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Report: 1 in 4 Michigan Kids Now Lives in Poverty

PHOTO: Childhood is less fun and games and more of a struggle for nearly one-quarter of the state's kids, who are growing up in impoverished households, according to the 2015 Kids Count in Michigan report. Photo credit: gleangenie/morguefile.
PHOTO: Childhood is less fun and games and more of a struggle for nearly one-quarter of the state's kids, who are growing up in impoverished households, according to the 2015 Kids Count in Michigan report. Photo credit: gleangenie/morguefile.
February 19, 2015

LANSING, Mich. – Nearly one-in-four Michigan children is growing up in poverty, an increase of 35 percent over the past six years, according to the latest Kids Count in Michigan report.

The 2015 report finds that the economic recovery is not reaching the state's youngest and most vulnerable residents.

Jane Zehnder-Merrell, Kids Count Michigan project director with the Michigan League for Public Policy, says despite unemployment being down, 35 percent of young children in the state now qualify for food assistance, and nearly half of Michigan school children now are eligible for free and reduced priced lunches.

"When you think about it, average life spans in the U.S. are now around 70, and what happens in those first 20 years is going to shape, in large degree, what happens in the next 50," she points out.

The data also show reports of child maltreatment on the rise, but Zehnder-Merrell says there are some bright spots.

She points to the decline in teen births, a reduction in the number of children in out-of-home care, and an increase in the percentage of fourth graders reading proficiently.

In 2011, the state's Earned Income Tax Credit, which goes to families struggling to make ends meet, was cut by 70 percent.

Michigan voters will choose whether to restore it on the May 5 ballot, and Zehnder-Merrell maintains approval would be a positive step.

"Looking at the numbers around child poverty, it's clear that we need a strong safety net,” she states. “The recovery has not touched families with children in any real way."

Along with a stronger safety net, Zehnder-Merrell says she feels the only way to break the cycle of child poverty is with a two-generation approach.

"You can't help children without helping their parents – not in any really sustained way,” she stresses. “A lot of low-income parents don't have the skills and education that they need to get the jobs that are now going unfilled in Michigan. "

While Michigan had eliminated financial aid grants for adults attending public colleges and universities in recent years, Gov. Rick Snyder's budget proposal does restore $6 million for that purpose.

Mona Shand, Public News Service - MI