A version of this column originally appeared in Michigan Advance.
Every year, Kids Count in Michigan asks how government policies and budgets can better prioritize what’s most important to us: young people and their families. And these questions have been even more important during the pandemic. As billions of dollars in federal support come into the state and state policymakers consider how to make the most of our state budget, our leaders have a tremendous opportunity to put kids and families first.
The 2021 Kids Count in Michigan Data Book has data and recommendations that can help guide our approaches. Data profiles are now available for each county, as well as the cities of Detroit and Flint and a few select regions. What does the data show in your area, and how is it calling us to action? Below are some highlights from across the state:
Build from accomplishments
Over the past decade:
- Almost all counties reduced the rate of births to teens, and 20 counties reduced their teen birth rate by 50% or more.
- Four-year high school graduation rates increased in over 50 counties and rose 8% statewide since 2010, even in the midst of an unprecedented year for the graduating Class of 2020.
- Kids of all races in every county benefit from publicly funded programs. In 2020, Medicaid funded medical care for almost half of children statewide and about 2 in 3 children in places as diverse as Alcona County (66%), Lake County (71%) and Wayne County (65%). Medicaid provided critical support for families as unemployment spiked in 2020 and led to losses in employer-based medical coverage.
- Thanks to programs like the Food Assistance Program and Free or Reduced Price Lunch, the infrastructure was in place to provide food assistance to over half of families with students, using EBT cards to disperse funds safely while school buildings and offices closed.
These accomplishments show where we should continue to invest, making sure children have their basic needs met and building towards better health and education outcomes.
Remedy broken systems
While families benefited from some programs and policies, the pandemic exposed where improvements to systems are necessary.
- Programs like child care assistance and the Family Independence Program (cash assistance) were unable to provide the same impact due to restrictive eligibility and years of under-investment from policymakers. In 2020, these programs only served about 2% and 1% respectively of all children.
- The average costs of child care for one child were more than $600 per month in many counties, with some as high as over $800 per month. In Washtenaw and Oakland counties, the average child care costs take up 50% of a minimum wage worker’s full-time earnings.
- While child abuse and neglect cases dropped in 2020 and school testing was paused, these have been areas of concern for years as rates of confirmed victims have risen and the majority of students were not meeting reading proficiency prior to the pandemic.
- In 2019, still almost 1 in 5 children lived in families with income below the poverty level, and many more were asset-limited, income-constrained, employed (ALICE) households, where income is above the poverty level but families still struggle to afford basic necessities.
To ensure that all kids thrive across race, place and income level, our priorities will need to shift. The 2021 Kids Count in Michigan Data Book provides detailed data on how policies have contributed to disparities or differences in outcomes by race, ability, family income and more. For example, Michigan is one of 16 states that provides less funding to its highest-poverty school districts than its lowest, furthering inequities in education by race and income level. Changing course to provide more funding to high-poverty districts, which became that way due to factors like racial segregation and economic disinvestment, is absolutely necessary to show we value all children.
Thankfully, there is increasing bipartisan support for investment in areas that were highlighted by the pandemic, like child care and early education.
Yet there are opportunities in so many areas: from internet at home still as low as 66% in places from Flint to Oscoda County, to prenatal care, with almost half of births needing more prenatal care in areas from Detroit to Schoolcraft County.
The 2021 Kids Count in Michigan Data Book and local profiles are designed to help you understand where resources are most needed in your community and make the case for your legislators to act. Our priorities are their priorities, and we can make sure kids, youth and families are first on the agenda.