Forty percent of Michigan households struggle to afford basic necessities, like housing, child care, food, health care and transportation — despite having a job — according to a report created by the Michigan Association of United Ways.
While United Ways across the state are working to address these disparities through programming and services, state lawmakers will have to work together to create polices that support working families.
That’s why we shared these findings from the report, named ALICE, with state lawmakers during a joint forum with our partners, the Michigan League of Public Policy, who also released their KIDS Count report.
“If we want Michigan to become a place where people want to work and raise families, then we’re going to have be smarter and more intentional about the public policies we implement,” said Ghida Dagher, who serves as director of Government and Community Relations at United Way for Southeastern Michigan. Ghida, who helped organize the forum, also serves as an advisory committee member for both the ALICE report and the Kids Count Report. “ALICE and Kids Count data helps us understand where we’re falling short and what needs to be done so that all working families and children are able to thrive and reach their full potential regardless of race, income or ZIP code.”
Among the lawmakers was Rep. Erika Geiss, who represents the 12th District, which includes Romulus, Taylor and part of Van Buren Township. She said the reports provide the data concerned lawmakers need to help influence legislation and policy.
“The data helps shape conversation about these issues. We’re not just dealing with emotions,” she said. “It equips us with more tools to have these important discussions.”
Our President and CEO Dr. Herman Gray said ALICE is an important resource in gauging the current challenges facing our community.
“Federal poverty levels are not accurate for understanding the struggle the average individual or family deals with,” Herman said. “Income might look good, but when you add food, child care and housing — it doesn’t go far in the 21st century.”
The federal poverty threshold for a family of four with two children is $24,600.
ALICE provides a more detailed look based on the cost of living across the various communities in our state. For instance, a family of four with two children and an annual income of $62,148 will struggle in Wayne County. That’s with both parents working and no-frills budget for basic household and family needs. The report indicates that household expenses have increased steadily since 2007, but the average budget to cover living costs has risen by 18 percent, higher than the national rate of inflation of 14 percent.
Essentially, wages aren’t keeping pace with the cost of living. Child care continues to be one of the biggest expenses, which is why we recommend lawmakers prioritize making affordable quality child care options a priority. In addition, we also asked them to support expanding the Earned Income Tax Credit, invest in education and ensure that everyone has access to quality, affordable health care.
The Kids Count in Michigan report also painted a somber picture for children in the state. More than one in five children in Michigan (or 22 percent) lived in poverty in 2015. That’s a 15 percent increase since 2008, the last full year of the Great Recession, according to the report. And the rates are worse for children who are minorities. Forty-seven percent of black children and 30 percent of Latino children live in poverty. That’s compared to 15 percent of white children.
Gilda Z. Jacobs, president and CEO of the Michigan League for Public Policy, said too many families are working but barely making ends meet, and are one emergency away from disaster. Simply having a job is not enough —stronger policies are needed to support workers with low wages and their families.
Lawmakers from across southeastern Michigan expressed concerns about working families in their districts. They discussed legislation or policies to better support them.
“I can’t think of a more important time to take a look at what’s going on in our states and our communities,” Jacobs said.