Ann Arbor News, July 1, 2008: Editorial: Children in poverty deserve a better life
Michigan’s punishing economy is hurting its smallest residents – children.
Like job losses, layoffs and high unemployment, the rise in poverty rates among children has been consistent. An annual national report, called Kids Count, served to emphasize the need for lawmakers to act with a sense of urgency when it comes to revitalizing the economy.
Gov. Jennifer Granholm and our legislators are not aggressively tapping the resources available for Michigan to become a serious player in the global economy. And they have shown a lack of political will to fix tax and spending policies that only exacerbate economic woes. A change is in order – leadership and compromise – if we are to be confident about the future well-being of the state’s children.
The Kids Count report, released by the Baltimore-based Annie E. Casey Foundation, measures the well-being of U.S. children. The percent of Michigan children living in families where no parent has a full-time, year-round job increased to 35 percent in 2006, up from 31 percent in 2000. Children living in poverty rose from 14 percent to 18 percent. Nationally, Michigan ranked 37th and 30th, respectively in these categories. The poverty threshold for a family of four was $20,444 in 2006.
Michigan is losing jobs every day that it fails to capitalize on its potential. Lawmakers cannot be tentative when it comes to developing resources to diversify the state’s economy in areas where we are uniquely positioned – renewable energy, automotive technologies and biotechnology. Also, more investment is needed to retrain workers. Granholm has to become a more forceful negotiator with lawmakers to achieve the necessary compromises.
That needs to happen now. In May, the unemployment rate hit its highest monthly level since October 1982 at 8.5 percent. The state has seen net job losses for the past seven years. There are more than 1 million people on food stamps.
The report ranked the overall condition of children in Michigan 27th in the nation for the third year. The state did fare better in most areas studied, the importance of which should not be overlooked. There were declines in the infant mortality rate (although ranked 37th), child and teen death rate, teen birth rate and dropout rate. But significant work is still needed to improve among states.
The Kids Count report this year also examined juvenile justice trends, which points back to Michigan’s excessive prison spending. There were 137 youths in custody for every 100,000 youths ages 10 to 15 in 2006, compared with 125 nationally. That ranked 33rd among states. The rate for minority youth in custody was triple that of whites. Less costly, more productive alternatives to locking kids up should be reviewed. Some children and adults need to be detained to protect society but the state should find ways to keep non-violent offenders out of the system where possible.
Growing up in poverty can trigger negative outcomes. Reducing the number of impoverished children is a good investment that increases their chances for success in life. Getting the economy moving in a positive direction is crucial to the stability of families. Granholm and the Legislature should bring all their energy to bear on that task – for the sake of the state’s youngest citizens.
The Grand Rapids Press