Jennifer Guerra / Michigan Radio

As part of our State of Opportunity project, we’re following parents as they struggle to get off public assistance and make a better future for their children. We'll be bringing you occasional updates on families as we follow them over the course of the project. This is one of those updates.

I first interviewed Keisha Johnson on a steamy summer day last June. Johnson, 25, grew up poor and is still poor to this day. But she has three reasons she wants to climb out of poverty. Their names are Kaleb, Jurnee, and Alan, Jr.

Last time she was on the radio, Johnson talked about where she wants to be in three years. She wants to have her own home, she wants her children enrolled in good schools, and she wants to have a steady job as a secretary.

But first, she knew she would need some help to get there. 

"A lot of women in my neighborhood, they think being on Section 8 and being with Human Services, they think ‘Ok we can do this forever!’ No it’s supposed to be just a start, just a push to help you out for right now, and then you’re supposed to grow and progress on your own that’s the whole point of the program," explains Johnson. "So that’s what it is for me right now."

That was June. I checked in to see how’s she doing now, and well, things aren't so great.

I caught up with Johnson on a Thursday morning when she was getting her children ready for school. As she brushed her daughter's short hair into a ponytail, Johnson starts to tell me how she's essentially living on zero dollars. "They sent me a letter in December saying you're cut off your cash assistance, which was $592 a month," says Johnson.

Thomas B. Edsall writes in the New York Times about the debate over how to measure poverty: "The lack of definition in our definition of poverty is part of the problem; it helps to answer the question of how the richest country in the history of the world could have so many people living in a state of deprivation."

Turns out the Earned Income Tax Credit is one thing all administrations beginning with Reagan’s have agreed is a good idea. And it really works. Listen to those who literally sing its praises on npr.org.

The FCC Takes on the Digital Divide

Feb 8, 2013
desert wifi
°Florian / Flickr

An FCC proposal for free public wifi has the wireless telecommunications industry rushing to the barricades to defend their turf. The Washington Post's technology section reports that the proposal, designed by FCC chair Julius Genachowski, is intended to spark innovation beyond companies like Google (who happens to support the plan).

Sometimes I think there should be a State of Opportunity book club. We read tons of books as part of our research here at State of Opportunity, and any number of them could spark great discussions. The book I'm reading now, Alex Kotlowitz's There Are No Children Here, is no exception. It is, in a word, intense.

Nicholas Kristof wrote in the New York Times on Friday about a trip to Kentucky, where he heard stories of parents removing their children from literacy programs so they could keep getting disability payments from the government: "There’s a danger in drawing too firm conclusions about an issue — fighting poverty — that is as complex as human beings themselves. I’m no expert on domestic poverty. But for me, a tentative lesson from the field is that while we need safety nets, the focus should be instead on creating opportunity — and, still more difficult, on creating an environment that leads people to seize opportunities."

Great Recession impact biggest on families in poverty

Nov 16, 2012
Gerard Van der Leun / flickr

A new report by the Pew Economic Mobility Project shows that while all communities were impacted by the Great Recession, families in high-poverty neighborhoods took the hardest hit.

The Reality of the 'Welfare Queen'

Nov 2, 2012

Today, Barbara Morrison is a computer security engineer with a six-figure income. But that wasn't always the case. Just a decade ago, Morrison was a single-mother reliant on welfare checks. In a new article for Forbes, Morrison reminisces on her life, showing readers just how challenging life on welfare can be.

In some reporting related to State of Opportunity's work, WBEZ in Chicago recently started a new series on their Front & Center program about the American dream. In this show, WBEZ explains why for so many people the American dream is just about getting by. To listen to the conversation, follow the link below.

Michigan, we have a problem

Sep 21, 2012

Following last week’s release of national poverty numbers, the Census Bureau released state specific numbers this week. Besides a drop in the uninsured, it doesn’t look good. 

Our colleagues at Marketplace wrote a comprehensive article about poverty rates across the country. The number that we’re most interested in, though, is the increase in children living in poverty.