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Kids Count Michigan data shows an increase in child poverty, but no one is asking why?

January 24, 2012

Just a few days ago the annual Michigan Kids Count report was released to the news media. The annual report is produced by the Michigan League for Human Services and highlights several social indicators for children.

As could be expected all the major daily news sources in West Michigan reported on the Kids Count report. MLive was the first, reporting the data in a story early this morning, with an emphasis on the increase in numbers of children living in poverty. They report that 32,000 children in Kent County live in poverty.

The local TV stations also reported on the new data with WOOD TV 8 emphasizing the increase in child abuse and neglect in their headlines over poverty. WZZM 13 led with an emphasis on the increase of child poverty, as did WXMI 17. WOOD radio, with the shortest story of all local news media cited, focused on child abuse and neglect.

Most of the local news agencies sourced a representative from the Michigan League for Human Services, but only MLive used additional sources such as a spokesperson from the groups Family Futures, Michigan’s Children and the Great State Collaborative in Ottawa and Allegan County.

In a few of the stories there is mention from the Michigan League for Human Services spokesperson that the increase in poverty has resulted from cuts in public spending. The MLive story states:

“The banks were bailed out, but now when we have budget talks it’s all about how we can’t afford to have these (social support) programs go on forever,” said Jane Zehnder-Merrell, Kids Count in Michigan director. “Instead of helping families we are actually hindering families from meeting the needs of their children in times of economic crisis.

“If we don’t provide a solid socioeconomic foundation for children, they’re going to have 50 years of not being productive adults.”

None of the other news agencies provided any commentary or bothered to ask WHY so many children are living in poverty. Certainly, the huge cuts to welfare, unemployment benefits and the austerity measures put in place in recent years, beginning under Gov. Granholm and continuing under Gov. Snyder are significant. However, the point that the spokesperson for the Michigan League for Human Services made about bailing out the Banks is more relevant to what is at issue.

Children live in poverty because of policy and priorities. The federal government, at the urging of the financial sector, bailed out the banks with billions of dollars. Some sources put the number at $800 billion dollars, while others put it as high as $12.8 Trillion. This all happens, we are told, to save the economy. At the same time the Pentagon budget increases and the federal government siphons off billions to pay for war and militarism.

However, when it comes to paying for unemployment benefits, domestic partner benefits, children’s educational programs, child poverty programs and children’s health, we are told there are not sufficient funds. From some circles on the far right we are told that you just can’t throw money at poverty to solve the problem, but these same sources didn’t have a problem with the federal government throwing money at the banks.

So while it is important that the new Kids Count Michigan data has been reported on, the local news agencies do all of us a disservice by not asking why so many children in Michigan are living in poverty.

A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.”   Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

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