News Story

Government has not ended poverty, but task force wants to try harder

Despite recommendations of poverty task force, growing the state government can’t promise better outcomes

A report from the Michigan Department of Labor and Economic Opportunity promises powerful results from more public programs. “The strategic deployment of governmental support can have a significant impact on the health and wealth of low-income families,” says the department’s 2022 Poverty Task Force Report.

The 44-page document provides a blueprint for how the government will care for its citizens from cradle to grave: provide food, housing, health care and education. Government should also, the task force says, protect people from injustice and the potential for discrimination.

The report blames poverty on environmental injustice, racial disparities and lack of early education, among other things. “This committee focused on strategies that will help low-income Michiganders build wealth through entrepreneurship, homeownership, employment and training and other pathways,” it says.

But the Poverty Task Force recommends expanding a net of services that, though wide, has failed to eliminate poverty. Michigan’s poverty rate, at nearly 14%, is substantially higher than it was at the beginning of the 21st century.

Slightly more than one in ten Michigan residents — 10.1% — lived below the poverty line in 2000, according to Statista. The poverty rate climbed to 17.4% in 2011 before dropping to 13% by 2019 and ticking back up to 13.7% in 2020, the most recent year listed.

Early childhood education is one focus of the task force. The Whitmer administration wants to increase funding for the Great Start Collaboratives and Parent Coalitions by $9.5 million. The program first received $1 million funding in 1985-86 to help at-risk children in danger of poor academic outcomes. It received $249.6 million in 2019-20.

In 2017, most young students had trouble reading, with 68% of Michigan’s fourth grade students not reaching reading proficiency. Over a 15-year span, literacy rates in the state were flat, even though school funding went up. Other states, meanwhile, improved student literacy.

Despite the inadequate performance of existing public programs, the task force wants to see increased government involvement in the lives of young people, starting at birth.

The task force recommends that Michigan “develop a universal home visitation program for all newborn children in the first month of life. The poverty task force supports a strategy to offer families of newborn children one to three home visits to get parenting support, education and community-based resources, as well as to be connected to any additional needed services from the community.”

This is in line with the governor’s plans to create a P-20 system, which will expand government intervention in childhood beyond K-12 schooling, to start with prenatal life and extend through 20 years of age.

The task force is also concerned with college students’ ability to feed themselves. “Food insecurity is a chronic problem for college students,” the report states. “Since the COVID-19 pandemic, many students lost access to food because classes were held online.”

The term “food insecurity” appears to be a subjective term, with wildly different estimates among similarly situated populations. For example, the University of Michigan says 30% of its students struggle with food insecurity. Michigan State University, meanwhile, says only 4% of its students fall into this category.

The University of Michigan does not enroll a low-income population. Students who attend that institution come from households with a median income of $154,000, according to The New York Times. The Times adds that 66% of the university’s students come from the top 20% of households by income. The median household income of a student at MSU is lower, $115,400, with 55% of students coming from the top 20%.

The task force uses survey data in its discussion of food insecurity among college students. The survey asked students 18 questions. Students who answered “yes” or “sometimes true” to just three of the 18 questions were counted as food insecure.

The report also reports that “anticipated discrimination” causes poverty. This, it says, is a reason for poor health outcomes such as “cardiovascular and metabolic health challenges, high blood pressure, sleep disturbances and depression.”

Other task force recommendations include increasing access to licensed child care as well as subsidizing broadband services, health care, and home ownership.

“The community land trust shared equity model increases homeownership opportunities for lower-income households by removing the cost of land from home sales and subsidizing the sale cost down to just 75% of the appraised value of the land and improvements,” the report says.

Some officials in state government want to use taxpayer dollars to help low-income residents purchase homes. But many taxpayers footing the bill don’t own a home themselves.

The Michigan Department of Labor and Economic Opportunity did not respond to a request seeking comment.

Michigan Capitol Confidential is the news source produced by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy. Michigan Capitol Confidential reports with a free-market news perspective.