Report: Child poverty rate climbs in Metro Detroit

Nicquel Terry
The Detroit News

Child poverty is on the rise, with all three Metro Detroit counties showing an increase over the past eight years, according to data released Monday by the Michigan League for Public Policy.

The data, published in the Kids Count in Michigan Data Book 2016, revealed that Macomb County had the biggest jump among counties between 2006 and 2014, with an 8 percent increase.

In Detroit, child poverty increased 13 percent during the same period. That reflected roughly 94,000 children up to age 17 living in poverty, or 57 percent of the total child population. Oakland County saw a 4 percent increase in child poverty between 2006-2014, while Wayne County saw a 7.5 percent increase.

Overall, child poverty went up in 80 of 83 Michigan counties, according to the data.

“I think it points to the fact that we are still leaving people behind,” said Alicia Guevara Warren, project director for Kids Count in Michigan. “That is really concerning that we continue to see more kids living in poverty and more families really struggling to make ends meet.”

Warren said more families are facing challenges that keep them in poverty. In many cases, parents don’t have secure employment, there is a lack of access to jobs that pay decent wages and child care isn’t affordable, Warren said.

“I think that if we don’t address child poverty, we are not going to see improvements in other areas that we are trying to change,” Warren said, noting that poverty affects child health and education.

Kids Count presented several suggestions for policymakers. Among those were were creating safe neighborhoods with clean air, water and quality schools; promoting strategies that prevent child abuse such as mental health and substance abuse services; ensuring access to affordable child care; and adequately funding public schools.

John Owens, spokesman for the Oak Park-based Forgotten Harvest food bank, said his organization was aware of the rise in child poverty because it is increasingly difficult for families in Metro Detroit to put food on the table.

Forgotten Harvest has a number of programs that provide healthy food for children in need, Owens said. Among those are a summer lunch program and a Detroit Public Library snack program.

“This is not a surprise to us given the economic environment that not only our area faces but everyone faces in terms of finding good solid jobs with benefits from employers,” Owens said.

Kids Count compiles data from the state Department of Health, Department of Education and the U.S. Census Bureau each year. It looks at variables such as economic security, health, family, community and education.

Child abuse investigations also increased in southeast Michigan, the data show.

In 2014, there were 61,140 children in families that were investigated for child abuse and neglect compared to 56,923 children in 2006 in southeast Michigan. The total child population in the region decreased by 12.8 percent between 2006-2013, according to the Kids Count data.

The teen birth rate, however, is dropping in southeast Michigan. In 2006, there were 33.8 births per 1,000 teens and 26.5 births per 1,000 teens in 2014.

“It shows that we clearly are focusing some efforts around reducing teen pregnancy, but I don’t think it means that we stop,” Warren said.

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