Mark Brush

Reporter/Producer

Mark is a senior reporter/producer at Michigan Radio where he's been working to develop the station's online news content since 2010.

From 2000 to 2006, he worked as the technical director and senior producer for Michigan Radio's regional environmental news service known as the Great Lakes Radio Consortium.

From 2006 to 2010, as the unit's co-manager and senior producer, Mark helped transition the GLRC into an award-winning national news service known as The Environment Report. The service was heard on more that 130 stations around the country including WBEZ in Chicago, WAMU in Washington D.C., KUOW in Seattle, and KWMU in St. Louis.

Mark is a graduate of the University of Michigan ('00 MS in Environmental Policy and Planning & '91 BA in Political Science) and has been "a board certified public radio junkie" since 1992. He discovered public radio on his commutes to work in his trusty 1984 VW Rabbit. Much of Mark's storytelling philosophy was influenced through his close work with veteran CBC "réalisateur" David Candow.

Pages

Economy
12:39 pm
Tue September 13, 2011

Census data show increased poverty rate in Michigan

46.2 million people in the U.S. are in poverty. Light green bars show recessions.
U.S. Census Bureau

The U.S. Census Bureau released more data today cataloging the nation's median household income, poverty rate, and the percentage of people without health insurance coverage.

Census officials say this data represents the first full calendar year after the December 2007-June 2009 recession.

For health insurance coverage, the differences between 2009 and 2010 were not significant. It's estimated that 16.3 percent of the population is without coverage - about 49.9 million people.

Real median household income in the U.S. in 2010 was $49,445, - a 2.3 percent decline from the 2009 median.

Not surprisingly, the nation's poverty rate was up. "Poverty" is defined by the number of people in a household vs. their income. For example, a family of four that includes two children is considered in "poverty" if  their income is below $22,113.

From the U.S. Census Bureau:

The nation's official poverty rate in 2010 was 15.1 percent, up from 14.3 percent in 2009 ─ the third consecutive annual increase in the poverty rate. There were 46.2 million people in poverty in 2010, up from 43.6 million in 2009 ─ the fourth consecutive annual increase and the largest number in the 52 years for which poverty estimates have been published (emphasis added).

This information covers the first full calendar year after the December 2007-June 2009 recession. See section on the historical impact of recessions.

The Detroit News broke down what the numbers mean here in Michigan. They point out that more numbers will be out next week, which could drive the numbers higher:

For Michigan, the numbers hint at a substantial rise in poverty. In 2010, the survey showed 15.5 percent of Michigan residents in poverty, up from 14 percent in 2009. Compared to all states, Michigan's poverty rate is 20th, same as last year.

However, the poverty numbers released Tuesday are from the annual Current Population Survey (CPS) of 100,000 households in the country. Although state-level poverty numbers are being released, more accurate statistics at the state level will come out next week with the release of the 2010 American Community Survey (ACS), which surveys 3 million nationwide. Last year, the CPS indicated that 14 percent of Michigan residents were living in poverty; the ACS revealed that far more, 16.5 percent, were.

Over the last five years, Michigan's poverty numbers from the ACS have trended higher than the CPS.

News Roundup
9:00 am
Tue September 13, 2011

In this morning's news...

user brother o'mara Flickr

Tougher school testing standards set for approval today

The state Board of Education is meeting today to set increased scoring standards for Michigan's public schools. The vote to increase the standards came last February. Today, the board will consider specifics. More from the Associated Press:

The board today is scheduled to consider new so-called "cut scores" for the Michigan Educational Assessment Program tests taken by elementary and middle school students and the Michigan Merit Exam taken by high school students.

The board voted in February to raise the scoring standards to better reflect students' preparedness for careers and college. The specific cut score levels could be considered today.

Fewer students in Michigan are expected to be categorized as "proficient" after the cut scores are raised.

Ford CEO worries about consumer demand in Europe amid crisis

Europe's financial crisis is heating up. Paul Krugman, opinion columnist for the New York Times, said of the crisis "this thing could come apart in a matter of days."

