Data is everywhere. It informs our most basic practices, from what phone we use to what type of plastic makes our water bottles. When we are presented with numbers and minimal context it can feel overwhelming. But this is why we’re here at the League, to help capture the tangible implications of data to create a story.
When the national KIDS COUNT Data Book is released every year, we find out where Michigan stands among our peers. What is harder to see is how Michigan can improve. This is why we have compiled a new report, Enhancing Child Well-Being in Michigan: A Guide to Improving KIDS COUNT Outcomes and Rankings, that showcases not only where we need to improve, but more importantly how, and what that would look like. We delve deeper into the data, beyond rankings, to learn how many children need to be impacted in each Kids Count domain area for Michigan to improve, and what policies can help change that.
Michigan ranks in the bottom 10 states for the number of children living in high-poverty areas. Almost one-fifth of our children live in a census tract with at least 30% of its residents living in poverty. Too many Michigan kids are experiencing poverty in their households as well as their neighborhoods. More than 1 in 5 kids in Michigan lives in poverty, ranking the state 34th in the nation and worst in the Midwest.
Poverty has far-reaching effects and impacts outcomes in each of the KIDS COUNT indicators. It has been directly tied to education outcomes, hindering the very thing children need to have upward mobility. With 71% of Michigan’s fourth-grade children not proficient in reading and 71% of eighth-grade children not proficient in math, we cannot afford to ignore an important means towards economic security of our children and their families. When children live in high-poverty areas, the impacts of poverty are effectively doubled. Concentrated poverty puts a burden on families, and isolates them from necessary resources like employment, food stores and government services that could help to lift them from poverty. Independent of families experiencing poverty, neighborhood characteristics have been linked to diminished health and education outcomes, delinquency, extended time in poverty and psychological distress. These effects start once a neighborhood reaches 20% of its residents in poverty.
This factor is increased tenfold for Michigan’s African-American children. Children of color are more likely to attend schools with higher rates of poverty. Over half of African-American children in Michigan are living in concentrated areas of poverty compared to 7% of their White peers. More than 9 out of 10 African-American children are not proficient in fourth-grade reading, compared to only half of their White peers. And 95% of African-American children in eighth grade aren’t proficient in Math, compared to 66% of their White peers. Socioeconomic disparities in schools is the largest predictor of racial gaps in educational success. Schools in high-poverty areas are underfunded, and have fewer resources.
Michigan is 41st in the country for children living in high-poverty areas. To become the best in the nation, we would need to have 350,704 fewer children living in high-poverty neighborhoods, a 92% drop. Michigan would need to reduce children in high-poverty areas by 3% to move up just one place in national rankings.
To improve Michigan’s ranking and reduce high-poverty areas, policymakers and stakeholders must address poverty. We can advocate to improve the standard of living for families by promoting policies that ensure access to services and stronger communities through fully funding revenue sharing. Michigan can better support parents experiencing poverty with improvements to our child care subsidy programs, and by restoring the state Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) to pre-2012 levels.
Child care costs are higher than the average rent, and this expense relates directly to a parent’s ability to join the workforce and maintain employment. By increasing eligibility and reforming the reimbursement structure, more families will have access to this vital service. This helps families remain in and reenter the workforce, and will increase the number of income tax payers. Beyond child care, the EITC is the best way to aid families in getting out of poverty. In Michigan, the EITC used to be 20% of the federal credit, but in recent years has been reduced to 6%. By restoring the EITC to 20%, we can reduce the number of families and children living in poverty while also improving children’s health and education outcomes.
Whole communities are impacted when we leave families in poverty. To improve our communities we need to help individual families thrive.
These are not just numbers. This is not just data. Poverty is the greatest danger to our children and policymakers must act now address it.
— Harriet McTigue