LANSING, Mich. (WLNS) – Children have gone through a lot this past year. A worldwide pandemic, quarantine, a tumultuous election, and civil unrest are just some of the challenges Michigan kids have faced. Kids Count, a national study examining the wellbeing of children, has released its quarterly review of our state. 6 News is here for you, breaking down the data.
WHAT IS KIDS COUNT?
Kids Count Michigan is part of a “broad national effort to measure the well-being of children at the state and local levels and use that information to shape efforts to improve the lives of children.”
The 2021 Kids Count Data Book is a 50-state report of data gathered by the Annie E. Casey Foundation that analyzes how families managed between the Great Recession and the COVID-19 crisis.
The Michigan portion of the project is located at the Michigan League for Public Policy, a nonprofit lobbying group that aims to “advance economic security, racial equity, health and well-being for all people in Michigan through policy changes.”
WHAT DOES KIDS COUNT MEASURE?
Kids Count examines 16 different “indicators” that are measured with four “domains,” namely economic well-being, education, health/family and community. Kids Count tracks these metrics and sees if they are improving or declining. It then uses the data to rank each state.
The data used in the Kids Count report comes from a variety of sources, including the U.S. Census Bureau, American Community Survey, Michigan’s Center for Education Performance and Information, Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, Michigan Department of Education, Early Childhood Investment Corporation, Feeding America and United for ALICE.
WHAT DID KIDS COUNT FIND AND WHAT DOES IT RECOMMEND?
Data collected by Kids Count is done on at a county or local level and is compiled together to give a state-wide overview.
Teen pregnancy is down by half when compared to last decade. However, the State of Michigan does not require a standardized sexual education curriculum to be taught in schools. Kids Count recommends that comprehensive sex education can continue to reduce teen pregnancies and have positive impacts on health.
High-speed internet access in Michigan in both urban and rural communities is low, the study found. Around 10% of all Michigan households lack access to internet access as of 2019. Poor areas are less likely to have internet and often rely on cell phone service to access the web, which can cause issues for tasks that require a computer or larger screen. Kids Count said that Governor Gretchen Whitmer’s initiative to expand access to highspeed broadband was a “win” and that “all efforts to expand connectivity should include a focus on affordability, encourage community-owned options and include investments in existing resources like public libraries.”
In 2020, 205,631 families were involved in allegations of child abuse or neglect. An investigation found 14% (24,895) of these allegations were “substantiated.” In 2020, 10,023 minors were in out-of-home care, such as a foster home. Kids County calls the federal Family First Prevention Services Act of 2018 a “win.” The act increased resources for foster care prevention services and kept more kids in their home while reducing unnecessary funding.
Around 10,000 minors were in foster care last year. Only 5% of youth that left the foster care system in Michigan were eligible for employment assistance and only 1% received education support. Kids Count recommends expanding support for youth leaving the foster system by helping them find education, housing and work.
As Michigan’s juvenile justice system is decentralized, Kids Count found that experiences for youth in the justice system can vary greatly depending on location. Lack of access to support services and the ability to pay fines and fees has had impacts on financial security for Michigan’s kids. Kids Count recommends removing drivers license suspensions for missed fees and fines, but it did say that numerous criminal justice reforms that allowed for juvenile record expungements were a win.
When it comes to income inequality, Michigan ranks 15th in the country. The top 1% of earners make more than 21 times the bottom 99%, even though the bottom 20% of workers pay around double in state and local taxes than the top 1%. Around 40% of Michigan households are struggling, Kids Count said. They recommend improving job opportunities, work conditions and tax implications by restoring Michigan’s Earned Income Tax Credit to 20% of the federal credit, and by expanding the Homestead Property Tax Credit and “implementing a graduated income tax to help Michigan workers keep more of their hard-earned wages.”
Around 24% of Michigan families pay a disproportionately high amount (30% or more) of their income on housing expenses. The number of children living in high-poverty areas has increased by 78,000 since 2000. Kids Count recommends that Michigan’s existing House and Community Development Fund receive consistent state funding again, as it hasn’t received any since 2012.