The crisis has prompted Ford's European CEO to call for action. From the Associated Press:

Ford Europe CEO Stephen Odell is calling on European politicians to make painful decisions sooner rather than later to help the economy recover from an increasingly volatile financial crisis.

Odell said Ford is pressing ahead with new product launches at the Frankfurt Auto Show because the market will need products when the spiraling sovereign debt crisis clears and consumer confidence is restored... Odell told reporters on the sidelines Tuesday that politicians have so far not been able to resolve the issue, and urged them to apply even painful remedies "quickly and robustly."

Get ready for crisp, cold weather this week

It might be time to break out the coats. A blast of arctic air is coming our way. The Weather Underground's Shaun Tanner says a storm will move through the state later today:

A... storm will move into the Great Lakes region late in the day, renewing rain and even the slightest chance of early season snow in the Upper Midwest.

The... storms will precede a blast of Arctic air that will stream into the Northern Plains and Upper Midwest. This Arctic air will not be as cold as in the Winter, but a definite cooling trend will sweep through much of the northern tier of the country during the second half of the week.

Culture
5:03 pm
Mon September 12, 2011

Top 10 categories for time spent online

The top 5 social networks and blogs - Nielsen reports that blogs and social networks take up the majority of our time online. No surprise that Facebook is the king/queen.
screen grab from Nielsen report

My colleague Michigan Radio reporter Steve Carmody passed along this study from the Nielsen Company:

State of the Media: The Social Media Report (Q3 2011)

So how are we spending our time online? (hint: you "like" it). From the report:

Americans spend more time on Facebook than they do any other U.S. website.

Here's the top ten:

  1. 22.5 percent of our online time is spent on social networks and blogs
  2. 9.8 percent online games
  3. 7.6 percent e-mail
  4. 4.5 percent "portals"
  5. 4.4 percent videos/movies
  6. 4.0 percent search
  7. 3.3 percent instant messaging
  8. 3.2 percent software manufacturing
  9. 2.9 percent classifieds/auctions
  10. 2.6 percent on current events and global news

Nielsen reports that Tumblr is an emerging social network nearly tripling its unique U.S. audience over the last year.

Does the Tumblr design look somewhat familiar to you?

Read more
Education
3:47 pm
Mon September 12, 2011

Study: Educators need more training to help students with autism

MSU researchers say Michigan educators could better serve students on the Autism Spectrum Disorder.
user frank juarez Flickr

According to Michigan State University researchers, many educators in the state are not using some of the most effective teaching methods  when working with the more than 15,000 Michigan students with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD).

Summer Ferreri, an MSU assistant professor of special education, and Sara Bolt, an MSU associate professor of school psychology conducted the study.

Using data from more than 200 school professionals, 34 parents of students with ASD, and classroom observations, the researchers found that more than 40 percent of the educators were not using techniques known as "Applied Behavior Analysis", and "Social Stories" (a method for teaching social skills to children with autism).

They also found it difficult to "access statewide data on students with ASD" and "concluded that better access is crucial to determine whether the services schools provide are actually helping students succeed."

From the MSU press release:

Suzanne Wilson, a University Distinguished Professor and chair of the Department of Teacher Education at MSU, said autism education is one of the most pressing issues facing educators today.

“While autism rates have rapidly increased, many new and experienced teachers have little to no experience working with children with autism,” Wilson said.  "Without the appropriate education, new teachers could, at worst, marginalize these students and, at best, be supportive but not effective.”

The researchers also found that 26% ASD students in Michigan "never or rarely had learning opportunities that reflected the general education curriculum."

And "one-third of the 194 Michigan teaching professionals responding said their students with ASD wouldn’t meet any grade-level achievement standards."

The findings of the research will be presented to the State Board of Education tomorrow (September 13). The study was conducted with funding from the Weiser family, the Kellogg Foundation, and the Skillman Foundation.

