michigan Data Book 2016 released today by the Michigan League for Public Policy shows. The report outlines policy recommendations for legislators to help low-income kids and children of color and their families, a need that has been magnified by the recent crises with Flint’s water and Detroit Public Schools.
The report shows all three measures of economic security worsened significantly over the trend period (2006-2014), including a 23 percent rate increase in child poverty statewide. The rate of child abuse and neglect also rose, up 29 percent statewide and increasing in most Michigan counties compared to 2006. Research shows that poverty has a detrimental impact on Michigan kids’ health—from lead exposure and asthma to low birthweight and infant mortality, education performance and graduation rates, and future employment and economic security.
“We think all kids count—no matter where they live, their racial or ethnic background, or their family income—but do the elected officials charged with supporting their well-being share that priority?” said Alicia Guevara Warren, Kids Count in Michigan project director at the Michigan League for Public Policy. “This book is not meant to be simply a reporting tool, but a catalyst for action. If legislators are truly concerned with child well-being, they have to address income and racial disparities, and invest in proven two-generation strategies that help kids by helping their parents.”
Some of the Kids Count in Michigan Data Book’s key recommendations to policymakers on supporting parents and improving child well-being are:
- Invest in communities to create safe neighborhoods, clean air and water, quality schools and adequate police and fire services;
- Strengthen policies that support work, such as the Earned Income Tax Credit, earned paid sick leave and workforce development opportunities;
- Promote comprehensive strategies to prevent child abuse and neglect, including providing mental health and substance abuse services for parents;
- Ensure access to affordable, quality child care; and
- Adequately fund public schools, targeting resources in high-need areas and providing early interventions and services.
“The Michigan League for Public Policy has been producing the Kids Count report for 25 years, but low-income kids are still struggling, and the repercussions touch every part of their lives,” said Gilda Z. Jacobs, president and CEO of the Michigan League for Public Policy. “The Flint water crisis and the horrendous conditions in Detroit Public Schools show just how low a priority protecting kids has become. Lawmakers have a responsibility to protect Michigan kids, and with this book, we provide the information and recommendations for how they can do that.”
The Michigan League for Public Policy has been compiling and releasing the annual Kids Count in Michigan Data Book for 25 years to analyze and evaluate the well-being of children in the state. The 2016 book primarily compares data from 2006 to 2014 and analyzes 16 key indicators across four domains: 1) economic security; 2) health and safety; 3) family and community; and 4) education. The overall child well-being rank is based on a county’s rank in each of the 16 measures.
Some of the most startling statewide takeaways from the Kids Count in Michigan Data Book 2016 (comparing 2006 to 2014) are:
- Nearly 1 in every 4 children in Michigan live in poverty (22.6 percent)—a 23 percent increase in the rate over 2006 and 2014. Child poverty is even higher for kids of color (47 percent for African-Americans and 32 percent for Hispanics compared to 16 percent for White kids);
- The rate of children living in families investigated for child abuse and neglect increased by 52 percent and the rate of confirmed victims rose by 29 percent;
- 32 percent of children live in a household where no parent has secure employment;
- 67 percent of young children (ages 0-5) had both parents in the workforce;
- On average, monthly child care consumed almost 40 percent of 2015 minimum wage earnings; and
- 17 percent of children in Michigan live in high-poverty neighborhoods (only seven states have a higher rate), including 18 percent of American Indian, 55 percent of African-American and 30 percent of Latino children.
Of the 12 trends in Michigan child well-being with enough data to analyze in the 2016 report, six improved, five worsened, and one stayed the same. The report also ranks 82 of the 83 counties for overall child well-being (Keweenaw County lacks sufficient data). The top and bottom three from last year are nearly the same as in 2016. This year’s best counties are Livingston (1st), Ottawa (2nd) and Clinton (3rd). The worst counties are Lake (82nd), Clare (81st) and Muskegon (80th). Other notable county rankings were Calhoun (69th), Ingham (39th), Kalamazoo (44th) and Wayne (66th).
Don Wotruba, executive director of the Michigan Association of School Boards, noted the need to invest in Michigan schools and work with kids and families early on to set them up for success.
“As we’re seeing with Detroit Public Schools at this very moment, greater investment in education is needed to prevent our schools from struggling and our students from suffering,” Wotruba said. “Lawmakers also need to understand poverty’s role in the academic equation and provide early intervention and support services for kids and parents alike to address that.”
As well as informing legislators, the report will help the state’s community, education, health and children’s organizations identify the state policies needed for healthy kids.
“Every child deserves a chance to live a healthy life,” said Dr. Abdul El-Sayed, executive director and health officer for the Detroit Health Department. “While there are several highlights from the Kids Count data report, like decreases in teen pregnancy and lead poisoning rates, there’s still lots of work to do. Unintended pregnancy stands at 45 percent and 1 in 3 mothers did not receive adequate prenatal care. With a focus on good policy and efficient programs, we can speed the march in the right direction. Our children deserve it.”
The Kids Count in Michigan project is part of a broad national effort to improve conditions for children and their families. Funding for the project is provided by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, Skillman Foundation, Steelcase Foundation, Frey Foundation, Michigan Education Association, American Federation of Teachers Michigan, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan Foundation, United Way for Southeastern Michigan, Battle Creek Community Foundation, Fetzer Institute and Kalamazoo Community Foundation. More state and local data are available at the Kids Count Data Center, www.datacenter.kidscount.org.