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UM: Before COVID about 14% of state residents were living in poverty, 29% near it

Evan James Carter
The Detroit News

Ann Arbor — Even before Michigan exceeded Great Recession-level weekly unemployment numbers in April amid the coronavirus pandemic, 14% of residents were below the poverty line, University of Michigan researchers say.

Michigan's poverty rate is just one of nine indicators included in the latest Michigan Poverty and Well-Being Map released by the University of Michigan's Poverty Solutions, which aims to prevent and alleviate poverty through action-based research.

"Even before the pandemic spread to Michigan, there were many people struggling, and that shows up in a number of different ways on the Poverty and Well-Being Map," said H. Luke Shaefer, the Hermann and Amalie Kohn Professor of Social Justice and Social Policy.

The Michigan Poverty and Well-Being Map has been published since 2017 as part of an effort to assist federal, state and local poverty alleviation initiatives.

The following Michigan counties have the highest poverty rates:

  1. Isabella County: 23.4%
  2. Lake County: 22.3%
  3. Wayne County: 21.7%
  4. Luce County: 20.7%
  5. Clare County: 20.6%

The Poverty and Well-Being Map also tracks people whose income level is above the federal poverty line, but cannot afford a basic household budget. The Asset Limited, Income Constrained, and Employed (ALICE) metric provides a sense of how many Michiganians are struggling financially, said Jennifer Erb-Downward, a senior research associate at Poverty Solutions.

The following Michigan counties have the highest percentage of ALICE households:

  1. Baraga County: 43.0%
  2. Alger County: 40.6%
  3. Luce County: 40.1%
  4. Montmorency County: 38.7%
  5. Lake County: 38.3%

The map also tracks the percentage of students who have experienced homelessness by the time they reach fifth grade—7.6% of students statewide.

Erb-Downward has done research linking child homelessness and chronic absenteeism, which hurts students' academic performance. She anticipates the COVID-19 pandemic will leave even more families without a stable place to live.

The following counties have the highest rate of student homelessness by fifth grade:

  1. Oceana County: 27.4%
  2. Lake County: 25.5%
  3. Iosco County: 22.9%
  4. Alcona County: 22.4%
  5. Ogemaw and Newaygo counties: 18.8%

There is also evidence of an undercount of homeless children in Wayne County, Erb-Downward said, which means the percentage of children who experience homelessness by the end of elementary school is likely much higher than the data show for Southeast Michigan as a whole.

Twitter: @EvanJamesCarter