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Gov. Rick Snyder put services for immigrants and seniors at the top of his to-do list for 2014 in his State of the State speech yesterday.

The governor also promised to extend pre-school to every child in the state that wants to attend, and trumpeted the state’s economic recovery as he prepares to seek a second term.

"We are reinventing Michigan," Snyder said. "Michigan is the comeback state."

Snyder noted that hiring is up, and more people are looking for work — although Michigan still has one of the nation’s highest unemployment rates and many families living in poverty.

But the governor says things are getting better and the state’s improved budget position and the prospect of a revenue surplus is evidence of that. He said much of that money — more than a billion dollars over the next three years — should be used on infrastructure, investments, and savings. But he also said taxpayers should get some of it back.

“There’s going to be some opportunity for tax relief,” Snyder said.

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.

User: Brother O'Mara / flickr

47 percent of local leaders support right to work

A report released today from the University of Michigan says 47 percent of Michigan's local government leaders support Michigan's right-to-work law. 22 percent oppose it.

Number of children who qualify for food assistance has jumped

"A report by a private foundation says the percentage of young Michigan children qualifying for federal food assistance has jumped in recent years. The annual Kids Count in Michigan project says more than one in three qualified for nutritional help in 2012. That's up 53 percent from 2005," the Associated Press reports.

GM will invest in three plants in Michigan

"General Motors plans to spend more than a billion dollars upgrading five auto plants in three states.   Most of the money will be spent on GM plants in Michigan. Flint will see 600 million dollars in investment.  Romulus will get nearly 500 million.  And millions more will go to plants in Hamtramck and Toledo," Michigan Radio reports.

Jennifer Guerra / Michigan Radio

Over at our State of Opportunity website, we've been on Gap Watch: achievement gaps, literacy gaps, technology gaps, gender gaps, etc.

Our latest documentary continues the trend.

It's called The Education Gap.

I hung out in two very different 5th grade classrooms over the course of a month and a half.

Charles Blow, a New York Times columnist who himself grew up in semi-poverty, noted over the weekend that the United States is seeing a rapid explosion of billionaires – and of children who are going to school hungry. Not surprisingly, the hungry children part of the equation is truer in Michigan than in most other states.

In fact, one quarter of our children are now below the poverty line, which, by the way, is currently $23,550 for a family of four.

If you have any idea how four people can survive on that amount, you are smarter than I am. That number, by the way, has gone up more than five percent over the last six years.

The Great Recession may officially be over, and bank profits and the stock market are skyrocketing. But there’s very little sign of that affecting those who are poor. Actually, things have been getting worse for them, and are about to get worse still in Michigan.

Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio

New U.S. Census data shows Michigan’s median income and poverty rates holding steady.

The Census Bureau released the results of its latest American Community Survey today.

The results show Michigan’s poverty rate in 2012 stood at 17.4%, unchanged from 2011.

Ed Welniak leads the Income Statistics Branch of the U.S. Census Bureau.  He says Michigan’s numbers reflect a broader national trend.

www.detroit15.org

The Michigan League for Public Policy released its Labor Day report today. The report shows Michigan  increased the number of workers earning a poverty wage.

More than 90% of school children in Lake County qualify for free or reduced price lunch. To make sure they continue to eat healthy meals once school is out, the county’s school district offers free breakfast and lunch over the summer to any child in the county.

For our State of Opportunity project, Michigan Radio's Jennifer Guerra dropped by the cafeteria one sunny afternoon to check it out. 

Courtesy of Children First

Michigan has the highest rate of child poverty in the Great Lakes region, according to a report released Monday morning.

As Michigan Radio’s Jake Neher reported, data from the 2013 Kids Count survey, a nationwide study that ranks states based on child well-being, shows that about 560,000 children in Michigan live in poverty.

That statistic has increased by 6% over the last several years.

In other areas, the state does show some signs of improvement.

Only 4% of kids in Michigan are uninsured. Nationwide, about 7% of children lack health insurance.

User: Brother O'Mara / Flickr

Childhood poverty rate high in Michigan

This year’s Kids Count report from the Michigan League for Public Policy and the Annie E. Casey Foundation says Michigan ranks 31st nationwide for overall child well-being. Michigan League for Public Policy President Gilda Jacobs told Michigan Radio's Jake Neher that state lawmakers should restore Michigan’s tax credits for low-income families and ease restrictions on welfare cash assistance.

