New Kids Count report offers solutions to improve child well-being

LANSING — The well-being of Michigan’s kids has continued to decline and lag behind other states in recent years, hurting Michigan’s ability to be a competitive state and attract and retain talent, families and businesses.

But there are many opportunities and bills before the Michigan Legislature right now to better support kids in the state, according to a new Kids Count report, Enhancing Child Well-Being in Michigan: A Guide to Improving Kids Count Outcomes and Rankings, released by the Michigan League for Public Policy.

For the report, the league looked at Michigan’s rankings in the 2017 Kids Count Data Book that was produced in June, crunched and compared numbers, connected the child well-being indicators to policies that can improve them and set tangible data goals for legislators to strive for.

Michigan’s national ranking of 41st in education, raised particular concern, but child poverty is also a major problem in the state.

“While we include policy recommendations in all of our work, this report goes a step further and sets concrete, data-driven measurable goals to support our kids and improve our national standing,” Alicia Guevara Warren, Kids Count in Michigan project director at the Michigan League for Public Policy, said in a news release. “Many lawmakers look at Michigan’s rankings in the national Kids Count Data Book and say, ‘Now what?’ Here are some real policy solutions they can pass to make a genuine difference.”

Overall, Michigan was ranked 32nd in child well-being in the 2017 data book, finishing behind all other Great Lakes states: Minnesota, fourth; Wisconsin, 12th; Illinois, 19th; Ohio, 24th; and Indiana, 28th.

The annual data book uses 16 indicators to rank all 50 states across four domains — health, education, economic well-being, and family and community — that represent what children need most to thrive. In the 2017 Data Book, Michigan received the following national rankings:

≤ 31st in economic well-being. On par with the national average, 7 percent of 16- to 19-year-olds are not attending school or working.

≤ 41st in education. Seventy-one percent of eighth-graders are performing below proficiency in math and 71 percent of fourth-graders are reading below proficiency.

≤ 29th in family and community. Since 2009, the percentage of children living in high-poverty areas has remained unchanged at 17 percent.

≤ 17th in health. A bright spot for Michigan is the percentage of children with health insurance. Thanks in part to the Affordable Care Act and the Healthy Michigan Plan, just 3 percent of Michigan children lack coverage, an improvement on the national average of 5 percent.

The Enhancing Child Well-Being in Michigan report builds on these rankings and quantifies how much Michigan would need to improve — and how many kids would need to be better served — to move Michigan’s national ranking up one or more spots, five or more spots, and what it would take for Michigan to be the No. 1 state in the nation.

The report’s recommendations include broad strategies that should be applied to all policies affecting kids, like taking a two-generation approach to help children by helping their parents and applying a racial equity lens to all policies to reduce the significant disparities that exist in Michigan.

It also urges the passage of legislation currently before the Legislature that could have an immediate impact, like raising the age of juvenile jurisdiction and restoring the state Earned Income Tax Credit. And finally, it recognizes positive, bipartisan movement that has already been made to help kids, like increased funding for students and schools with high rates of poverty and investments in child care in the current budget, and urges it to continue.

“This report covers all the policy bases and offers legislators a variety of helpful and realistic recommendations to make Michigan a more kid- and family-friendly state,” Guevara Warren said. “Lawmakers are always pointing to other states’ tax changes, economic incentives and even ad campaigns to try to emulate policies to make Michigan more marketable, but we really need greater investment in our state’s most valuable resource-our kids.”

Another recent national Kids Count report, 2017 Race for Results: Building a Path to Opportunity for All Children, looked at the Kids Count indicators and child well-being by race and ethnicity.

The report showed that African-American children in Michigan fare worse in key indicators than in any other state in the country and that children of color are doing worse than their white peers in nearly all indicators across education, health, family and community, and economic security.

The Kids Count in Michigan project is part of a broad national effort to improve conditions for children and their families. Funding for the project is provided by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, The Max M. and Marjorie S. Fisher Foundation, The Skillman Foundation, Steelcase Foundation, Michigan Education Association, American Federation of Teachers Michigan, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan Foundation, United Way for Southeastern Michigan, DTE Energy Foundation, Ford Motor Co.Fund, Battle Creek Community Foundation and the Fetzer Institute.

The Michigan League for Public Policy, www.mlpp. org, is a nonprofit policy institute focused on economic opportunity for all.