Everyone wants the best for their kids. We want to live in a state that invests in our youngest residents and provides a future for them. I think back to when I was in graduate school in Austin, Texas, and was offered a job to stay there. This was at the beginning of the Great Recession in 2007 and I decided that it was more important to me to come back home and try to make things better here. I wanted to help make Michigan a place where people would want to live, more college graduates would stay or return home, and people would want to start families and raise their children. I am a parent now of an 8-year-old, sassy, very smart, talented and beautiful girl, and I often find myself saying, and not in a good way, “This isn’t the Michigan I grew up in.”
When the national KIDS COUNT Data Book comes out every year, I anxiously await to see how things have changed. Although, I find myself less and less surprised every year. The 2016 national Data Book came out earlier this week and it shows mixed results for Michigan. We have seen improvements in all four measures of children’s health and our youth are making good decisions and doing better. But we have more children living in poverty and higher rates of concentrated poverty, many parents are still struggling to find stable employment and significant racial and ethnic disparities exist. And, we are now in the bottom 10 in the country when it comes to educational outcomes.
In overall child well-being, Michigan is ranked 31st in the country this year. That’s up from 33rd last year, so we’re getting better, but we’re still in the bottom half of the country. Our state is also last in the Midwest, again: Minnesota (1st); Wisconsin (13th), Illinois (21st), Ohio (26th) and Indiana (30th). The 2016 Kids Count in Michigan Data Book came out in March and has state-level data and county-by-county data and rankings.
The Annie E. Casey Foundation states in the report, “We believe that our nation can, and must, find common ground on policy solutions to address the devastating economic instability experienced by millions of American families.” Those solutions to ensure that all children are prepared for the future should be based on the country’s broadly shared values of opportunity, responsibility and security. We need to continue to increase opportunity by expanding and improving early care and education, like preschool, and making college affordable and accessible for all students. It means rewarding responsibility by restoring Michigan’s Earned Income Tax Credit to 20% of the federal EITC and increasing the credit for low-income workers without dependents. And, policies are needed to ensure a measure of security to low-income parents of young children, like earned sick leave time.
We can and must do better for our kids. As cliché as it sounds, they really are our future. How we treat our kids and care for them says a lot about our state and its leaders. We know that without using a two-generation approach to address poverty and economic security, we aren’t going to see the progress we need or want in educational outcomes. Without strong, safe communities and schools, kids will continue to struggle with many issues. And, as long as policy decisions are made without a race equity lens, disparities and inequities will continue to exist leaving behind a growing population of children.
— Alicia Guevara Warren