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Michigan Kids Count report: Rural areas also face child poverty, well-being issues

January 31, 2013

Michigan Live - LANSING, MI - A new report shows that some of Michigan’s relatively rural counties are among the hardest hit when it comes to child poverty and other measures of child well-being – and it suggests more spending on “safety net” programs could help address problems.

The Kids Count survey released Thursday provides a range of statistics related to the economy, health, child welfare and education. There were worsening trends, on average, in eight of the 15 categories examined. The most recent statistics contained in the report generally are from 2011 or 2010.

Ottawa, Livingston, Clinton, Midland and Oakland counties had the best overall rankings in the statewide survey.

Lake, Roscommon and Clare – relatively rural counties located in the north central part of Michigan’s Lower Peninsula – had the lowest average rankings. Genesee and Muskegon counties also ranked in the bottom five overall.

Keweenaw County, located in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, did not have an overall ranking because it lacked data in many categories.

The Kids Count project is a collaboration including the Michigan League for Public Policy (formerly known as the Michigan League for Human Services) and the advocacy group Michigan’s Children.

Michigan’s child poverty rate rose from 18 percent to 23 percent between 2005 and 2010, according to the report, and it increased again to 24.6 percent in 2011. The poverty line is defined as $18,000 for a single-parent family of three or $23,000 for a two-parent family of four.

The rise in child poverty hit nearly all locations in the state. But the degree of child poverty varied widely by county.

“We clearly see a connection between higher-income communities and better outcomes for kids, but even in more affluent counties, child poverty and the need for food assistance jumped dramatically,’’ Jane Zehnder-Merrell -- Kids Count in Michigan project director at the Michigan League for Public Policy – said in a statement. “No area of the state escaped worsening conditions for children when it comes to economic security.”

The number of young children qualifying for food assistance increased, as did the confirmed number of abuse and neglect victims.

There were some notable improvements in this year’s survey. Fewer children were in foster care in 2011 than in 2005. The mortality rate for infants fell, as did the death rate for children and teens between the ages of 1 and 19.

The groups make annual recommendations, in part based on the report. Some of the suggestions for this year:

• Restore state unemployment benefits to 26 weeks, rather than the 20 weeks now in state law.

• Enhance the state’s Earned Income Tax Credit to a higher percentage of the federal credit.

• Support the “successful implementation” of the federal Affordable Care Act.

• Reduce school class sizes in early grade levels, offer incentives to recruit teachers to low-performing schools, and evaluate the impact of school choice and charter school programs.

• Boost early childhood care and education programs.

There are several other recommendations included in the report.

By Tim Martin