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New report shows that nearly half of Michigan residents face financial instability

April 16, 2019

In late March, several regional and state news sources reported that nearly half of Michigan household are facing financial instability. At least this is how some news sources framed the issue.

MiBiz ran the headline, Study: 43% of Michigan residents face financial instability. The newly former Lansing-based news source, Michigan Advance, had a different headline, one that read, Low-wage working households on the rise in Michigan

These articles were the result of a new study put out by the Michigan Association of United Ways, entitled, ALICE in Michigan: A Financial Hardship Study. The 41-page report is based on a methodology for how to measure Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed – ALICE. ALICE is essentially a household that is living above the federal poverty level, but still unable to meet their basic needs.

There is a recognition in this new report that nearly half of the households in Michigan are financially struggling. The report includes lots of data, like what you see in the graph above. However, the notion of what individuals and families need to live off of can and should be challenged, since many of the amounts listed above would be inadequate. For example, the housing cost for an individual and a family doesn’t fit the current housing costs in West Michigan.

The new report is an important contribution to our understanding of poverty and income for those living in Michigan. If nearly 50% of the households in Michigan are financially unstable, what does that say about the current economy within a neoliberal capitalist framework? Does this mean that capitalism only works for half the population? I would argue that more than half of the population suffers under the economic system of capitalism, since so many more individuals and families are in debt and at the mercy of the unstable nature of the speculative market.

Another aspect of the news coverage about the ALICE report, is that we primarily get the perspective of those who work in the social services field and those in the United Way. We do get some insight into the realities facing families who are struggling, but their lived experience is not center or explored in depth.

Early on in the report, those who put it together refer to is as a grassroots movement. (see above) To call it a grassroots movement is an inaccurate way of framing the research. While the research is useful, it is not grassroots, since non-profits agencies, in partnership with governments and corporate sponsors are NOT grassroots. If you read the last sentence in the statement below, it makes it clear who the partners are who is omitted. Those who are experiencing poverty and financial instability are not identified as being involved in determining the “strategies for positive change.” Any grassroots movement that addresses social issues must be led by the people who are most affected, which in this case are the individuals, families and communities that are experiencing poverty and other forms of harm under the economic system of capitalism.

The fact that corporations are seen as partners with the United Way, should be a red flag for anyone who really wants to develop strategies that will be beneficial for those currently affected by the economic system. In the same edition of MiBiz that included their article on the ALICE report, another story was headlined, Michigan execs remain optimistic about state economy, job growth

It is imperative that when people talk about the growth of the economy, it does not correlate that what is good for “the economy” is good for the people. If there is anything that we should learn from capitalism, it’s that economic growth primarily means that those at the top, the one percent or the capitalist class, are the ones who will benefit.

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