Detroit Free Press, June 12, 2008: Don’t let a bad economy doom children to poverty

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June 12, 2008

The most depressing trend out of the annual Kids Count report being released today is the continued rise in poverty rates among children in Michigan. This is not news, and it reflects a nationwide pattern, but the difference here is acute.


In 2000, 14% of Michigan’s children lived in poverty. In 2006, 18% did. To be counted as impoverished, a family of four could have no more than $20,444 in income.

Equally depressing is the growth in families where no parent has a full-time job, up from 31% to 35% — a change that in effect took Michigan from slightly below the national average to above it. That puts Michigan 37th among the states, and it’s a ranking that perhaps not coincidentally matches how poorly the state stands in infant mortality when compared to the rest of the nation.

The annual release of national data from Kids Count is one of the most comprehensive opportunities Michigan has to benchmark itself against other states in how its children are faring. Teens, amazingly, have continued to show gains in many statistics. That includes a continuing drop in death from accidents, most often attributed to the sensibly tightened standards for driver’s licenses. But statewide, the teenage dropout rate also has declined, as has the teenage birth rate. Michigan ranks gratifyingly well above the national average in these measures.

But in a sad statistic that matches Michigan’s high imprisonment rate for adults, Michigan locks up more of its pre-teens and teenagers than the nation as a whole — even though the arrest rate for violent crimes is lower than the national average. Kids Count shows that for every 100,000 children ages 10-15, Michigan has 137 in custody, compared to 125 nationwide.

The continuing economic problems here bode even more poorly for today’s children. They are tomorrow’s teenagers, and quickly thereafter Michigan’s next work force. It is not just compassionate but in every Michigander’s self-interest to ensure that children in impoverished families have the food, health care and education that give them a chance to grow into strong and capable adults.

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