Read more
Politics
9:25 am
Mon September 12, 2011

In this morning's news...

user brother o'mara Flickr

Negotiations between UAW and automakers might go down to the wire

Contracts between the UAW and Detroit automakers expire this week. The sides have been negotiating for the past month and will likely continue to negotiate through the middle of this week. The Detroit Free Press reported that "GM's agreement... is likely to add thousands of jobs at U.S. plants, offer buyouts for skilled trades workers and enhance the profit-sharing formula.":

Chrysler has been in lockstep with talks at GM and out-of-state union leaders were told that they might need to travel to Detroit soon to review a tentative deal.

Talks were continuing at Chrysler over the weekend. CEO Sergio Marchionne said in Canada that he would be involved in the talks, even though he was traveling from Calgary, Alberta, to Detroit and then to Frankfurt, Germany, over the course of the weekend.

Meanwhile, talks lag at Ford, where economic issues have barely begun being discussed.

State to decide whether to increase testing standards this week

The state Board of Education might decide to raise school testing standards at a meeting tomorrow, according to the Detroit News. If the scores are raised, fewer schools in Michigan will be found to be proficient in key subjects:

Education officials say the changes are necessary because existing standards reward students for average work and have disguised dismal ability levels. For instance, just 10 percent of third-graders are not proficient in reading, according to last year's Michigan Education Assessment Program (MEAP) tests. State Superintendent Mike Flanagan said the newer scores will show that more than 60 percent are not proficient.

F-16s scrambled to follow a passenger plane on 9/11

Two passengers behaving suspiciously raised concerns of terrorism on a Frontier flight from Denver to Detroit yesterday. More from WXYZ.com:

People on the plane tell Action News the two men in question spent long periods of time in the plane’s lavatories. It's not clear how the woman was involved.

“They were going back and forth through the aisle,” passenger David Mungia said, describing the behavior of the two men who were taken away by police.

“One of the guys was in the bathroom for at least ten minutes,” Mungi said.

Authorities are not saying what was going on inside the lavatories but ABC News is reporting the unidentified passengers were making out.

 

Update 11:47 a.m.

The Detroit Free Press reports that reports of amorous activity on the flight are false:

Three passengers detained at Detroit Metro Airport Sunday after the crew reported suspicious activity were actually just using the rest room, according to an FBI spokeswoman in Detroit.

FBI Detroit spokeswoman Sandra Berchtold said reports about sexual encounters taking place in the rest room are false, describing them as "stories spinning out of control."

Politics
6:18 pm
Fri September 9, 2011

Court agrees to reconsider affirmative action ruling

Update 6:18 p.m.

Here's a copy of the court order.

5:42 p.m.

The U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals will reconsider a decision to strike down Michigan's ban on race- and gender-based affirmative action in university admissions.

A panel of the court ruled in July that the affirmative action ban violated equal protection rights in the U.S. Constitution.

The new hearing will take place before more than a dozen judges that make up the entire sixth circuit appeals court based in Cincinnati.

Michigan voters approved the amendment to the state constitution in 2006. The amendment was challenged in federal court by several civil rights groups. Oral arguments and a decision in the case are not expected before next year.

Here's an excerpt from a press release from Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette:

On July 1, 2011, a three judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit issued a 2-1 decision that declared Michigan’s constitutional ban on racial preferences in public education unconstitutional on the grounds it allegedly violated the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.   

Schuette appealed the ruling through a formal request for rehearing en banc with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit.  A rehearing en banc involves presenting the case to the full court of the 6th Circuit for review.  This process is reserved when new decisions conflict with previous rulings, and for questions of “exceptional importance” (Federal Rules of Appellate Procedure - 35).

MCRI was approved by a 58% majority of Michigan voters in November, 2006.   The day after the measure was approved, several organizations filed suit to invalidate MCRI.  The measure was previously upheld in December 2006 when a separate three judge panel from the 6th Circuit issued a preliminary ruling that unanimously concluded the measure passed Constitutional muster. 

The Michigan Civil Rights Initiative will remain in force pending a final decision by the court.

5:21 p.m.

The U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals has agreed to reconsider a decision to strike down Michigan's ban on race- and gender-based affirmative action in university admissions.

