Over the past year our state has received a significant amount of national and international attention, due to the Flint water crisis – exposing an entire city to poisonous lead – and the deplorable and dangerous conditions of the Detroit Public Schools. These two incidents alone raise the question of whether kids really do count in Michigan. State leaders have become extremely focused on the bottom line and reducing spending so much that basic needs like clean air, safe drinking water and quality schools have become issues.
The Kids Count in Michigan Data Book 2016 reveals further evidence of the lack of attention to the needs of all children and families. In 2014, the latest year of data available, nearly half a million Michigan children lived in poverty. That is a 23 percent rate increase from 2006. Child poverty also increased in 80 of 83 Michigan counties since 2006, showing it is an issue in every corner of the state. In fact, all three measures of economic security examined in the book showed that more families are struggling to make ends meet.
We know that poverty affects every aspect of a child’s life, harming their education, physical health, socioemotional health and long-term financial security. That means that we must ensure that every child has the ability to reach their potential in order for Michigan to have a vibrant future. But significant economic disparities exist by age and race and ethnicity. Younger children are more likely to live in poverty. Almost half of African-American and nearly one-third of Latino children live in poverty. There are clearly still many structural and institutional barriers to opportunity and access that inordinately hurt people of color, and these must be eliminated to improve the wellbeing of all children.
The data also show that since 2006, more children are living in families investigated for child abuse and neglect – up 52 percent – and more are also being confirmed as victims. In 2014, nearly 15 of every 1,000 kids suffered from abuse or neglect, an increase of 29 percent since 2006. However, after a lawsuit resulted in a consent decree to improve safety, permanency and well-being for children in the child welfare system, the state has had fewer children placed in out-of-home care due to abuse or neglect. Compared to 2006, the out-of-home care rate has declined by 31 percent. It is apparent that targeted efforts in foster care have worked. But more needs to be done to prevent child abuse and neglect upfront to keep children out of the system altogether.
A few other startling statistics from the 2016 Kids Count Data Book include:
- 32 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, including 18 percent of American Indian, 55 percent of African-American and 30 percent of Latino children. These rates for Michigan are some of the highest in the country.
There are some bright spots in the data. Michigan is doing a better job at the teen birth rate–although it is still higher than in any other industrialized nation and more work needs to be done. The infant mortality rate improved by 10 percent over the trend period; however, while the gap is closing, the rate for African-American or black babies is still much higher than average. Plus, troubling trends are emerging for Hispanic and Asian or Pacific Islander infant mortality rates.
These numbers illustrate the current landscape Michigan kids are living in. But now what?
Clearly there is much work to be done to improve the lives of kids and their families. Nationally, Michigan has fallen two years in a row in our overall child well-being rank to 33rd in 2015 and we rank last in the Midwest.
For 25 years now, the Michigan League for Public Policy has been producing the Kids Count report to make sure Michigan kids have a voice in the policies that are affecting them. Our goal is to have these books in the hands of local advocates and state policymakers, not collecting dust on a shelf.
It’s time to take action before Michigan becomes an unrecognizable place where we do not want our kids to grow up. We urge lawmakers and concerned residents to take a look at this report, especially the numbers in your county, and act on our recommendations. Kids still count in our book, but a lot more needs to be done to make them count in the state Capitol.