The story the new Census data tells

September 16, 2010

Jacqui Broughton

Today the U.S. Census Bureau released new data from the Current Population Survey which gives us a look at what happened to household income, health insurance and poverty rates in 2009. As expected, things were worse in 2009 than they were in 2008 on both the national and state level.

Nationally, the two-year (2008-2009) median household income was $49,945 which is a fall of 3.2 percent in one year and a drop of 4.5 percent from 1999-2000 (when put into 2009 numbers). The one-year poverty rate moved from 13.2 percent to 14.3 percent, an increase of 3.7 million people.

For Michigan, the numbers are not surprising. The state’s median household income fell and poverty increased. Between 2008 and 2009, the poverty rate moved from 13 percent to 14 percent. Median household income was $47,797, using 2008-2009 two-year average numbers. This is a decline of 7 percent from 2006-2007 to 2008-2009 and of just over 17.5 percent from 1999-2000.

Additionally, while Michigan is still below the national average in the percentage of people under age 65 without health insurance, this figure still increased to 14.4 percent, or 1.3 million people.

Today’s data release only confirms what we already knew and what so many families have been experiencing: income has been falling, fewer people have employer-based health insurance, and more people are struggling to afford day-to-day necessities. In addition, though Michigan’s rate of those with health insurance coverage is still much higher than the national average, more individuals and families are losing coverage due to unemployment. The increase in the number of those without health insurance further illustrates the need for federal health care reform and including the provisions that will take effect next week.

Despite the bad news, things could have been much worse without the federal Recovery Act which helped create thousands of jobs in Michigan and helped keep at least that many people out of poverty. With that in mind, Congress should act to support the extension of key Recovery Act changes that help low-income families, such as the expanded benefits for low-income, working families through the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) and preserving the refundable Child Tax Credit. Also, Congress should act to preserve funding for the Emergency TANF Contingency Fund which is scheduled to end on September 30.

Moreover, these new data should send a message to the Michigan Legislature that now is not the time to further decrease support for safety net programs, which help Michigan families make ends meet.

More detailed information will be coming on September 28 when the Census Bureau releases its 2009 American Community Survey data. These data, however, give us a preview of what is to come with that release.

-Jacqui Broughton


One in six

September 1, 2010

Jacqui Broughton

Just as the U.S. Census Bureau prepares to release poverty, income, and health insurance data for 2009, which may show a record one-year jump in poverty, a USA Today article in the Detroit Free Press sheds new light on just how many Americans are being caught by the frayed safety net.

The numbers are deeply troubling. One in six Americans, or roughly 16 percent of the population, receive assistance from programs designed to help people in tough economic times. Additionally:

  • Over 50 million people are on Medicaid (1.9 million recipients in Michigan).
  • Over 40 million people receive food assistance (1.8 million in Michigan).
  • Nearly 10 million receive unemployment insurance benefits (387,000 in Michigan).
  • Over 4 million receive cash assistance (225,000 in Michigan).

These numbers are most certainly dismal but, unfortunately, in the face of all of this, Michigan continues to hack away at funding for programs at a time when people need them most. Since the official start of the national recession in December 2007, Michigan has reduced General Fund spending in the Department of Human Services by 35 percent and in the Department of Community Health by nearly 27 percent.

Meanwhile, unemployment has increased, and caseloads for all safety net programs have increased with approximately one in four Michigan residents receiving some sort of assistance (food assistance, cash assistance, child day care subsidy, state disability assistance or Medicaid). Even still, the governor has stated in her revised budget plan that each department must reduce spending by 3 percent across the board with an additional $50 million in reductions in the Department of Human Services and the Department of Community Health.

Now is not the time to eliminate or further reduce spending on programs that so many families rely on just to get by day to day.

-Jacqui Broughton


Updating an outdated poverty measure

May 6, 2010

Jacqui Broughton

The U.S. Commerce Department recently announced the Census Bureau is developing a new, unofficial poverty measure to go alongside the current poverty measure.

This is a change advocates have been waiting to see for years as the current measure is far out of date.

The new measure will not replace the official measure calculated each year by the U.S. Census Bureau or the official poverty guidelines published each year by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, but it will be published annually along with the official measure.

The current poverty measure does not take into account the things it takes for a family to live. It only considers pre-tax cash income and is adjusted each year for inflation using the Consumer Price Index.