 

Environment
2:08 pm
Fri September 9, 2011

Army Corps bumps up the juice on fish barrier to block carp

Fisheries biologists use electric probes in the Chicago Sanitary Ship Canal to find Asian carp near the electric fish barrier located in Romeoville, IL in 2009.
Petty Officer Bill Colclough U.S. Coast Guard

Officials at the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Chicago District say they plan to pump up the electricity at their fish dispersal barrier along the Chicago Ship and Sanitary Canal. The increase is intended to repel smaller fish.

From the U.S. ACOE's statement:

While extensive research and monitoring indicate that small Asian carp currently are not currently within the vicinity of the fish barrier, and all field telemetry research indicates the barrier is highly effective, the Corps is taking this conservative approach to operating the electrical dispersal barrier out of an abundance of caution.

Corps officials say they'll turn up the power "later this fall."

In the statement, Corps officials say they have an aggressive monitoring program and have tracked nearly "1.9 million detections of tagged fish in the barrier area, with no indication of tagged fish having crossed any of the electric barriers in the upstream direction."

Environmental DNA (eDNA) evidence was found above the barrier leading some to wonder whether the fish are establishing themselves in waters close to the Great Lakes.

Officials at the Corps say while DNA testing has some advantages, but "eDNA does not provide conclusive proof of the physical presence of live fish."

Politics
1:44 pm
Fri September 9, 2011

Judge strikes down Michigan law barring protests at military funerals

Update 1:44 p.m.

A federal judge has struck down the Michigan law that bars protests at funerals.

Detroit U.S. District Judge Thomas Ludington says the law violates free speech rights and is too vague too enforce.

Lewis and Jean Lowden challenged the law after they were stopped and removed from a funeral procession by police.

They had signs critical of President George W. Bush taped to their car windows.

They were on their way to the burial of a family friend who died in Iraq.

Dan Korobkin is the American Civil Liberties Union attorney who represented the Lowdens. He says it is still illegal to disrupt a funeral.

"But what’s not against the law is to express your own views on a public street and risk being arrested or penalized for that just because your views don’t accord with the views of other people – either at the funeral or, even in this case, the police officers who were directing traffic," said Korobkin.

The law was passed largely to stop the Westboro Baptist Church from protesting at the funerals of fallen service members. Members of the church show up outside military funerals with signs that say the deaths were caused by America’s tolerance of homosexuality.

10:55 a.m.

This just came in from MPRN's Rick Pluta:

A federal judge has struck down the state law barring protests at military funerals.

The Michigan law was passed in 2006 to keep members of the Westboro Baptist Church from demonstrating at military funerals. More than 40 states passed similar legislation barring the practice, according to the First Amendment Center.

Last March, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of the Westboro protesters in the "Snyder v. Phelps" case.

Last month, a similar state law in Missouri was found to be unconstitutional by a federal judge.

We'll have more from Rick Pluta later today.

Politics
1:00 pm
Fri September 9, 2011

Stampfler resigns, new emergency manager appointed for Pontiac

The city of Pontiac is under the control of a new state-appointed emergency manager - Bud Schimmel.
Dave Garvin Flickr

The Associated Press is reporting the Michael Stampfler, Pontiac's emergency manager has resigned. A new manager has been appointed.

From the Associated Press:

Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder has appointed a new emergency manager for the city of Pontiac, which faces a projected $12.5 million deficit.

Read more
Education
12:48 pm
Fri September 9, 2011

Republicans introduce their education reform effort

Republicans in the Michigan Senate have introduced seven bills aimed at reforming the education system in Michigan. Critics say the Republicans are trying to "destroy" public education in the state.
user alkruse24 Flickr

Michigan Republican legislators introduced legislation this week that they say will reform education in Michigan. The legislators call the seven bills they introduced the "Parent Empowerment Education Reform" package.

The bills have been referred to the Senate Education Committee.

Eartha Jane Melzer of the Michigan Messenger summed up the effort this way: 

The seven bill package would remove limits on the number of charter and cyber schools, allow parents and teachers to force schools to convert into charters, and let districts hire teachers through private companies.

