This column originally appeared in Michigan Advance on July 1, 2020
For some of us, tracking the COVID-19 pandemic has become a part of daily life. In a small way, peering over the trackers, maps, graphs and charts can help us feel in control — like we know what’s going on around us and around the world.
We all cope in different ways. For some, that may mean constant refreshing of our web browsers, for others avoiding the news altogether.
But without a doubt, data is informing our decisions in response to the pandemic. And it should.
At the Michigan League for Public Policy, we use data to make informed decisions every day. That’s why Kids Count knows how important it is to provide consistent, reliable data from a variety of sources on child well-being. Our 2020 Kids Count in Michigan Data Profiles released in April provide a snapshot of how kids across the state were doing prior to the pandemic. And in June, the national 2020 Kids Count Data Book provided a similar pre-COVID look at child well-being across the country, and how Michigan ranked in comparison (32nd nationally).
While the Kids Count county, state and national data preceded the COVID-19 pandemic, these reports are coming at a pivotal time for Michigan kids and their well-being and policy needs must be seen in the context of this current crisis.
As we enter unprecedented times, data on indicators like child food insecurity, immunizations and internet access are already informing our response as a state. Data on free and reduced-price lunch showed about half of all K-12 students at risk of going hungry. Michigan was the first state to be approved to send pandemic food benefits to those families, no strings attached. Efforts are underway to provide laptops and internet to students without a computer at home.
COVID-19 data is also putting a spotlight on disparities, or differences, in the number of cases and deaths. While some differences, like those seen by age, are a function of how the virus affects our bodies, others, like those by race and ethnicity, point to injustices in our society. As the League and Kids Count in Michigan have shown, racist policies led to disparities in areas like health and economic security prior to the pandemic. Those disparities put people of color disproportionately in harm’s way.
New data on the effects of the pandemic on households are being released weekly. We can already see effects on children and the disparities that call us to justice. For the latest data from mid-May, 17% of Michigan households with children reported sometimes or often not having enough to eat in the past seven days. Compare this upsetting figure to the 37% of households with incomes below $35,000 and 45.9% of all Black households reporting the same. Data like these should continue to inform the response of policymakers and bodies like the Coronavirus Task Force on Racial Disparities.
It’s not enough to see the disparities between groups of people. We must understand the root causes and advocate for policies that will correct for these injustices, serving families better.
Kids Count in Michigan has our eyes on targets to move toward. And the League continues to push for the best ways we can respond to the crisis as a state, while centering racial equity and two-generation approaches that connect the well-being of kids to that of their caregivers.
Kids Count in Michigan will continue to search out, analyze and provide the public with the best data we have to make informed decisions. We will continue to point out disparities and advocate for just solutions. The numbers can be overwhelming at times, but they are calling us to action.