Economic Development and Government

More children slipped into poverty over the last decade

Michigan League for Public Policy finds 80 of state’s 83 counties are slipping.

March 25, 2016
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The book on how much children matter to the state of Michigan is now available and, unfortunately, you won’t like the last chapter.

The Michigan League for Public Policy recently released its 25th annual Kids Count in Michigan Data Book for 2016. The report, which offers 16 indicators of child well-being throughout the state, reveals that childhood poverty has risen in 80 of 83 Michigan counties since 2006. The sad state of affairs especially has impacted minority children, according to the report.

“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 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 details of West Michigan’s worsening poverty conditions for children came as no surprise to Afton DeVos, associate director at Kids’ Food Basket. She said it’s the very reason her organization exists, calling the fact that 23 percent of the nation’s children live in poverty “unspeakable.”

She said part of the problem is an issue she sees on a daily basis: the basic needs wage.

“We are about seven, eight years after the economic crisis, and yet the child poverty rate has stayed stubbornly high. We believe this has to do with hourly wage. The wages needed to cover a family’s most basic needs cannot be measured with the federal poverty level,” she said.

“Basic needs wage … is $22.62 for a single parent in Kent County. We have a lot of families that we’re serving — in fact, most of the families we’re serving — (who) are working families. They have to make choices between paying for heat, utilities, transportation and healthy food for their kids. We know that’s one of the barriers for poverty.”

Kent County has continued to be impacted by job loss and childhood hunger, DeVos said. What she has seen at Kids’ Food Basket is that when times are tough economically, families cut meals or reduce the quality of the food they’re serving, which means kids aren’t getting the healthy food required for brain development.

The nonprofit, which provides daily sack suppers to children, has a waiting list of 11 schools in Kent County, as well as seven in Muskegon and five in Holland.

“We’re serving about 900 children per weekday through three schools in Muskegon and the use of approximately 40 volunteers a day. Muskegon continues to suffer from job loss, and while there’s definitely a renaissance with the Muskegon community, there continues to be racial disparity there. At our core, our organization is about equity. We are leveling the playing field for every child we serve,” she said.

“Poverty is complex, but feeding a child is not.” 

This year’s report essentially compares data from 2006 to 2014 in order to determine the four domains of economic security, health and safety, family and community, and education. According to the report, all three measures of economic security for children worsened during those years. This includes a 23 percent increase in child poverty statewide, and a 29 percent increase in the rate of child abuse and neglect.

The report says that, of the 12 trends in Michigan regarding child well-being with enough data to analyze, six improved, five worsened, and one stayed the same.

It also ranked 82 counties for overall child well-being. This year’s top three counties were Livingston, Ottawa and Clinton, respectively.

The bottom three counties were Muskegon, Clare and Lake. Barry, Allegan and Kent counties were Nos. 11, 16 and 26, respectively, while Kalamazoo placed No. 44.

“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 report’s findings included the following:

  • Nearly 1 in every 4 children in Michigan lives in poverty (22.6 percent) — a 23 percent increase over 2006. 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.
  • Thirty-two percent of children live in a household where no parent has secure employment.
  • Nearly 80 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.

The report also offered a deeper look at the counties of Kent, Ottawa and Kalamazoo:

  • In Kent County, 20 percent of children lived in poverty in 2014, a 22 percent increase from nine years ago. For child poverty, Kent County ranked 23rd, and the rate of child abuse and neglect was 17.2 per 1,000 children.
  • In Ottawa County, 9.7 percent of children lived in poverty in 2014, a 29 percent increase from nine years ago. For child poverty, Ottawa County ranked 2nd among the counties and its rate of child abuse and neglect was 9.0 per 1,000 children.
  • In Kalamazoo County, 20.4 percent of children lived in poverty in 2014, a 15 percent increase from nine years ago. For child poverty, Kalamazoo ranked 24th among counties and its rate of child abuse and neglect was 30.2 per 1,000 children.

The book’s key recommendations to policy-makers and parents were:

  • 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.
  • Adequately fund public schools, targeting resources in high-need areas and providing early interventions and services.

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