It also imposes new requirements on schools, specifying that students be allowed to simultaneously enroll in high school and college courses beginning in the 9th grade, that schools accept students from out of district, and that services be provided for homeschoolers and private school students.

In a statement on his website, State Senator Phil Pavlov (R-St. Clair Township), and the chair of the Senate Education Committee said he and his colleagues are following through on Governor Snyder's request to "expand the schools of choice program, empower parents and ensure that every student has access to a quality education."

From Pavlov's statement:

"Every parent in the state wants the very best for their children," said Pavlov.  "Unfortunately, when it comes to educating our kids, adult issues too often get in the way.  The Parent Empowerment Education Reform package is about freeing parents to pursue the opportunities that work best for their children and giving schools the freedom they need to innovate and excel."

The Michigan Education Association published a statement calling the reforms an "attack on public education" and an attempt to privatize the system:

Many of the concepts introduced in these bills were first mentioned by Gov. Snyder in his education message this spring. But it's apparent that the attacks on public education continue. None of these bills are meant to improve education. This is more of the same push to destroy public education: schools run by private entities, back-door vouchers, policies based on rhetoric rather than research, and more state mandates -- despite the Republican cut of $1 billion from public schools earlier this year.

Politics
10:18 am
Fri September 9, 2011

Governor Snyder reacts to President Obama's jobs speech

President Barack Obama addresses a joint session of Congress calling on the members to pass "The American Jobs Act."
White House

Last night, President Obama addressed a joint session of Congress calling on the members to pass a bill he plans to submit called the "American Jobs Act."

Governor Rick Snyder offered his thoughts on the speech:

Read more
News Roundup
9:02 am
Fri September 9, 2011

In this morning's news...

user brother o'mara Flickr

Shakeup in the state's labor movement

The head of the Michigan AFL-CIO announced that he will step down. Michigan AFL-CIO President Mark Gaffney announced yesterday that he will not seek another term. Gaffney said new leadership is needed. MPRN's Rick Pluta reported that "Gaffney’s pending departure had been widely rumored as labor leaders fret about how to deal with the growing pile of anti-union measures under consideration at the state Capitol – including right to work bills." Pluta reports that Gaffney's replacement will likely be Karla Swift, who could be formally chosen at a labor convention next month.

Grand Rapids airport seeks permission to discharge de-icing fluid into river

Officials at the Gerald R. Ford International airport want to build a pipeline that will allow them to dump de-icing fluid into a nearby river. The Grand Rapids Press reports the pipeline will cost around $15 million:

The nearly mile-long pipeline to the Thornapple River would be used to dispose of an estimated 90,000 to 100,000 gallons a year of de-icing fluid. A proposal was submitted Sept. 1 to the state Department of Environmental Quality.

Most Detroit Schools are opening after power outages

Some schools in the Detroit district missed opening week because of power outages around the city. Detroit Public Schools now says most schools will reopen.

More from the Associated Press:

The Detroit Public Schools plans to hold classes as scheduled at most schools following power outages that caused early dismissals across the district.

The district said Friday morning that all but four schools had power. One of the schools will relocate classes for the day and three will be closed.

Recent storms and weather-related issues were blamed for outages that forced the early school closures Thursday and left other public buildings without lights for several hours. Problems with Detroit's aging electrical grid also contributed to the outages.

Most power was restored by Thursday evening.

Hunting
3:59 pm
Thu September 8, 2011

Moose hunt opposed by Chippewa tribe in the U.P.

The DNR will soon decide whether a limited moose hunt will be held in Michigan.
MI DNR

It's up to the Michigan State legislature to determine what game is available for hunting in Michigan.

In late 2010, the legislature opened up the possibility of a moose hunt in Michigan.

They charged the Moose Hunting Advisory Council with developing recommendations on whether or not a moose hunt should be conducted. (You can let them know what you think by dropping them a line - moosecomments@michigan.gov).

The council is expected to present their report to the Michigan DNR's Natural Resources Commission next Thursday (September 15). The Associated Press reports that the Moose Hunting Advisory Council will recommend a moose hunt of 10 bull moose.

