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!

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.

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.

Class Warfare

Jan 25, 2012

I started listening to the state of the union address last night, which I thought was one of President Obama’s better speeches.

But I lost my concentration some distance into the speech, when the president was talking about fairness. He said, “Now, you can call this class warfare all you want. But asking a billionaire to pay as least as much as his secretary in taxes?

About one-fourth of kids in Michigan live in poverty. That’s according to the Kids Count report from the Michigan League for Human Services. The report says the percent of kids living in poverty and “extreme poverty” has risen dramatically in the past decade, as has the rate of kids who qualify for free or reduced-price school lunches.

Jane Zehnder-Merrell is with the League. She says poverty is pervasive throughout the state.

“There’s sort of a perception out there of ‘if people would just look for a job then they wouldn’t have to rely on public support. But when you look at what’s happened throughout Michigan counties and their employment rates, it’s a pretty staggering picture thinking about trying to look for a job in this job market," Zehnder-Merrell says.

She says the good news from the report is teen births continue to decline. The number of teen deaths and the rate of high school dropouts are also declining.

Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

Nearly 500 volunteers served a hot meal to more than 1,300 people in need Wednesday night. That’s a record for the Holland Rescue Mission which has held the annual dinner for nearly 20 years. The non-profit runs a number of programs to help lift people from poverty.

Mercedes Mejia/Michigan Radio

We've been talking a lot about class, what it means, and how we define it.

We took a trip to St. Joseph and Benton Harbor. They’re called the Twin Cities, but they're different.

In Benton Harbor forty-three percent of families live below the poverty line.

In St. Joseph it’s six percent.

And, families in St. Joseph earn more than twice as much as their neighbors across the river.

Here's a video produced by Meg Cramer and Mercedes Mejia who spoke to residents on both sides of the river.

Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

Hundreds of volunteers in neon yellow t-shirts handed out winter coats and hats, helped answer specific questions and enroll people in dozens of assistance programs that already exist.

48-year old George McCree lives in Kalamazoo, but he doesn’t have a permanent job or home right now. He got help finding temporary shelter at the Project Connect event last May. That inspired him to start volunteering at a soup kitchen in town.

Mike McCaffrey / flickr

Stereotypes of people living in poverty are persistent.

But Alan Berube of the Brookings Institution says these stereotypes are becoming less accurate.

A report released today by the Institution shows poverty is growing and affecting many it didn’t touch before.

Some highlights from the report:

  • Concentrated poverty rose in Midwestern cities, but the number of people living in very poor neighborhoods is rising faster in the suburbs.
  • Poverty still affects communities of color in the inner cities. But, over the last decade poverty has grown among the number of well-educated white people living outside cities.
  • In the last decade concentrations of poverty have crept back up. That's where 40 percent of the people in a particular neighborhood live below the federal poverty line. These kinds of concentrations were on the decline up until 2000.
  • These concentrations of poverty almost doubled in the Midwest over the last decade. 

See more highlights, and read the entire report, at the Brookings Institution website.

Inform our coverage: How has the growth in poverty touched your life?

(photo by Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio)

Michigan’s rising poverty rate took on a human face in Lansing today as a few hundred people waited outside in the morning cold for a special event to help the capital city’s homeless.   Dozens of social service agencies took part in the event on Lansing’s south side.  

Patricia Wheeler is with the Greater Lansing Homeless Resolution Network.   She says more and more Michiganders are either homeless or at risk of becoming homeless.   Wheeler says this event is intended to lend them a hand.  

A lot of people are worried about what’s been going on in the stock market. I guess I should be, too.  To the extent I have any retirement savings, they are tied up in stock-heavy mutual funds.

But what bothers me much more is what’s going on with poverty in this state. A week from today, we are ending cash welfare assistance to something close to twelve thousand families.

That means close to thirty thousand children will suddenly be utterly dependent on the kindness of strangers. And their numbers will grow, every month.

New census data show more Michigan residents are living in poverty.

The 2010 numbers from the American Community Survey released Thursday show the poverty rate rose from 16.2 percent in 2009 to 16.8 percent in Michigan. The percent of children under 18 in poverty in Michigan rose from 22.5 percent to 23.5 percent.

In Detroit, 37.6 percent were in poverty and 53.6 percent of children.

Median household income fell more than 1 percent from 2009 to $45,413 as more people worked in the lower-pay service industry than in manufacturing.

Help shape stories on this topic. Answer our news questions related to this story:

Are you losing cash assistance benefits on October 1?

Have you tried to get a job in manufacturing?

Michigan’s homeless shelters may be the next step for people losing their state welfare benefits next month.    And that worries an advocate for Michigan’s homeless.   More than 12 thousand families will be kicked out of Michigan’s welfare programs when the new 48 month limit on state cash assistance benefits takes effect October 1st. 

Eric Hufnagel expects most will be sustained by family and local charities.   But the executive director of the Michigan Coalition Against Homelessness fears some will turn to local homeless shelters.  Hufnagel says local shelters are preparing for an influx of new clients, but decreasing government aid for shelters means it will be difficult.  

“We may not have the services that we need for some of those folks who are limited and no longer are receiving cash assistance.”   

Hufnagel expects only a small number of people losing their welfare benefits will turn to shelters initially.   But he says that tide will rise as religious groups and other charities find they cannot meet the need.

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.

Yesterday, we learned that Michigan has more than half a million kids in families whose incomes are below the poverty level. Half a million. That’s according to reliable figures provided by the non-partisan, non-profit Michigan League for Human Services.

Every year, they bring us something called the Kids Count Data Book, a demographic survey of children’s well-being, funded by the reputable Annie E. Casey Foundation.

This year’s study shows that almost one in four Michigan kids is poverty-stricken. That’s as of two years ago, and the situation probably worsened last year. That’s more significant than it seems: Poverty-stricken children all too often grow up to be poor, unemployed and sometimes unemployable adults. They seldom get the education they need to be successful in the modern economy.

Additionally, kids who live under economic stress also tend to have more health problems, according to Jane Zehnder-Merrell, the director of the Kids Count in Michigan project.

That should bother you even if you have a heart of stone, because society is going to end up paying a tremendous economic as well as human cost as a result. We won’t see the full effect of the recession on our children for years.

And, there are things we could do to cushion the blow. Unfortunately, according to the experts, we seem to be choosing policies guaranteed to do exactly the opposite. Michigan, by the way, isn’t the worst state in the nation when it comes to child poverty, though we are worse than most.

We’ve fallen a few notches to thirtieth out of fifty states. But while child poverty went up nationally by 18 percent since two thousand, it increased in Michigan by a staggering 64 percent.