Opinion
8:27 am
Tue December 17, 2013

Do we care about our kids?

If you pick up either Detroit newspaper, you will find story after story about the fact that the city’s mediocre football team lost to another mediocre football team last night. This insignificant event is analyzed as if it were a major peace treaty in the Middle East.

But buried deep in those papers are a few paragraphs on a story that the editors thought much less important. Which is, that hundreds of thousands of Michigan children are hungry, impoverished, and living in families investigated for abuse and neglect. Hundreds of thousands, and the number is increasing.

Yesterday, the Michigan League for Public Policy released its annual Kids Count report. The results show a devastating and persistent pattern. The number of young children qualifying for federal food aid has jumped by more than 50% since 2005, Nearly two-fifths of all children now qualify for nutritional help because their families are so poor.

And if you think this is primarily a Detroit problem, you are guilty of self-delusion. Things are horrible in Detroit. A majority of the kids are living in poverty. Nearly all are eligible for free school lunches. Forty-two percent of babies are born to mothers who did not receive adequate prenatal care, and 12% of children tested positive for lead poisoning. You can read this all online, by the way.

But then look at Washtenaw County, where Ann Arbor is located, a place you might expect to be an ideal environment. Yet even there, one out of six kids are living in poverty, a nearly 50% increase over just eight years ago.

These children are our future, and we are starving and stunting our future. We’ve been talking a lot over the last year about the horrible shape that Detroit is in. But we are at least doing something about that. The city is moving through the bankruptcy process.

We are trying to figure out what the city can do when the bankruptcy is over. But when it comes to the huge crisis Michigan’s children are facing, we sweep it under the rug.

As for our lawmakers and state leaders -- how much discussion did you hear about child poverty in Lansing this year?  My guess is the answer would be pretty close to none. There are those who shrug their shoulders and say, well, it is too bad, but there is really nothing we can do. That is, dear reader, horse exhaust.

Gilda Jacobs, who runs the Michigan League for public policy, was in the state senate for a long time. She knows what could be done to make a significant impact.

Reinstate the Earned Income Tax Credit that was cut to give businesses a big tax break. Increase the child care subsidy amount and eligibility level, to help free parents up to find jobs. Help smooth putting the Affordable Care Act into place, expand Healthy Kids Dental and invest more in early childhood programs.

These children are Michigan’s Future. If we don’t invest in our future, we aren’t likely to have much of one. And if you aren’t at least a little outraged by all this, then, well, I think we really are doomed.   

Jack Lessenberry is Michigan Radio’s political analyst. Views expressed in the essays by Lessenberry are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of Michigan Radio, its management or the station licensee, The University of Michigan.