The NRC will take the recommendation and decide whether a hunt will occur.

But ahead of all that, the Inland Conservation Committee with the Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians voted to oppose the hunt.

Here's part of a statement from the tribe:

At its Aug. 1 meeting, the committee cited biological concerns of a hunt’s impact on a fragile and uncertain population of 433 moose. The proposed hunt would take 10 bull moose in the fall after the rutting season, according to news accounts. The Department of Natural Resources was officially notified of the decision last week.

The statement says "under the terms of the 2007 Inland Consent Decree, the committee's opposition effectively ends Michigan’s bid for a moose hunt, for now."

A spokeswoman for the DNR said the tribe's position will have no effect on the report going to the Natural Resources Commission next week.

If the NRC votes to establish a moose hunt in Michigan, the question of whether or not the tribe's opposition prohibits a hunt will have to be answered.

Education
3:41 pm
Thu September 8, 2011

Education Secretary Arne Duncan in Michigan, praises Detroit education efforts

U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan testifying in Congress.
Ed Work Flickr

Update 3:14 p.m.

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan say he "couldn’t be more hopeful" about the future of Detroit's public schools.

At today's town hall meeting at the Charles H. Wright Academy in Detroit, Duncan praised Governor Snyder and DPS Emergency Manager Roy Roberts for their commitment to education reform, and he urged everyone at the event to rally around those efforts:

"You have all the building blocks in place to do something remarkable here. Has Detroit struggled? Absolutely, no question about it. But my challenge, and the opportunity here is: Can Detroit become the fastest improving urban district in the country? And I see no reason why that can’t happen."

Duncan says he takes the work he does in Detroit "very, very seriously." He adds that if Detroit public schools haven’t improved by the time he leaves office, he’ll consider his tenure "a failure."

The Secretary also gave a shout out to the Kalamazoo Promise, the anonymously-funded program that pays for almost every Kalamazoo public school graduate to go to a state-supported college or university. Duncan said if Detroit could develop something similar it would be the "best economic development tool" for the city:

"If we could make that guarantee of not just a 2-year but a 4-year university education possible for every young man and woman who graduates from Detroit Public Schools, that would be absolutely amazing."

Governor Snyder, who was also at today's event, says the state needs to do a better job when it comes to educating Michigan’s children. "When we looked at the numbers we only have 17% of our kids college ready," says Snyder. He calls that percentage "absolutely unacceptable."

11:23 a.m.

U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan is visiting Michigan today as part of his "Education and the Economy" bus tour of the Midwest.

This morning he made a stop in Detroit where he joined Governor Rick Snyder, State Superintendent of Public Instruction Mike Flanagan, Detroit Mayor Dave Bing, and DPS emergency manager Roy Roberts to discuss the status of Detroit Public Schools.

The bus left Detroit and headed for Ann Arbor. Right now, he's participating in a panel discussion at the University of Michigan.  Michigan Radio's Jennifer Guerra is covering that and will have more for us later.

In Detroit this morning, Duncan told a crowd at the Charles H. Wright Academy of Arts and Science that he takes the progress of Detroit Public Schools personally. Duncan called the district "ground zero" in education reform two years ago. From the Detroit Free Press:

He said that if DPS does not see significant improvements during his tenure in office, he will consider it a personal failure.

“I take the work here very, very personally,” Duncan said.

Since Duncan’s visit in 2009, the district has implemented a five-year academic plan and the graduation rate has grown to 62%, up by about 4%.

The Education Secretary's visit comes a day after the Detroit Public Schools had 55 percent of enrolled students show up for the first day of classes, as Michigan Radio's Sarah Cwiek reported.

Duncan said the success of the Detroit Public School system is tied to the overall success of the state. From MLive:

"Just as you can't have a great state without having a great city of Detroit, you cannot revitalize the city of Detroit without a great public education system. Those two things are inextricably linked."

Duncan praised the leadership of Governor Snyder, Detroit Mayor Bing, and DPS emergency manager Roy Roberts for their "alignment of courage" to turn the Detroit school system around.

