New census data shows child poverty rates across the state fell before the pandemic

By: - October 25, 2021 8:12 am

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More than 16% of Michigan’s school-aged children are living in poverty, according to recently released census data. 

The data comes from the U.S. Census Bureau’s Small Area Income and Poverty Estimates (SAIPE) program, which produces single-year estimates of poverty for all states, counties and school districts. The most recent data the SAIPE program has for child poverty is 2019 and looks at children ages 5 to 17. 

The statewide child poverty rate improved from 2018 to 2019, decreasing from 17.9% of the state’s children to 16.3%. 

“In the last decade or so, child poverty has steadily been improving but the data we have … all proceeds the pandemic. Now we’ve been in the pandemic for so long, we’ve probably seen some peaks and valleys,” said Alex Rossman, Michigan League for Public Policy (MLPP) spokesperson. 

The economic impact of the pandemic hit hardest kids and families with lower incomes, Rossman said, which would lead to higher child poverty rates. 

There was some support from the American Rescue Plan (ARP), which President Joe Biden signed in March, that allocated money to schools, food assistance programs and increased the child tax credit. 

“All of those policies had a significant benefit, particularly on families that were struggling to get by,” Rossman said. “So many of those policies were designed with families that were being hit particularly hard in mind first. I think that there was a positive impact there, and one we would like to see continued.”

Michigan school districts child poverty map by U.S. Census Bureau

The county with the highest level of child poverty in the state is Lake County in northern Michigan at 33.6%. Other counties with more than a quarter of the children living in poverty are Saginaw, Wayne, Arenac, Roscommon, Oscoda anad Clare counties. 

“In the overall context of the discussion, child poverty is going down, but we would still argue it’s higher than it should be,” Rossman said. “A third of kids in some rural counties is really, really deplorable — really to have any county or community with child poverty that high.”

The study also looked at child poverty rates in individual school districts in Michigan.

The 10 Michigan districts with the highest child poverty rates are Saginaw City School District (49.8%), Hamtramck Public Schools (49%), River Rouge School District (46%), Highland Park City Schools (43%), Detroit Public Schools Community District (41.1%), Bridgeport-Spaulding Community School District (40.5%), Benton Harbor Area Schools (40.2%), Baldwin Community Schools (40.1%), Whitefish Township Community Schools (39.2%) and Elm River Township School District (38.9%).

Michigan has the 20th highest poverty rate for children in the country, behind Mississippi, Louisiana, New Mexico, Alabama, Washington, D.C., Arkansas, West Virginia, Kentucky, South Carolina, Georgia, Oklahoma, North Carolina, Arizona, Tennessee, Texas, New York, Florida, Ohio and Nevada. 


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Allison R. Donahue
Allison R. Donahue

Allison R. Donahue is a former Michigan Advance reporter who covered education, women's issues and LGBTQ issues. Previously, she was a suburbs reporter at the St. Cloud Times in St. Cloud, Minn., covering local education and government. As a graduate of Grand Valley State University, she has previous experience as a freelance researcher for USA Today and an intern with WOOD TV-8. When she is away from her desk, she spends her time going to concerts, comedy shows or getting lost on hikes in different places around the world.