How rules and regulation can  shape opportunity.

Visionello / Flickr Creative Commons

The occasional weekend sleepover at a friend’s house...

Playing on the school basketball team...

Going on a class field trip...

Getting a cell phone...

Posting an update to Facebook...

Sound like pretty average activities for teenagers, right?

Not for teens in foster care.

For a number of reasons - like cost, liability, and biological parental rights - young people in Michigan’s child welfare system have long had to jump through multiple legal hoops to do things most people would consider “normal” for kids their age.

Wikimedia Commons

By now you've seen the images. Millions of refugees fleeing war zones in Syria and Iraq, trying desperately to reach a new life anywhere else. And the photo yesterday of a small boy, lying limp on a beach, drowned while trying to escape with his family. 

This boy's family, NPR reported, had applied to legally immigrate to Canada. 

"They had applied for legal migration to Canada because the father's sister was living in Canada," said Peter Bouckaert of Human Rights Watch. "And they were denied. So their only option to join their relatives in Canada was to put their lives in the hands of the smugglers."

Canadian immigration officials, meanwhile, deny they ever received an application for asylum. They only received an application for the boys' uncle, and it was sent back. 

But local Canadian MP Fin Donnelly told the CBC he personally delivered an asylum request for the boy and his family to the immigration minister:

"It was terrible and obviously action was needed," he said. "That's why I agreed to do what I could, including personally talking to the minister about her case."

Donnelly said his office pushed as hard as his staff could to learn more, but received no response. The result is "utter frustration and devastation," he said.

Many have wondered how this death, and so many others, can be allowed to happen, when the need for help is so obvious. But it's not exactly surprising to find such bureaucracy and confusion behind an immigrant's application for asylum. Immigration law, in many countries, was created specifically to keep out war refugees. 

Chicago One Summer

The psychological tolls of poverty are legion. For those within its grasp, it alters every aspect of existence, from decreased health outcomes and mental illness, to increased risk of physical violence and a higher probability of being locked up in jail—it’s even been found that the chronic stress of growing up in poverty has impaired children’s brains chemistry.

We also know the vicious cycle of poverty is hard as hell to break out of, particularly when it comes to finding and keeping a job.


Three years ago this month, a new federal program got underway that’s since affected the lives of more than half a million young Americans – thousands of whom live in Michigan.

The program came with a characteristically bureaucratic acronym. And, like many things done by the federal government, it’s been controversial.

The program is Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA. 

Maybe it didn’t have a huge impact on your life at the time. But Liz Balck Monsma remembers how it affected hers.  

"It was a crazy time, three years ago," she says, "when we were just trying to get as many kids screened and processed as possible."

Report: Time to beef up the federal child tax credit

Aug 18, 2015
Erica Szlosek / Wikimedia Commons-https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/legalcode

Strengthening the child tax credit would help level the playing field for families, particularly communities of color.

That is one key finding according to new report by the Center for American Progress:

Prison Policy Institute, States of Incarceration: A Global Context / Prison Policy Institute


I came across this chart from the Prison Policy Initiative, which ranks all the states' incarceration rates and compares them to other countries throughout the world. None of the states fare particularly well. Michigan's rate is higher than the national average, and it's higher than every other country in the world (though not nearly as bad as some other states, such as Louisiana). 

Michigan Department of Health and Human Services

There is an epidemic of drug use in Michigan, and in the rest of the country, involving a class of drugs called opiates – think Vicodin, Oxycontin or heroin.

In Michigan, at least 3,000 people have died  from these drugs since 2005. But even that number doesn’t tell the whole story. The actual number of deaths is likely much higher.

How much higher? We don't actually know. 

State of Opportunity special: Your tax dollars at work

Jul 30, 2015
Chris Potter / Flickr

Michigan spends about $5.6 billion on social welfare programs a year, and that doesn't include health care. 

Even though that's only about 10% of the state's total budget, our passions and our politics are very much at work when we talk about these programs.  

In this hour-long special, we uncover why we get so emotional about social welfare spending. Do these emotions keep us from having policies and programs that would actually help families in Michigan get ahead? 


Over the weekend, The Washington Post published an analysis of every shooting death at the hands of a police officer since the start of the year. The Post found that the number of officer-involved shooting deaths is approaching 400 nationwide for the year, a number that's about twice as high as what you'd expect if you believe the existing statistics on deaths caused by police officers (most people don't). 

The Post has plenty of details within the numbers worth checking out, but still the most surprising part of this analysis is that it had to be done at all. Even with this analysis now available, it's clear that the number of things we don't know about violence involving police officers far outnumbers the things we do know. 


In 2013, a group of business leaders in Oregon decided to take on an issue that many other business leaders often shy away from: poverty. Not only did they talk about it, they set a strategy, with specific goals in mind.

But the Oregon Business Council didn't take on poverty reduction as an exercise to show what wonderful, caring people they are. The council acted because poverty represents a long-term threat to a healthy business community. 

The Council's 2015 Policy Playbook laid out the case: 

Declining revenues from personal incomes – combined with growing poverty rates – were reducing state resources and increasing funding demands for Medicaid, human services, and corrections. This, in turn, starved funding for education, especially postsecondary education. Declining investments in education reduced opportunities for Oregonians to prepare for well-paying work, which fostered lower incomes and more poverty. This amounted to a self-reinforcing downward cycle – a circle of scarcity.

The Council, through its Oregon Business Plan, has set a goal of reducing the state's poverty rate to less than 10% by 2020. It's an aggressive goal, but if there's any group that can pull it off, business executives may be it.