After the panel discussion in Ann Arbor, Duncan is off to Indiana. Here's a Google Map of Duncan's bus tour:

View Larger Map

Travel
1:29 pm
Thu September 8, 2011

Pure Michigan ad campaign for fall gets underway

Fall colors in Chassell, Michigan
user hyperboreal Flickr

"Get up. Get out. And go see something we'll remember for the rest of our lives."

So says the new radio ad from Pure Michigan urging people to get outside and take in the fall colors in Michigan.

The ad is part of a TV and radio campaign that runs through mid-October according to the Detroit Free Press:

The budget is $2.4 million.

Among the new radio ads promoting Michigan tourism feature Holland and St. Ignace. They'll run in-state plus in Fort Wayne, Toledo and South Bend.

Other targets for "Pure Michigan" ads this fall are the good citizens of Chicago, Indianapolis, several Ohio cities, Milwaukee and Green Bay.

Here's the television ad. Effective?

Class
5:03 pm
Wed September 7, 2011

Report: A third of middle class Americans slip down economic ladder

Measures of the downwardly mobile from the Pew Charitable Trusts.
Pew Charitable Trusts

The report "Downward Mobility from the Middle Class: Waking Up from the American Dream" shows a third of children raised under middle class conditions fell out of the middle class as adults.

The report comes from the Pew Charitable Trusts. In the introduction, researchers cite a popular definition of the American Dream - your children are financially better off than you.

For varying reasons, the dream didn't work out for one third of the people they looked at.

The report used data from the 1979 National Longitudinal Survey of Youth. 12,686 young men and women who were 14-22 years old were part of that survey.

The reports authors define middle class as being "those falling between the 30th and 70th percentiles of the family-size-adjusted income distribution." Or a family with two adults and two kids making between $32,900 to $64,000 (in 2010 dollars).

Author Gregory Acs writes that while the chances of falling out of the middle class reflects what one might expect mathematically, "not all middle-class children are equally likely to fall."

Read more
Auto/Economy
12:10 pm
Wed September 7, 2011

Saab Automobile files for bankruptcy

A Saab 9-3 SportCombi II. The company stopped production last April.
user S 400 HYBRID wikimedia commons

Saab Automobile AB filed for bankruptcy protection Wednesday.

Saab used to be owned by General Motors. GM sold the company to Spyker Cars in January of 2010.

From the Associated Press:

The owner of cash-strapped car maker Saab filed for bankruptcy protection on Wednesday in a last-ditch attempt to salvage a brand crippled by production stoppages, withheld salary payments and mounting debt.

Swedish Automobile, formerly known as Spyker Cars, said the move would buy it time to receive funding from Chinese investors, currently awaiting regulatory approval, and avoid bankruptcy.

The Wall Street Journal reports this is an attempt at reorganization, similar to Chapter 11 bankruptcy in the U.S.:

Saab Automobile has struggled with its finances for months. Production at its plant in the Swedish town of Trollhattan has been halted since April.

In a bid to solve its long-term funding needs, the car maker this summer signed agreements with two Chinese companies. But Saab will receive no money until regulators in China and Sweden approve the deal, so the company is still strapped for cash.

Politics
11:38 am
Wed September 7, 2011

Reaction to stronger limits on Michigan welfare benefits

Yesterday, Governor Rick Snyder signed legislation that places tighter limits on cash assistance benefits to the poor.

It puts a four-year lifetime cap on cash assistance payments from the state. The four years don't have to be consecutive, they can be tallied up over time, and the clock on the four-year cap started on October 1, 2007.

It's estimated that 12,600 cases will be taken off the cash assistance as of October 1, 2011.

Peter Luke of MLive points out that in 2006, then-governor Jennifer Granholm also signed legislation limiting cash benefits to four years, "but DHS caseworkers had leeway to authorize exemptions."

This measure is more strict, and Governor Snyder said his administration is "returning cash assistance to its original intent as a transitional program to help families while they work toward self-sufficiency."