The current measure was developed in the 1960s and is based on the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s economy food plan. This food plan was the lowest estimate of what a family needed to feed themselves, but was not necessarily sufficient for long-term nutrition. At the time, it was estimated that the average family would spend approximately one-third of their total net income on buying food using this plan.

The supplemental measure, due to come out in the fall of 2011, is based roughly on a measure the National Academy of Sciences developed in 1995. This measure takes a lot more into account, such as:

  • Assistance received from food assistance programs, housing vouchers, energy assistance and tax credits;
  • foster children (the official measure only includes relatives by birth, marriage, or adoption);
  • living expenses; and
  • geographic differences in the cost of living.

Since this new measure looks at a lot more things, it is thought it will cause the percentage of people in poverty to go up since the amount a family must earn to not be below the poverty level will go up.

The new measure will not, however, impact program eligibility. This means, a family with income higher than the current poverty level may be in poverty by the supplemental measure, but still not qualify for assistance programs since a family will have to be even poorer to get help.

This overhaul is long overdue. While the current measure will remain the official poverty measure, it will be put in perspective by the supplemental measure. The current measure is severely outdated and fails to take into account the things that a family or individual needs to sustain a basic standard of living besides food–such as housing, utilities, clothes, and transportation.

So while the poverty rate will probably go up, this measure will give a clearer picture of what poverty really looks like in America.

-Jacqui Broughton


Digging for backyard data

March 16, 2010

Judy Putnam

The League has just posted a new tool that we hope will be helpful to those looking for county-level information on a host of subjects.

We’re calling it the Michigan League for Human Services Guide to Data in Your Back Yard.

The map-based tool allows a user to find information on a range of subjects in one place.

Those include:

  • Kids Count rankings
  • Basic county information
  • Food assistance caseloads
  • Medicaid caseloads
  • Unemployment trends
  • Social services spending

To use, go to the blue map, hover your computer mouse over a county and click if it’s the county you want. It will take you to a series of links.

Those links will give you county Kids Count profile and Kids Count background sheets, the county profile of Tax Dollars at Work, the latest Economic Security bulletin that tracks economic trends by county, and the Department of Human Services latest county-by-county report on caseloads.

Please let us know if this is helpful to you. The tool was created by longtime League staffer Tillie Kucharek, who does publication design, Web updates and Kids Count charts among other duties.

— Judy Putnam


Vulnerable families have most to lose in undercount

March 8, 2010

Karen Holcomb-Merrill

I’ve seen the billboards, heard the public service announcements and have intellectually understood the importance of the upcoming census, but it wasn’t until I started to delve into the Michigan numbers that I really got it.  (See Hardest to Count, Most to Lose.)

Some of our most vulnerable populations here in Michigan really do stand to lose the most if they are not counted in the census. And ironically enough, they are the ones who are hardest to count.

Past experience shows that minorities, children, low-income folks and the unemployed are the most likely to be missed in the census count. And, if you are a child of color, you have the poorest chance of being counted.

There are a variety of reasons for this. These populations are more likely to move around, to live with others and to live in temporary housing. Kids living in larger households or with grandparents are also more likely to be overlooked. Those with lower education and literacy levels may have trouble understanding the census form. Some are fearful of the government, especially in this post 9-11 era.

Whatever the reason, substantial numbers of people here in Michigan will not be counted in the upcoming census. I recently learned that the U.S. Census Bureau actually designates certain areas as “hard to count” areas.

Apparently over 1.2 million people in our state live in hard to count areas. That’s just over 12 percent of the population. When you look at the hard to count areas in Michigan by race, the disparities are alarming. Among whites, 5.4 percent are in hard to count areas. In stark contrast, over 48 percent, almost half, of African Americans are in hard to count areas. And for Hispanics, it’s over 30 percent. No wonder minorities are missed at such a high rate, compared with whites.

So what’s really at risk here in Michigan? A look at the top 10 federal services and programs that use census data shows that, with the exception of highway planning and construction, they target low-income and vulnerable populations, including children and minorities. The big one, of course, is Medicaid, which provides health care for one in six people in our state. Other services include unemployment insurance, Head Start, and the State Children’s Insurance Program.

Arguably the need has never been greater here in Michigan. There is much at risk if people are not counted and if funding is not sufficient to meet the needs going forward, especiallyfor vulnerable families and children.

— Karen Holcomb-Merrill