The 2015 Kids Count Data Book, released last week from the Annie E. Casey Foundation, shows that Michigan has again slipped – for the second year in a row – in the state rankings for child well-being, dropping to 33rd place. This ranks Michigan behind all of our Great Lakes neighbors (Minnesota is ranked 1st). Michigan is part of the troubling national trend where we see more children living in poverty now than in 2008, in the midst of the Great Recession.
If Michigan is going to have a thriving future, we have to start taking better care of the next generation. Today’s kids are the parents, homeowners, workers and entrepreneurs of tomorrow. But how can we expect them to be successful in the future when Michigan policymakers are failing them now?
More than 524,000 Michigan children live in poverty – one in four, up from one in five in 2008.
Other indicators of economic well-being have worsened for children in Michigan. The rate of children living in families where no parent has regular full-time employment is up 6 percent. The rate of children living in high-poverty neighborhoods – where poverty rates are more than 30 percent – has increased by 21 percent since the recession, ranking our state in the bottom 10 in the nation on this indicator. One of the most disturbing statistics highlighted in the report is the widening economic gap among children of color, with almost half of African-American children and nearly a third of Latino children in Michigan living in poverty.
The 2015 report analyzes key trends in child well-being in the post-recession years. In the state-by-state ranking, Michigan ranks 23rd in health, 29th in family and community and an embarrassing 37th in education. More than half our children are not attending preschool and more than two-thirds of our fourth-graders are not proficient in reading. Education is clearly our state’s biggest weakness, but Michigan’s recent expansions and state investments in early childhood and literacy programs should help address these issues and better serve our kids. However, given the connection between poverty and education outcomes, the state must also address poverty if we are to realize the desired outcomes.
There are some bright spots in the report for Michigan, though, with a significant reduction in the number of teen births and improvements in teen substance use, the number of children without health insurance, and low-birthweight babies.
The 2015 Kids Count Data Book is not just a tally of the problems facing Michigan’s kids – it’s also a blueprint for how our state can fix them. The report illustrates that there is a clear correlation between progress and policy, and these numbers should spur lawmakers from both sides of the aisle to help give parents the tools and support they need to raise healthy, educated children for Michigan’s future.
Recommendations include many of the same policies that the Michigan League for Public Policy has been championing to help break the cycle of poverty and support our kids and their families. Knowing that when we help parents, we help kids, these include investing in funding for adult education and training, and improving child care programs for working parents to have quality, affordable care while also providing their children with a rich early learning experience.
Additionally, working to reduce the number of babies born below weight and continuing a strong investment in education, particularly early childhood initiatives, will help improve child well-being in our state.
Michigan families would also benefit from policymakers maintaining a fair tax system that includes the state Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), solidifying the improvements to the federal EITC and Child Tax Credit, and strengthening safety net programs that provide temporary relief to families experiencing economic hardship.
Whether you care about the future of your child, or the future of our state, know that Michigan cannot succeed while overlooking the needs of the next generation. For Michigan policymakers, this report and the policies within can hopefully be the catalyst for change.