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STATE OF OPPORTUNITY. Can Kids in Michigan Get Ahead?
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Families & Community

What you need to know about Michigan's troubling new childhood poverty stats

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Nate Grigg
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Flickr Creative Commons

When it comes to opportunity, growing up in poverty stacks the deck against kids almost more than anything else. 

The Annie E. Casey Foundation’s nationwide survey of child well-being, KidsCount's, is out today. Michigan ranks 33rd overall in the measures of economic stability, family and community, health, and education for kids. This is the second year in a row that Michigan has fallen behind, and when you dig into the numbers, it gets worse.

The improving economy is not trickling down to kids 

Lots of other economic indicators in the state seem to be getting better, unemployment and foreclosure rates to name two. But for kids, things are now worse than they were at the height of the Great Recession. One out of every four kids in the state is poor. Back in 2008 that number was one in five. Unfortunately, the reality is even worse for families of color. For Latino kids in Michigan, one in three lives in poverty. The really bad news is that when it comes to black kids, one in two is poor across the state.

Poverty is also getting more concentrated, which we know deepens the opportunity gap. Children are more likely to live in poor zip codes today than in 2008. There are also more kids living with just one parent in the home than before, which can generate all kinds of extra financial stress. 

What is going on in Michigan's schools?

Out of the four areas the report dives into, Michigan's worst grade is in education. A full 70% of eighth  graders in the state aren’t proficient in math. That's a pretty shocking number, but the national average is  66% not proficient. Kids don't seem to be doing much better in high school. Almost a quarter of kids in the state don't graduate on time. Nationally around one-fifth of kids don't hit that goal.

Michigan is making some (small) gains for kids

The report does deliver some good news. There are now fewer kids without health insurance and less babies born low-birth weight than a few years ago. Teenage substance abuse is also on the decline.

The most significant improvement in Michigan is the decrease in teenagers giving birth, it's down 8% since 2008.

How can we do things better?

When parents do better, kids do better too - which is why many of the recommendations from this report focus on parents. More opportunities for adult education in Michigan is a suggestion. We know this has been a problem in the past, but it would help more parents ultimately get higher-paying jobs with benefits.

Other suggestions are for the state to keep investing in early childhood initiatives. The report also suggests removing policies that connect benefits to things like truancy rates. (Whoops-Governor Snyder recently signed that policy into law.)

Beyond the above recommendations, the report stresses that ultimately, families need to make more than twice the federal poverty level to maintain economic stability. Right now in the state that’s not happening for a lot of people. 

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