ESCANABA - New figures released Thursday through the Kids Count in Michigan Data Book show an increase in the number of children living in poverty, qualifying for food assistance and confirmed victims of abuse or neglect linked to poverty across the state and locally.
According to the findings, more than a half-million children lived in poverty in Michigan in 2011 and more than 33,000 children were confirmed victims of maltreatment.
"We clearly see a connection between higher-income communities and better outcomes for kids, but even in more affluent counties, child poverty and the need for food assistance jumped dramatically," said Jane Zehnder-Merrell, Kids Count in Michigan project director at the Michigan League for Public Policy, in a press release. "No area of the state escaped worsening conditions for children when it comes to economic security."
The report examines four major areas of child well-being: economic security, health, family and community, and education.
The results indicate child poverty in Michigan has risen 28 percent from 2005 to 2011. Local counties also experienced a similar trend.
In Delta County, the number of children (ages zero to 17) living in poverty rose 24 percent from 2005 to 2011, or an increase from 1,360 children to 1,566.
The child poverty rate in Schoolcraft County rose 15 percent from 400 to 424 children, while in Menominee County it climbed 23 percent - from 964 children to 1,084 over the same time frame.
Tara Weaver, director of the Delta-Schoolcraft Great Start Collaborative, said the major factor of these increases is the economy.
"Obviously the poor economy is to blame," she said. "Unemployment and underemployment have been a driving force in the increase in poverty. Families continue to struggle - especially in our rural areas."
Weaver said one way to help low-income working families meet their basic needs is by restoring the Michigan Earned Income Tax Credit, which she noted is "a well-regarded anti-poverty tool." The MEITC has been cut from 20 percent to 6 percent of the federal credit, said Weaver.
The Kids Count in Michigan Data Book also highlights a growing rate of young children in the state qualifying for food assistance. This number rose 24 percent in Delta County and 21 percent in Schoolcraft County. In Menominee County it jumped 27 percent, or just under half the Michigan rate of 55 percent.
The rate of confirmed victims of abuse and neglect linked to poverty more than doubled in both Schoolcraft and Menominee counties in 2011. In Menominee County, 67 children, a rate of 13.3 percent, were victims of abuse or neglect linked to poverty. In Schoolcraft County, this number accounted for 35 children, or 20.7 percent, while in Delta County, it decreased by 16 percent to 68 confirmed victims - a rate of 8.8 percent.
"Sadly, the statistics aren't surprising," Weaver said, of the data. "Every year we hope that the numbers change but unfortunately the statistics have gotten worse."
Of 82 counties ranked in Michigan, Delta County placed 22nd for overall child well-being. Menominee County was 37th, while Schoolcraft County came in at 44th. Keweenaw County was not included in any of the rankings since it lacked data for most indicators.
Delta and Schoolcraft counties each ranked lowest in the category of mothers receiving less than adequate prenatal care at 68th and 75th, respectively.
"The percent of women that receive inadequate prenatal care is disturbing," said Weaver, noting the Delta and Schoolcraft county rates of 37.7 and 40.8 percent are much higher than the state rate of 29.6 percent. However, Menominee County performed just under the state rate in the category, at 24.6 percent.
Menominee County ranked lowest in the number of students not graduating on time at 79th - with 33.5 percent, or 106 students in the class of 2011 not graduating on time. However, Schoolcraft and Delta counties performed their best in the same category. Delta County was ranked fifth in the state with only 60 students, or 13.4 percent, in the class of 2011 not graduating on time, while Schoolcraft County was ranked 10th with 16 students, or 14.3 percent, not graduating on time for the same year.
The biggest areas of improvement statewide were the decline of kids in foster care from 17,000 children in 2005 to 11,000 in 2011. There was also a statewide drop in the number of fourth-grade students not proficient in reading - from 40 percent to 32 percent of test takers in the Michigan Educational Assessment Program.
Morality rates for infants fell by 8 percent between 2005 and 2010 and the death rate for children and youth ages one to 19 declined 11 percent.
The annual Data Book is released by the Kids Count in Michigan project - a collaboration between the MIchigan League for Public Policy, which researches and writes the report, and Michigan's Children, which works with advocates statewide to disseminate the findings. Each group is a nonpartisan and nonprofit advocacy organization concerned with the well-being of children and their families.
Full findings for each county can be viewed at www.mlpp.org.