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Michigan ranks 33rd in child well-being

By Erin Dietzer/The Holland Sentinel • Jul 2, 2018 at 7:00 AM

The good news is children in Ottawa County have a good quality of life, ranking second in child well-being in the Michigan Public Policy’s 2018 Kids Count book.

The bad news is the state overall continues to rank in the bottom half of the nation in child well-being, according to the 2018 National Kids Count Data Book, released by the Annie E. Casey Foundation.

Both state and national Kids Count reports evaluate 16 indicators across four main categories: economic well-being, education, health, family and community. Michigan ranked in the bottom half in every category:

• 31st in economic well-being

• 38th in education

• 25th in health

• 30th in family and community

Michigan ranked the lowest out of all states in the Great Lakes region, finishing behind Minnesota (fourth), Wisconsin (12th), Illinois (22nd) Ohio (25th) and Indiana (28th). For the second consecutive year, New Hampshire was ranked the best in child well-being, followed by Massachusetts, New Jersey, Minnesota and Iowa. The worst five states were Alaska, Nevada, Mississippi and Louisiana, with New Mexico taking last place.

“The numbers released today reflect the priorities of our state’s leaders,” said Gilda Z. Jacobs, president and CEO of the Michigan League for Public Policy, partner of the Casey Foundation. “Although we hear messaging around Michigan becoming a stronger state filled with a talented young workforce, the policies and budget choices made by lawmakers do not show a desire to improve the well-being of young people. If we want a talented workforce in the future, we need to invest more in early childhood education, communities and families today.”

One of the biggest concerns about Michigan is stagnation, said Michigan League for Public Policy Project Director Alicia Guevara Warren. In Michigan’s worst area — education — there were small improvements in some of the indicators: The percentage of high school students not graduating on time dropped from 26 percent to 20 percent, and fourth-graders not proficient in reading dropped from 70 percent to 68 percent. However, Warren said those changes aren’t statistically significant.

“In education, we really stagnated,” she said. “The bright spot is we’re not in the bottom 10 in education anymore.”

Another bright spot, Warren said, was more children now have health insurance. Currently, only 3 percent of Michigan children are uninsured, compared to 4 percent in 2010. The change is due, in part, to the state’s decision to expand Medicaid through Healthy Michigan.

Michigan also showed some improvement in every indicator in economic well-being. The percentage of children in poverty, children whose parents lack secure employment, children living in a household with a high housing cost burden and teens not in school or working all decreased.

However, the number of Michigan’s children in poverty — 21 percent — is still higher than the national average of 19 percent. Since 2010, Michigan has also seen a 6 percent increase in the number of children living in high-poverty areas, where poverty rates for the total population are 30 percent or more.

Nationally, 13 percent, or 9.4 million children, lived in high poverty areas during the period of 2012-2016. In Michigan, it was 376,000 children, about 17 percent of the child population.

“If we look at four measures of economic well-being, we’re getting better,” Warren said. “These are all changing with statistical significance, so that’s good. Even though we’re making improvements, one in five kids live in poverty, one in 5 percent live with families that can’t get long-term economic security. Our ranking in economic well-being remains the same, which means even though we’re improving, other states are improving faster than us.”

The biggest concern in the national report and the Michigan report is that these improvements will be hampered by undercounting in the 2020 census.

In 2010, the U.S. Census failed to count almost 1 million children under the age of 5. While it’s understandable that some are missed or counted more than once when surveying the entire population, the census undercounts children younger than 5 at a much higher rate than any other age group. Children of color and children in low-income and immigrant families particularly run the risk of being undercounted.

Researchers suggest many reasons for undercounting: Families may have complex living arrangements, be highly mobile or homeless, not fluent in English, live in a high-poverty area or have concerns about privacy. There’s also a concern that with a new question on the 2020 census asking the status of the taker’s citizenship might prompt immigrant families with undocumented family members to not respond out of fear of deportation.

The Census Bureau created an internal task force in 2014 to learn why young children were so undercounted. There are many suggested reasons, but inadequate funding has stalled their work, the Kids Count report said.

The reason why undercounting is such a concern is because the 2020 census will determine federal funding for states and localities for the next decade. The Casey Foundation estimates that approximately 23 percent, or 4.47 million kids, will be undercounted in the 2020 census. That includes 62,000 Michigan kids, or about 11 percent of the child population. Warren said about 62 percent of Michigan’s 11 percent are children under the age of 5.

“Funding for federal programs depend on an accurate count for things like Head Start and SNAP, and we could face reduced federal funds for these programs even though there’s a higher need for them,” Warren said. “Here in Michigan, our top 10 federal programs bring in about $4 billion a year, so we are put at risk not receiving full amount of federal funding.”

The Casey Foundation recommends increasing funding for staff to the Census Bureau, funding state and local outreach to ensure vulnerable communities are counted, expanding the pool of trusted outreach messengers, providing online access for all families to participate in the census and address privacy and confidentiality concerns.

For Michigan, the Michigan League of Public Policy recommends improving access and quality of prenatal care, ensuring access to affordable, quality child care by raising eligibility levels for state child care subsidies, and restoring the state Earned Income Tax Credit to 20 percent of the federal credit.

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