From MLive:

DHS Director Maura Corrigan said the agency is partnering with non-profit groups to provide recipients with a “soft landing” during the transition... The measure is estimated save the 2012 state budget about $65 million.

The new law also allows families on the rolls to earn more money on the job while still receiving benefits. In the past, families that earned more than $814 a month could no longer qualify for cash assistance. The new limit on earned income is $1,164.

"Michigan continues to face financial challenges, and the fiscal reality is that we cannot afford to provide lifetime cash assistance to recipients who are able to work," Corrigan said.

In a statement, the head of the Michigan League for Human Services, Gilda Jacobs, says these cash benefits support children in need:

The Department of Human Services has estimated that 29,700 children will be cut from cash assistance in October. Though the department says it will assist the families for a few months, it’s questionable whether new jobs will be available for adults in these families by the end of the year.

It will be a hard, hard winter for many of these families.

Read more
Education
4:39 pm
Tue September 6, 2011

All students in Flint and Detroit eligible for free breakfast and lunch

A new federal program being piloted this year provides free breakfasts and lunches to all students in poorer school districts.
USDA.gov

A new United States Department of Agriculture program will provide free lunches and breakfasts to all K-12 students in the Detroit Public School system and the Flint School District.

The free meal service, known as the "Community Eligibility Option," is part of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act singed into law by President Obama in December of 2010.

From the USDA:

[The] universal free meal service option...makes it easier for low-income children to receive meals in the National School Lunch and School Breakfast Programs. The "Community Eligibility Option" will allow schools in high-poverty areas to eliminate the use of applications and provide free breakfast and lunch to all students.

In a statement, Mark Schrupp, DPS Chief Operating Officer, said the program is aimed at eliminating stigma:

"One of the primary goals of this program is to eliminate the stigma that students feel when they get a free lunch, as opposed to paying cash," said Schrupp. "Some students would skip important meals to avoid being identified as low-income. Now, all students will walk through a lunch line and not have to pay. Low-income students will not be easily identifiable and will be less likely to skip meals."

Blake Thorne reports in the Flint Journal that a district has to meet certain criteria to be eligible for the new "lunch for all" program:

The program evaluates the economic eligibility of an entire school or district, rather than individual students, and if 40 percent of the school or district’s students qualify for free lunches, all students get them...

Last year, 81 percent of Flint students qualified for free lunches, according to Michigan Department of Education data from last fall, the most recent figures available.

Education Department figures show about 41 percent of the state’s 1.57 million students qualify for the meals.

The program is in its pilot phase this year and only a limited number of states can participate.

Once a district signs on, they're required to participate in the program for 4 successive school years.

The Community Eligibility Option will be available to all states beginning in the 2014-2015 school year.

In the Detroit News, Michael Van Beek of the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, questioned whether the new program is a good use of taxpayer money:

"Under this program, it appears we would be subsidizing school lunches and meals to students who currently don't qualify under the federal program."

Van Beek said there are more creative solutions than giving away meals to everyone at a school where less than half of the students may qualify.

The news reports that "the federal government spent $338 million on free and reduced school meals" in the state in fiscal year 2010.

Economy
2:21 pm
Tue September 6, 2011

Flint to consider consolidation as a way to save money

Flint City Council is considering joining a consolidation initiative known as Future Genesee.
Steve Carmody Michigan Radio

This Wednesday, Flint City Council will consider whether consolidation could be in the city's future.

The Flint Journal reports that a council committee will take up a resolution this Wednesday, with a final decision from council coming next Monday:

Government consolidation in Michigan has been a hot topic since Gov. Rick Snyder told local communities that they would lose out on additional state aid unless they showed a commitment to share services with others to save taxpayer dollars.

Snyder set a Jan. 1 deadline for governments to submit consolidation plans if they want to receive a share of a $200-million pool of funds.

Several local communities, including Burton, Clio, Davison and Davison Township, have already joined the initiative.

The consolidation initiative is known as Future Genesee  and the Journal reports it includes the communities of Burton, Clio, Davison and Davison Township.

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