Something’s not working. But people in Michigan sure are. Nearly 5 million Michiganders are getting up and going to work. The unemployment rate is lower than it’s been since 2001. Yet 43% of households in Michigan are struggling to make ends meet. I’m seeing this up close right now and I want to share just a snapshot of the barriers we need to address to help working Michiganders.
As the Baby Boomers age and as advancements are made, more and more of Michigan’s workers have jobs in the healthcare industry. And since—yes, I’m willing to admit it—I’m part of that aging generation, I’ve started to get a first-hand look at what caregivers do on a daily basis. I also have a greater appreciation for the importance of healthcare.
Over the past year as my husband has undergone some health issues, we’ve enlisted the help of some great caregivers to help us through. This is the toughest job I’ve seen anyone do. They take on major physical and emotional duties to care for an adult—from helping him get around the house, to assisting with personal care, to helping with daily tasks that were once simple and now complicated. John and I are so fortunate to have this team helping us every day, and they truly have become friends over time.
As we sit together, I listen to what they and their friends and family face as they work hard to make ends meet. And these are just some of the real stories that policymakers need to hear and understand as they try to help Michiganders thrive.
Often these folks are forced to make risky budget tradeoffs in order to stay afloat. They’ve saved enough to buy a car, but can’t afford insurance. They can buy groceries for the family but only if they skip a month of a much-needed prescription. They can afford child care, but only by working three jobs. They want to invest in a home, but can’t save enough money because of credit card or student loan debt.
It’s complicated. And there’s not a simple fix.
Wages are part of the issue, of course. Sixty-one percent of jobs in Michigan pay less than $20 per hour, but a family of four needs $30.64 per hour to make ends meet according to the United Way ALICE project. And while Michigan’s minimum wage bumped up a bit this year, $9.65 an hour doesn’t go far for workers and families. More can be done to help Michigan’s lowest paid workers, like creating a higher minimum wage or eliminating the tipped wage to narrow the gap—a gap that is even wider when gender and race are factored in.
As with all policy, though, the solutions come from multiple facets of our society. Raising wages alone will not solve the problem.
Child care access needs to be addressed, for example. One of the caregivers who helps our family works 12-hour shifts, then often rushes home to care for her grandchild. Another concern is that a lack of transportation continues to leave people behind in the workplace—and not just public transportation. Money for car insurance, access to a license or the difficulty of paying off traffic fines keep workers from getting on the road. We also have a safety net that’s not flexible enough to help families rebound after a setback—but that’s a column for another day.
A big part of the problem is that Michigan’s tax system is lopsided, which means that while workers are struggling to balance their budgets, wealthy individuals and corporations are getting tax breaks. In fact, Michigan’s lowest earners pay nearly double the rate of the top 1%. Restoring Michigan’s Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) to 20% of the federal credit, expanding the Homestead Property Tax Credit or implementing a fairer income tax would go a long way in helping workers with low incomes get ahead.
At the League, Michigan’s working families are our priority. And we’re advocating fiercely to make sure that our state has the policies to help folks get ahead. It’s time to build a system that works better for workers.
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