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


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


Getting the Right Start in Detroit

February 19, 2010

Jane Zehnder-Merrell

Last week neighborhoods within the city of Detroit were able to get a snapshot of maternal and infant health in their community through the report Right Start in Detroit from a new information source called Data Driven Detroit, a data clearinghouse for the city’s neighborhoods.

The report highlighted some dramatic differences among the 39 areas identified in the report.  For example, just under half the mothers of newborns in Conner had received adequate prenatal care compared with almost three-quarters in Rosedale Park. It’s important for community and city decision makers to examine the probable causes behind these numbers and develop appropriate responses to improve the situation.

The circumstances in which a child is born shape not only the early years but often have lifelong consequences. If Detroit and its communities want to have a healthier, better-educated workforce, efforts must begin at the beginning to improve the lives of infants and their mothers.

We hope to see the Right Start in Detroit, produced in collaboration with the Detroit Health Department, become a regular feature tracking outcomes for Detroit infants and their mothers, allowing communities to assess the impact of changes in policy and programs, as well as in the social and economic environment. These data provide a critical tool for neighborhood advocates and city leaders.

— Jane Zehnder-Merrell


Economic distress threatens children’s futures

January 12, 2010

A new state law requiring teens to stay in school till age 18 will not help more children succeed in school if their health and well-being have been compromised by pervasive economic duress during their critical growing up years. While this year’s state Kids Count book, released today, shows progress on most key indicators, growing poverty is shadowing more and more children.

Nine of the 15 key indicators encompassing health, education, and economic well-being reflect improving trends. The most dramatic improvements are in the shrinking percentages of public school fourth- and eighth-graders who cannot perform at proficient levels on the math Michigan Educational Assessment Program, and the declines in teen birth rates and child death rates.

On the other hand, in 2007 almost half a million children in Michigan were living in families with income inadequate to provide for their basic needs, and their numbers are growing. Confirmed victims of child abuse and neglect rose by 16 percent between 2000 and 2008. Michigan’s unemployment rate in 2008 averaged 8 percent; by 2009 the average jumped to 14 percent. More and more children are at risk. Yet the state programs to blunt the impact of poverty are being reduced or eliminated.

Children in Michigan’s rural counties, with population less than 20,000, are particularly vulnerable—their poverty rates were 4 percentage points higher than those for children in urban counties with population over 65,000. Their rates of abuse or neglect are 7 percentage points above their urban county counterparts.

Almost half of these rural children depend on Medicaid to access health care, and fewer and fewer providers are willing and able to accept substantially reduced payment rates. Programs to reduce infant mortality, help pregnant and parenting teens complete their education and parent effectively, and provide preschool to vulnerable 4-year olds have all been severely cut or eliminated in recent budgets.

All of us have a vested interest in the well-being of the state’s children who need to be ready to take their places in our communities in the future.  This generation needs our commitment and support to realize their potential as students, citizens, and parents, not an empty decree about school attendance.

— Jane Zehnder-Merrell