Column: To improve kids’ lives, look at the evidence

August 24, 2023 10:34 am

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This week, the Michigan League for Public Policy released its biennial Kids Count in Michigan Data Book, providing a deep dive into child well-being along four metrics: economic security, education, health and safety, and family and community. For the first time, we also included a feature on Michigan’s young adults, who have their own challenges as they make the transition from childhood to adulthood. 

This year’s findings are unique because they focus on data from 2020, 2021 and 2022, when pandemic disruptions for kids and their families may have worsened outcomes on the one hand, but when large, temporary federal investments may have improved outcomes on the other. 

Some of the biggest disruptions were seen in education, where students saw stagnation – and in some cases declines – in learning. We saw fewer 3- and 4-year-olds enrolled in preschool, declines in 3rd grade reading and 8th grade math performance, and fewer students graduating college-ready.

Meanwhile, some of the most notable improvements came in child economic well-being, where poverty rates fell across the state for children and young adults, thanks in large part to the American Rescue Plan Act, which included temporary expansions of the Child Tax Credit and Earned Income Tax Credit to reach families and young adults who have traditionally been left out. Although these policies have expired, the evidence shows the enormous impacts of these policies on increasing food security, reducing financial hardships and allowing families to stay in their homes. 

In 2023 alone, recognizing the significant effects of these policies on child well-being, 11 states have already introduced a state-level Child Tax Credit or expanded an existing one. One such example is in nearby Minnesota, where lawmakers passed a state Child Tax Credit worth $1,750 per dependent for families with low incomes, who are most likely to be left out of the full federal credit.

Here are some of the major findings from this year’s Data Book:

  • Temporary safety net expansions were instrumental in reducing child poverty during the pandemic, but many families continue to struggle. While Michigan’s child poverty rate declined by 15% and fell in 76 out of 83 counties from 2016 to 2021, 18% of all Michigan kids were still living in poverty in 2021. 
  • School disruptions during the pandemic set students further back in reading proficiency. The share of students reading proficiently in third grade declined by 8.5% statewide from 2016 to 2022, with declines in 70 out of 83 counties. 
  • Continuous enrollment allowed an increasing number of kids to remain insured during the pandemic. While Michigan saw a 19% increase in children insured by Medicaid or MiChild from November 2019 to November 2022 thanks to continuous enrollment, this pandemic-era policy is coming to an end.
  • Temporary pandemic-era investments created a more stable foundation for young adults. The temporary expansion of the Earned Income Tax Credit to include young workers without children assisted approximately 195,000 young adults in Michigan, and the state’s young adult poverty rate declined by almost 25% and fell in 75 out of 83 counties from 2016 to 2021. These gains may not last without permanent policy changes at the state or federal level.

Many of our recommendations for 2023 build on the evidence presented in this year’s Data Book by seeking to make permanent the most successful pandemic-era policies. Some of these include:

  • Preserving federal Temporary Assistance for Needy Families funding for direct cash assistance. Families with the lowest incomes see the greatest benefits–in terms of food security, housing stability and the ability to afford the basics–making these kinds of investments incredibly important.
  • Fully funding the true cost of child care. Child care stabilization grants are quickly coming to an end, and current subsidy rates do not cover the true cost of care for children ages birth to 5, making child care too expensive for many families.
  • Establishing a refundable state Child Tax Credit, so even kids in families with very low or no income can benefit. Already in 2023, 11 states have either introduced or expanded their own Child Tax Credit, recognizing the benefits of the temporary federal expansion.
  • Adopting multi-year Medicaid coverage for young children. Pandemic-era continuous enrollment kept more than 1 million children covered by publicly funded health insurance. Allowing multi-year coverage for children under 6 will eliminate barriers and ensure young kids have the care they need.
  • Expanding Michigan’s Earned Income Tax Credit to workers who are currently excluded, including workers under 25 without children. This short-lived federal policy helped reach approximately 195,000 young adults in Michigan during the pandemic.


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Anne Kuhnen
Anne Kuhnen

Anne Kuhnen is the Michigan League for Public Policy's Kids Count Policy Director.