43% of Michiganders are too poor to afford basic necessities of life, report finds

A state task force presented recommendations to address root causes of poverty
poverty in Michigan
Photo credit Getty Images - FILE

(WWJ) A new report reveals some startling statistics regarding poverty in Michigan — while state officials resolve to do something about it.

Today, 43% of Michiganders earn less than the basic cost of living and 1 in 5 children live in poverty, according to the United Way’s ALICE (Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed) report. To afford the basics, single adults need a salary of just over $21,000 and a family of four needs to earn over $61,000. [Learn more about the data HERE].

With that in mind, a Michigan Poverty Task Force (PTF) commissioned to assess the state of economic and educational inequality on Wednesday released a list of 35 recommendations that target root causes of poverty.

PTF, commissioned by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer in December of 2019, says lifting millions of Michiganders out of poverty will require bold new initiatives, expanded state policies and a significant financial investment — particularly in light of the coronavirus crisis.

“The economic impact and hardships this pandemic has imposed on so many Michiganders only makes the work of this task force more critical,” said Whitmer. “These recommendations will help us ensure that Michigan families have access to the support they need. I look forward to working across the aisle and with our many stakeholders to implement the recommendations that have the biggest impact across our state.”

To further the task force's efforts and recommendations, Whitmer included a $1 million appropriation to conduct research and planning that will help lead the way towards improving the effectiveness of state benefit programs and address the barriers limiting individuals’ ability to access these programs in her Fiscal Year 2022 budget recommendations.

The task force, led by the Michigan Department of Labor and Economic Opportunity (LEO), consists of leaders from 14 state departments, with input from the Legislature and philanthropy and community organizations who worked together throughout the COVID-19 pandemic to develop a comprehensive anti-poverty agenda for Michigan.

“The task force’s approach to poverty eradication will not only lift the poorest Michiganders but will also help those who’ve seen their middle-class status slip away because of stagnant wages and an evolving job market,” said Susan Corbin, LEO acting director.

While officials say many state government efforts are already in place to help Michigan’s poor, the PTF offered new policy recommendations organized in five main areas.

Examples of the report’s recommendations include:

Benefits: Commission a comprehensive study on outcomes for former state assistance recipients and adopt a Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) shelter stipend.

Economics: Increase access to Michigan’s Earned Income Tax Credit; support and incubate children’s savings accounts; and expand the housing choice voucher pilot program between the Michigan State Housing and Development Authority and the Michigan Department of Corrections.

Criminal Justice: Expand apprenticeship opportunities for inmates while incarcerated; and divert people with behavioral health needs away from the justice system.

Health, Safety and Housing: Create child support pass-through to families who receive or have received cash assistance; and fund the Michigan Housing and Community Development Fund.

Education: Expand the Great Start Readiness Program; expand Early Childhood Home Visiting and Maternal-Infant Health programs; increase income eligibility for child care; and expand school breakfast and breakfast-after-the-bell programs.

“These recommendations are the first step toward restoring the state’s safety net and bringing opportunity to struggling families,” said Kim Trent, LEO deputy director for prosperity and key staffer to the Poverty Task Force. “Creating conditions that give every Michigander access to economic opportunity and prosperity is one of the most sacred duties of state government.”

- Download the full TASK FORCE REPORT HERE -

“The Michigan Association of United Ways commends the efforts of Governor Whitmer and the Michigan Poverty Task Force to undergo the critical work of better serving Michigan’s most vulnerable residents,” said Mike Larson, president and CEO, Michigan Association of United Ways. “We know that low wages, reduced work hours and depleted savings, combined with increased costs of living, have made for an uneven economic recovery in Michigan. In looking at real, measurable data identifying those who struggle to afford basic needs, we can better visualize ways to collaborate, shine a light and ultimately reduce the ALICE population—and the Poverty Task Force has set out to do just that.”

Lori Johnson, project director at the EightCAP Inc. Community Action Agency in Greenville and a member of the Michigan Poverty Task Force Advisory Council, said the task force has identified solutions to address poverty in all corners of the state.

“The comprehensive way the task force has approached issues will have a tremendous impact across Michigan, in communities large and small, urban and rural,” Johnson said.

Michigan League for Public Policy President and CEO Gilda Jacobs said the Michigan Poverty Task Force report is a starting point for further discussion and planning.

“We hope the recommendations will help the state better leverage existing resources, create pathways to new resources and build partnerships with external stakeholders to better serve struggling Michiganders,” Jacobs said.

Rev. Charles Williams II, Senior Pastor at Historic King Solomon Baptist Church and Michigan Chair for the National Action Network, added his support for the task force recommendations and their power to stem the tide of poverty.

"Pastoring in a city with one of the largest poverty margins in the country, means I've seen what it does to individuals and communities firsthand. Although poverty has had a presence in society for quite some time, it doesn't mean we should ever stop working on it. The Governor's plan takes quality steps towards stemming the tide of poverty and increasing mobility for those who are stuck at the bottom," Williams said.

More information on the Poverty Task Force is available at Michigan.gov/LEO.