Family income erodes, child abuse rises

More kids in Michigan are growing up in families struggling to make ends meet and more are suffering from abuse and neglect, according to the 2013 Kids Count in Michigan report, which also offers clear recommendations for a brighter future for those children.

Statewide, the most dramatic change was a 53 percent increase in the rate of young children who qualified for federal food assistance between 2005 and 2012. More than one in every three (37 percent) qualified for nutritional help because their families were living on incomes under 130 percent of poverty or less (about $31,000 a year for a two-parent, two-child family).

"Though the recession officially ended years ago, the toll on children is still apparent with the persistently high number of children living in need. It's especially troubling that young children are growing up in poverty because research shows a deeper lifelong impact of deprivation during early childhood,'' said Jane Zehnder-Merrell, Kids Count in Michigan director at the Michigan League for Public Policy.

The child poverty rate increased 34 percent between 2005 and 2011. Nearly 560,000 children, about one in every four, lived in poverty in 2011.

Another troubling Kids Count finding was the 41 percent increase in children living in families investigated for abuse or neglect between 2005 and 2012. A total of nearly 207,000 children - the highest number in 22 years - were living in families investigated for abuse and neglect.

The report, which ranks counties on 15 areas of child well-being, found five dramatically worsening trends - all tied to eroding family economic security. Six areas showed improvements, while three remained about the same. One indicator could not be tracked over time.

Livingston County ranked No. 1 (or best) on five of the trend indicators and Lake County ranked last (worst) on eight of the 15 indicators. Even well-to-do Livingston County, however, experienced a big rise in child poverty. To improve conditions for children, the report recommends that Michigan policymakers:

--Reinstate the Earned Income Tax Credit to 20 percent. The credit helps low-income working families afford transportation to stay on the job. It was cut to 6 percent starting in tax year 2012.

--Increase the child care subsidy amount and eligibility level so low-income working families have the ability to use licensed child care while parents work or search for jobs.

--Support the successful implementation of the Affordable Care Act.

--Expand Healthy Kids Dental into the five remaining counties.

--Invest in early childhood, paying attention to the important birth to age 3 time period.

--Raise the minimum wage.

"Together, these recommendations have the power to make a positive difference in the lives of low-income families in our state by encouraging work and making kids and families healthier,'' said Gilda Z. Jacobs, president and CEO of the Michigan League for Public Policy.

The biggest improvement statewide was a 33 percent drop in children living in out-of-home care. There were almost 17,000 Michigan children living outside their homes in 2005, compared with just 10,300 in 2012. The drop likely reflects improvements resulting from a court-approved settlement in a lawsuit filed against the state.

Also improving were the report's education indicators. Fourth-grade reading scores improved 20 percent while eighth-grade math increased 1 percent and high school reading improved 8 percent between 2008 and 2012.

More state and local data are available at the Kids Count Data Center,

Published: Thu, Dec 19, 2013