GREAT LAKES BEACON

Report: The Michigan Kids Aren’t Alright

Michigan kids face an increased rate of abuse and neglect, high poverty, unstable family employment, and significant academic challenges, a report by the Michigan League for Public Policy released today has determined.

The annual report, Kids Count in Michigan, found that while there have been improvements in several areas since 2010, especially in child poverty rates, the majority of indicators on child well-being have stagnated or worsened in the state since 2010, with widening disparities by race, ethnicity and income.

Specifically, more than 1 in 5 kids in Michigan, including 42 percent of African-American kids and 30 percent of Latinx kids, still lived in poverty in 2016, and 31 percent of Michigan’s children still lived in families without year-round, full-time employment.

“The 2018 Kids Count Data Book provides an important counterpoint to the conversation on Michigan’s economic recovery,” said Gilda Jacobs, president and CEO for the MLPP. “While poverty has dropped slightly, it’s still affecting nearly half of all African-American kids, and nearly a third of all Michigan kids don’t have any family member steadily working. As lawmakers work on the budget over the next few months, they must place a greater emphasis on supporting struggling families and their kids.”

MLPP’s report comes roughly a month after other research by a separate organization, Education Trust-Midwest, found Michigan’s children have experienced the biggest decline in third grade reading proficiency – considered to be one of the most important predictors of high school graduation and career success – compared to nearly a dozen other states.

The MLPP’s report said economic and academic struggles go hand-in-hand for many Michigan kids. For instance, Michigan ranks as one of the worst states in the country when it comes to inconsistent outcomes for students of color and students in families with low incomes. More pointedly:

  • About 56 percent of the state’s third-graders are not proficient in reading, including about 70 percent of kids of color compared to 48 percent of white third-graders
  • Nearly 53 percent of the state’s 3-and-4-year-olds are not in preschool
  • 84 percent of students from families with low incomes do not meet readiness benchmarks compared to 16 percent of students from higher income families, and
  • 65 percent of Michigan’s students are not considered career- and college-ready.

As such, the MLPP urged policymakers to think more strategically to improve education outcomes and outlined certain policy recommendations to achieve those goals, such as:

  • Strengthening policies that support working families, like the Earned Income Tax Credit;
  • Ensuring access to affordable, high-quality child care;
  • Expanding home visitation programs to provide additional support to families, remove barriers preventing access to prenatal care, and reducing the risk for child abuse and neglect;
  • Provide sufficient funding for early interventions to improve third-grade reading, targeting resources in high-need areas, and fully funding the At-Risk program; and

The MLPP also noted Michigan is only one of five states that hasn’t raised its age on juvenile offenders, meaning those younger than 18 convicted of certain crimes are placed in adult facilities. That leads to a higher risk of being physically or sexually assaulted, the MLPP said, and increased the likelihood of recidivism or committing more violent offenses than youth served by a juvenile justice system.

The MLPP also recommended elected officials take up a package of legislation – most of which was introduced last spring – that would raise the age to require juvenile offenders be placed in juvenile facilities. That legislation has yet to see action in either chamber of the Michigan Legislature.

“By passing ‘raise the age’ bills, lawmakers could make a difference in improving the lives of Michigan’s kids and bettering our state,” said Alicia Guevara Warren, Kids Count in Michigan project director. “Regardless of their offense, 17-year-olds in our state are being punished for a lifetime, facing traumatic experiences, getting a criminal record and missing out on education and rehabilitation services.

“However, with age-appropriate treatment, many will have the opportunity to be productive and help strengthen their communities,” Warren said.

Danielle Emerson

Danielle Emerson