Possible changes in home foreclosure rules

Legislation in Lansing could change home foreclosure rules in Michigan. Currently, after a foreclosure, homeowners get six months after it gets sold at auction to regain the property. Under the proposed changes, a homeowner would lose that redemption period if the house is damaged. The idea is to stop homeowners going through foreclosure from damaging the home.

Neeta Delaney, director of the Michigan Foreclosure Task Force, told Michigan Radio's Lindsey Smith she worries the provision would only make the foreclosure process more contentious.

Michigan beachgoers lost 755 days of water access

The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality's annual beach quality report says Michigan beachgoers lost 755 days of water access in 2012 because of pollution. The most common cause for beach closings was the presence of bacteria from human or animal feces. Altogether, 166 beaches were closed for a total of 755 days in 2012. That's down from 913 days  in 2011.

There's a three story pile of black petroleum coke big enough to cover an entire city block piling up in Southwest Detroit. It's a by-product of oil sands drilling from Alberta, Canada.

On today's show: we asked why is this high-sulfur, high-carbon waste piling up along the Detroit River?

And, the Board of State Canvassers met today in Lansing. We got an update on ballot initiatives that you could be voting on.

Homeless
SamPac / creative commons

When one thinks of poverty in America, or in Michigan, what image comes to mind? Where are poor people living?

Chances are, an image of an inner-city neighborhood flashes in your mind.

Well, that would be wrong.

The Brookings Institute this week released its study called "Confronting Suburban Poverty in America."

Bottom line: poverty is moving into the suburbs.

Both here in Michigan and across the country, the suburbs are home to the largest and fastest-growing poor population in the country.

Scott Allard is an associate professor at the University of Chicago and a research affiliate of the National Poverty Center at the University of Michigan.

He joined us in the studio to talk about what this study means in terms of how we think about poverty in our state.

Listen to the full interview above.

Mistakes Kids Make

The State of Opportunity team found this short animation put together by a campaign called "Mistakes Kids Make."

The campaign is described as a "storytelling project to remind us that the mistakes we make as kids should not ruin the rest of our lives." It's funded by the MacArthur Foundation.

Take a look at the video here:

Mother and three small kids getting ready for school.
Jennifer Guerra / Michigan Radio

As part of our State of Opportunity project, we’re following parents as they struggle to get off public assistance and make a better future for their children. This is an update on one of those families.

I first interviewed Keisha Johnson on a steamy summer day last June. Johnson, 25, grew up poor and is still poor to this day. But she has three reasons she wants to climb out poverty, and their names are Kaleb, Jurnee, and Alan, Jr.

The Michigan League for Public Policy released its annual Kids Count data book yesterday. Unfortunately, it didn’t get a lot of attention in most of the media.

To the extent that I did hear or read about the Kids Count report across our state, the coverage emphasized two things:

Much of it focused on how kids were doing in a particular area, since for the first time, the report ranked individual counties on a wide variety of indicators. Beyond that, we did hear that the overall well-being of our children got significantly worse in the years two thousand and five to two thousand and eleven. That’s something you might expect, given the Great Recession.

But to me, that’s not the real news, and none of the media gave this report nearly the attention it deserved. This report, which anyone can read online, reveals that more than half a million Michigan children are living in poverty. Half a million!

Homeless
SamPac / creative commons

Bridge Magazine's Ron French reports on legislation that could be "a nail in the coffin" for efforts to halt welfare rule changes in Michigan."

The effort to remove 15,000 families from cash assistance in Michigan was billed as a cost-cutting measure. A necessary step for a state "that can no longer afford" to pay the benefits.

Years ago, I put together a  series of panel discussions on the American dream. The people involved differed  a good deal as to what the dream really meant, but they agreed on some  things.

Everybody thought part of it meant that America was a place  where if you worked hard, you could get ahead. And that America was a place  where a decent life was available for all.

Tragically, that’s not as  true as it used to be. Today, the Michigan League for Public Policy, formerly  known as the League for Human Services, unveiled a new national study on  incomes.

Five things to know about early childhood brain development

Nov 14, 2012
http://developingchild.harvard.edu / Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University

There's a lot of research that shows just how important the first few years of a child's life are to their cognitive development. But for those of us who aren't medical doctors the information can be rather confusing. 

Stateside: Poverty simulations

Nov 12, 2012
Washtenaw Housing Alliance

To better inform those unfamiliar with the challenges faced by the impoverished and homeless, Julie Steiner will host a poverty simulation tomorrow night at the Michigan Theater.