Around 162,000 or 8% of Michigan children lived in “deep poverty,” which is 50% or less of the national poverty level. The Family Independence Program (FIP) was designed to help these families, but a lifetime cap was added, which caused the number of children receiving FIP to decline by 83% between 2010 and 2020. Kids Count recommends that Fip reinstate “clockstoppers,” so months, where a family is meeting requirements, do not count towards the lifetime cap.
In Michigan, cost for single-infant childcare is around 19% the median family income, or 54% of a minimum wage earner’s income. Due to low eligibility thresholds, the number of children 0-12-years-old receiving childcare assistance fell from 3.4% of children to 1.7% of children. Kids Count recommends increasing the eligibility threshold from 185% of poverty from 188%.
Michigan is one of 16 states that provides less funding to its impoverished districts than to its richer districts. This has caused the majority of third and eight graders to not be proficient in reading and math respectively. While the majority of high schoolers graduate on time, there are disparities based on race, disability, language and socioeconomic status. Kids Count recommends schools receive adequate funding by adopting a weighted funding formula and expanding assistance to students with disabilities and language barriers.
While Michigan has been increasing per-student funding, funding dropped by 9% between 2010 and 2019 after adjusting for inflation. Additionally, Michigan moved $4.5 billion in funding for K-12 schools to universities and colleges. Kids Count recommends that the state’s School Aid Fund be used solely for K-12 learning, as it had been done before 2009.
Michigan is number 3 in the country when it comes to fourth-grade “chronic absenteeism” (frequent school absences) as of 2019, a 47% increase since 2015. Poor and homeless students were the most likely to miss school. Michigan is also one of only five states with the highest out-of-school suspension rates. Kids Count recommends reducing economic and housing insecurity to ensure the attendance of all students. It also recommends the state address high suspension rates and racial disparities in disciplinary action.
Food insecurity can range from 6.7% to 26.8% depending on where a child lives. On average, 15% of Michigan’s kids are food insecure. Northern and rural counties have the highest rates of insecurity. Kids Count describes the “10 Cents a Meal” program and ending the lifetime ban on food assistance for residents with certain drug convictions to be wins, but it recommends the State remove the requirement for families to “cooperate with child support collection if the other parent isn’t living in the home” as the majority of states have.
Children in Michigan often have better healthcare access than adults. Around 97% of minors had access to health insurance in 2019, one of the highest rates in America. However, 78,000 minors still lacked health insurance. However, children and pregnant women who are green card holders cannot access public health insurance until a 5-year waiting period ends. Kids Count recommends removing this waiting perioid.
In Michigan, children’s health insurance is often related to parental coverage. Before the pandemic, 38% of kids had insurance through a public option. By the end of 2020, 66% of households with children lost income, which resulted in an increase in Medicaid and Healthy Michigan enrollees. Kids Count recommends the State use dollars to quality for federal support and make it easier for residents to become eligible for assistance.
Kids Count says that the health of newborns and mothers is a sign of population health. It describes the Healthy Moms Healthy Babies initiative as a win, saying it improves healthcare and health outcomes for newborns and their mothers.
Michigan has no statute that allows minors to consent to basic medical services. This creates unique challenges for orphans, unaccompanied children, homeless kids and kids in foster care. Kids Count recommends that the state make clear guidelines on the ability for minors to consent to basic health services and promote mental healthcare access and increase the student-to-counselor ratio in schools.
WHAT DOES THIS ALL MEAN?
Prior to the pandemic, Michigan was doing better than half of states in children’s economic security and health, but was falling short on education. This data has found that after nearly 10 years of consistent improvement, the pandemic may undo all the progress unless lawmakers act.
“As we look at the things Michigan has done well to better support kids and parents over the last decade, the improvements we’ve seen in children’s health and economic security are now the very areas still being threatened by COVID-19, and the pandemic stands to make Michigan’s existing struggles in education outcomes even worse,” said Kelsey Perdue, Michigan Kids Count director in a press release.
“We have seen the progress we can make with a concerted effort, sound policy decisions and related investments, and policymakers need to follow that same formula to offset COVID’s impact, especially with the increased state and federal funding available right now.”
Kids Count has determined that simply returning to pre-pandemic support will fail to address the issues currently facing Michigan kids.
All data and metrics mentioned in this article come from Kids Count’s findings.