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A house for sale in Grand Rapids
Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

Pushed Out: A documentary on housing in Grand Rapids

Don Norman settles into his chair, and pulls his blanket up to his chest. On the TV, Dick Van Dyke is about to solve a murder. The room is warm, shades drawn. It’s a good old house. A bit of plaster is coming off the ceiling in the corner, but the house is neat. Every shelf is filled with pictures of family. Don’s been here 40 years, he says. Ever since he and his wife got pushed out of their last home, when the hospital near them started an expansion and bulldozed their old block.

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The Pew Economic Mobility Project is one of the best resources out there for understanding opportunity in America, and you'll be hearing about plenty of the Project's research on this site. 

Yesterday, the folks at Pew put out a new report on whether children in America are really able to do better than their parents. This comparison between your parents' economic status  and your own is a key component of understanding economic mobility, and it's at the heart of the American Dream. 

I don’t know you. I don’t know what your life is like. But if there is an average you, that is, an average NPR listener, I can guess that odds are, you are not poor.

At least, that’s what our audience research tells us. You’re educated; you’re well off.

It may not be true for you.

But if it is true, let’s assume two things: One, you already know life is hard for people in poverty. But, two, you still have no idea what it’s like to live with poverty day after day.

user Seattleye / Flickr

Right now, nearly a quarter of all kids in Michigan live in poverty. We want to believe these kids will have an equal shot at success in life, but there’s a pile of research that suggests otherwise.

So, how is life different for kids growing up in poverty?

Let’s try to imagine the life of a child. We’ll call him Jacob.

As part of State of Opportunity, we are featuring stories on what it is like to grow up or raise kids in Michigan while struggling to pay the bills. There will be more of these stories to tell than we can find on our own. If you have a story you think needs telling, here are some resources to help you on your way.

The Public Insight Network is a way to inform news stories with experiences from your life. A reporter will follow up with you.

Is foster care in Michigan getting better?

Jul 3, 2012

Michigan’s foster care system is huge, the sixth biggest in the country. So many kids in the system were being abused, neglected or just forgotten about under the state’s care that a group called Children’s Rights sued the state to force it to change in 2006. Two years ago, the state entered into a court settlement and is now being monitored as it makes changes to its child welfare system.

Toni Williams grew up in foster care. She spent almost her whole life in the system, from the time she was a baby until a year ago when the state says she became too old for the system. Williams was 20. Under recent legislation some young people in Michigan can now receive transitional services until 21.

Williams just graduated from high school and is going to community college in the fall where she’s going to study to be a childcare provider and maybe work with the foster system.

“The reason why is because I know what it feels like, you know, to not have your family," says Williams. "You know what I’m saying? So it’s actually a good feeling to know that there’s someone out here who is willing to take a place for being a mother, or a father.”

Williams knows somebody needs to step up and be there for kids who need love, and guidance. The state for too long, was not stepping up.

Ten resources for low income families in Michigan

Jul 2, 2012

Update July 10, 11:58 a.m.

Paula Wethington of Monroe on a Budget sent us, via the Public Insight Network, a few resources her readership has found most useful. Her blog has been providing articles,tips, and resources for families trying to stay financially afloat for more than 5 years.

What is the State of Opportunity project?

Jul 2, 2012

Michigan was once the epicenter of economic opportunity. Here, a person could move out of poverty and into the middle class simply by getting a job on the assembly line. Millions of people did just that.

But today, the path out of poverty seems narrow in Michigan. And the outlook for the next generation can look downright scary.

Here is what we know:

Nearly one out of four children in Michigan lives in poverty. The disadvantages these kids face start piling up before they’re even born. Pregnant mothers living in poverty are less likely to get good prenatal care, and more likely to have negative birth outcomes, such as low birth weight or early delivery. When their children are born, it’s less likely they’ll have the time or the resources for development activities such as reading. By the time these kids enter kindergarten, they’re already far behind their middle and upper class peers. And the gap only gets worse with time.

It's a core belief in America that every child should have the opportunity to succeed, no matter where they live or how much money is in their parents' bank account.

But the brutal truth is 42 percent of children raised in poverty stay in poverty as adults. Among those who make it out, most don’t make it very far.

So how do we break the cycle? That’s what this new project is all about.

Michigan Radio has been awarded a major three-year grant from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation to report on the many issues related to childhood poverty. The $995,000 grant, the largest in the station’s history, will allow Michigan Radio to move beyond traditional radio reporting to reach a wide variety of audiences about the plight facing Michigan’s most vulnerable children.

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