Steiner, the director of the Washtenaw Housing Alliance, spoke with Cyndy about Washtenaw County’s poverty problem.

One woman's fight to end the cycle of poverty

Nov 7, 2012
Keisha Johnson

Economic mobility for Americans at the bottom of the income scale seems to be fading. Today more than 40 percent of children born into poverty stay in poverty as adults.

State of Opportunity's Jennifer Guerra profiles one woman trying hard to be on the right side of that statistic.

What this election means for low-income families

Oct 31, 2012
Jennifer Guerra / Michigan Radio

After months of political rancor and over $2 billion raised, the 2012 presidential race is almost over. Yet with only six days left until Election Day, both Barack Obama and Mitt Romney have largely ignored the issue of poverty.

Household incomes are down while the number of people living in poverty is up. That’s according to new data from the US Census Bureau. Michigan’s numbers mirror national trends.

State of Opportunity / Michigan Radio

Join us this afternoon at 2 p.m. for a special call-in show. We'll examine the disparities that exist in our society, and how they make it more difficult for children to break out of the cycle of poverty.

Michigan Radio reporters are working on a new three-year initiative to explore the issue of children living in poverty here Michigan. State of Opportunity captures the stories of children and families struggling to make ends meet. We’re going beyond the statistics and exploring what it takes to make Michigan a place where our every kid have a chance to build a positive future.

“Our project kind of has two ways at looking at these issues. We look at statistics, we look at data, and we look at trends. But then when we talk to the individuals, the individual stories don’t always match up with those trends,” reporter Dustin Dwyer said.

Reporter Jennifer Guerra is currently working on a documentary about the infant mortality rate in the state. She says the information she found was staggering. “Infant mortality is still a big problem in Michigan. We’re above the national average for the past twenty years,” she said.

American Enterprise Institute

Libertarian author and commentator Charles Murray sat down with State of Opportunity's Dustin Dwyer yesterday to discuss his new book, Coming Apart, which highlights the growing stratification of wealth in America. 

courtesy Melissa and Jeffrey Rice

Today, the State of Opportunity team turned their microphone over to 9-year-old Leah Rice.

She reflects on her family, highlights of her summer and her thoughts on going back to school.

(She was placed in an advanced class, to which she says "uh, Boo-yah!".)

You can hear Leah's story here.

Last week, Dustin Dwyer from our State of Opportunity team showed us how upward mobility isn't so easy in the U.S., especially for disadvantaged kids. This week, Dustin shows us how some might break that pattern.

Nearly a quarter of all kids in Michigan live in poverty. We want to believe these kids have an equal shot at success in life, but there’s a pile of research that suggests otherwise.

Moving up the economic ladder in Michigan

May 10, 2012

Despite a tough state economy, people in Michigan are better able to move up the economic ladder than people in almost every other state. That's according to a report released by the Pew Research Center today.

The study found overall economic status doesn't change much over people's lives.

Erin Currier is from the Pew Center. She says the study did not look at why certain states did better than others. But she says there are some general lessons.

“Certain drivers of mobility are extremely powerful and those drivers include things like educational attainment, savings and asset building, and neighborhood poverty during childhood among others,” Currier.

The study found states with the most economic mobility are New York, New Jersey and Maryland.

Two weekends ago, I went to something called the Bow-Wow brunch, at an upscale hotel in suburban Detroit. The purpose was to raise money to support the Michigan Humane Society.

Kids in Poverty

Feb 23, 2012

Three hundred and forty-one thousand. That’s the number of children in our state living in what is officially known these days as “areas of concentrated poverty.” Our ancestors would have called where they lived “the worst slums.”

We are talking about homes that sometimes lack heat and light, that are surrounded by crack houses and other houses that have burned down, places where life is too often nasty, brutish and short.

Two-thirds of all children in Detroit live in such neighborhoods, streets like the one where a nine-month-old baby was killed by a bullet from an AK-47 assault rifle Monday.

But most poor children don’t live in Detroit. Some live in rural poverty, in Roscommon or Chippewa Counties up north, where alcoholism is high. Yes, a few of these children will escape, thanks to the efforts of a parent, teacher or mentor.

Somehow they will get a halfway decent education, a job and a better life, though that is becoming increasingly hard to do. But most won’t, just as most kids whose dreams are based on a basketball won’t make it to the NBA. Instead, the numbers of the desperately poor are swelling. According to a new report funded by the Annie E, Casey Foundation, there were a hundred and twenty-five thousand more poor kids in our state in twenty-ten than ten years earlier.

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