Higher Education

Poverty pressure puts children’s development on hold

Report finds 65 percent of children are not college- or career-ready.

April 20, 2018
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The Michigan League for Public Policy’s 2018 Kids Count in Michigan Data Book shows a wide disparity between West Michigan counties for children’s overall well-being.

Muskegon County was rated 80th out of 82 counties, while Ottawa County was ranked second and Kent County was 18th.

The Michigan League for Public Policy has been compiling and releasing the annual Kids Count in Michigan Data Book for more than 25 years to analyze and evaluate the well-being of children in the state’s counties.

The 2018 book primarily compares data from 2010-16 and analyzes 16 key indicators across four domains. The overall child well-being rank is based on a county’s rank in 14 of the categories.

New to the 2018 data book is the trend indicator of college readiness.

The rate of children ages 0-17 in poverty is 27.9 percent in Muskegon, 8.9 percent in Ottawa and 14.9 percent in Kent. Rankings are 66th, second and 14th, respectively.

The rate of children not ready for college is 72.7 percent in Muskegon, 47.7 percent in Ottawa and 61.9 percent in Kent. Rankings are 55th, first and 19th, respectively.

“We know that poverty is one of the better predictors of outcomes for kids,” said Alicia Guevara Warren, Kids Count project director. “What we’ve found in the years of research is living in poverty, particularly long term, can really have an impact on child development.”

While overall poverty has dropped slightly, the data shows it still is affecting 42 percent of African-American kids and 30 percent of Latino kids. And nearly one-third of all Michigan children have no family member steadily working.

Much of that can be attributed to what’s available locally, like jobs, access to child care and assistance, she said, adding Muskegon lags in many areas. The median income for Muskegon is $44,000, while the state’s is about $52,000 — and Kent’s and Ottawa’s are even higher.

Guevara Warren said early childhood development, prenatal to age 3, is “crucial” to long-term outcomes, like educational success. Ensuring that early development means also ensuring care for mothers.

“Helping to support families during that period of time is critical,” said Paula Brown, director of Great Start Collaborative of Kent County. Any assistance to parents during that time ultimately benefits the child, she said.

“As lawmakers work on the budget over the next few months, they must place a greater emphasis on supporting struggling families and their kids,” said Gilda Jacobs, president and CEO for the Michigan League for Public Policy.

Some other key findings from the 2018 report on statewide child well-being include:

  • Child poverty in Michigan has improved by 11.5 percent since 2010.

  • More than 1 in 5 kids in Michigan — including 42 percent of African-American kids and 30 percent of Latino kids — still lived in poverty in 2016.

  • 31 percent of children in Michigan lived in families without year-round, full-time employment.

  • Nearly 53 percent of the state’s 3- and 4-year-olds are not in preschool.

  • About 56 percent of the state’s third-graders are not proficient in reading, including about 70 percent of kids of color, compared to 48 percent of white third-graders.

  • And 65 percent of Michigan’s students are not career- and college-ready.

Guevara Warren said raising the age of juvenile jurisdiction from 17 to 18 years old is a top policy change to better serve Michigan kids. The current laws “disproportionately impact youth of color,” she said.  

“When you have an adult criminal record, you’re not going to be able to access economic opportunities in the same way,” she said. “Having this in place puts our young people at an economic disadvantage and adds to workforce development issues.”

Michigan is one of five states with this in place. A bipartisan package of bills to change the law has been introduced and is awaiting action.

“With age-appropriate treatment, many will have the opportunity to be productive and help strengthen their communities,” Guevara Warren said.

Other recommendations for policymakers to support parents and improve child well-being are:

  • Strengthen policies that support work, such as the Earned Income Tax Credit.

  • Allow families to keep more of what they earn to improve educational and health outcomes for kids.

  • Ensure access to affordable, high-quality child care.

  • Expand home visitation programs to help provide additional support to families, remove barriers that prevent access to prenatal care and reduce risk for child abuse and neglect.

  • Provide sufficient funding for early interventions to improve third-grade reading using a birth-to-8 framework

  • Adequately fund public schools, targeting resources in high-need areas, and fully fund the At-Risk program.

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