Kids Count Grand Rapids profile gives direction to policy and programs

Kids count. Released July 28, the Michigan League for Public Policy (MLPP) 2022 Kids Count in Michigan Data Profiles analyze data and identify state and county trends in four categories: economic security, education, health and safety, family and community. The MLPP found improvements in 10 areas and declines in four areas. For the most part, Grand Rapids reflects these trends. Over the past decade, the state of Michigan has made progress on child poverty, teen births, and child abuse and neglect. In Grand Rapids, the numbers of children and young adults in poverty have decreased by 16.8% and 23.2% respectively. The number of students graduating from high school on time has increased by 20.6%. Births to teens have dropped by 55.5%. However, while the incidence of less than adequate prenatal care and low birth weight infants have dropped by a small percentage, deaths for children living in Grand Rapids age one to 14 have increased by 96.6%, a rate much higher than the State of Michigan as a whole.

Thanks to funding from the Frey Foundation, this is the first year that Kids Count included a Grand Rapids profile, which provides data about children living within the city of Grand Rapids. Now, Kids Count includes profiles for each Michigan county as well as Detroit and Flint. The goal of this profile is to provide local advocates and decision makers in business, philanthropy, and elected office to understand how to determine a better path forward for Grand Rapids’ children.

“Grand Rapids is a major part of our state. It’s the second largest city in Michigan. It has a lot of activity in philanthropy and community advocacy and activism,” says Kelsey Perdue, MLPP Kids Count in Michigan director. “Our goal for the project is to equip and empower decision makers with the data needed to set their strategy and make decisions in order to invest in kids and families.”

Essential to child well-being, housing stability is out of reach for too many families. More than 25% of Michigan households pay over 30% of their income on housing costs. Students experiencing homelessness are twice as likely to be chronically absent from school.

“Significant numbers of families are struggling to make ends meet,” Perdue says. “When we look at traditional measures of economic output and economic success, like unemployment and median household income, we see that those things have consistently improved over the last decade. However, when we look at income inequality and if families can make ends meet, we see that there are alarming outputs and alarming data. Inflation is hitting low-income and moderate-income families hard.”

Monique Stanton, President and CEO, Michigan League for Public Policy
One reason improvements have been seen is recent policy changes. COVID-era policy changes have lifted 114,000 Michigan children out of poverty, benefited another 1,968,000 children and assisted young adults. For example, Federal Child Tax Credits (CTC) have provided income stability for families. And Federal and Michigan Earned Income Tax Credits (EITC) were expanded to 571,000 working adults without children, including young adults ages 18-24 with low incomes.

For Perdue, finding opportunities to continue this progress can yield further benefit. “We know that there's still thousands and thousands of folks throughout our state who could still use the support,” she says. “Let's adopt some of those COVID-era policies that help children and families so once the pandemic is completely over, we can still continue to move in the right direction.”

Based on the 2022 Kids Count in Michigan data, the MLPP has made the following policy recommendations:

- Make COVID-era CTC and EITC expansions permanent. Increase Michigan’s EITC from 6% to 30% of the federal credit.

-Permanently raise Michigan’s income eligibility threshold for state child care subsidies to a minimum of 185% and increase payments to child care providers to increase quality, availability and access for families.  

-Eliminate low eligibility thresholds, child compliance and other barriers that prevent families from accessing critical safety net programs. (Michigan's child care subsidy income eligibility level has been one of the lowest in the country. Only families with particularly low incomes are currently eligible for the state child care subsidy.)    

-Adopt a weighted school funding formula to fund schools based on community and student need.

- Ensure adequate support for programs that assist foster youth exiting the system with education, housing and work.

Perdue concludes, “All of this plays into this larger understanding of what's happening economically and how that translates to making sure that families have not just their basic needs met but are really able to provide substantial support for their children's development.”

Written by Estelle Slootmaker, Development News Editor
Photos courtesy Michigan League for Public Policy