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Michigan Poverty Task Force report recommendations: Mild reforms that fail to address root causes of poverty and other systems of oppression

June 19, 2022

Last week Tuesday, MLive posted a story with the headline, 43% of Michiganders can barely afford necessities, says task force offering solutions. Let that sink in for a moment. Nearly half of the people living in Michigan say they care barely afford what they need.

The MLive article begins by saying: 

A group tasked with helping Michigan combat poverty has come up with 29 policy recommendations aimed do just that.

The Michigan Poverty Task Force examined the policy gaps that cause some residents to endure health inequities resulting from non-medical factors. Its 2022 report, released Tuesday, June 14, highlights the problems resulting in disparities, and offers solutions for the state to consider.

Later, in the MLive article, the reporter provides some numbers on what the federal poverty level is for a single person and a family of four. “In 2022, the federal poverty line is $13,590 in annual earnings for a single adult, or $27,750 for a family of four. By those metrics, an estimated 1.4 million residents are living in poverty, including about 20% of the state’s children.”

All of this data is very sobering, but the reporter does not ask the question as to why so many people in Michigan are living in poverty.

Task Force Recommendations

The Michigan Poverty Task Force report can be found at this link, which includes more data and the 29 recommendations the group came up with.

The 29 recommendations are based on five main focus areas: 

  • income and social protection
  • housing, basic amenities and the environment
  • early childhood development
  • social inclusion and nondiscrimination 
  • access to affordable health services of decent quality

In reading the recommendations, it occurred to this writer that these recommendations were created by people who have never directly experienced poverty. Don’t get me wrong, the recommendations are not bad, but they do very little to address systemic or structural problems. Let’s look at one example from each of the five focus areas, to illustrate my point.

On the matter of income and social protection, one recommendation is – Increase investments in a universal benefit application so Michigan residents can apply for resources in one place. Again, this is not a bad idea, since it makes it easier for people to access various social services through one portal. However, in this section on income, there is no discussion about the urgent need for people to make a living wage. What if individuals were making a minimum wage of $25 an hour. How would that impact the lives of workers and their families? There is also no discussion, nor recommendation to address the wealth gap in Michigan.

The second focus area listed in the recommendations, is housing, basic amenities and the environment. One recommendation is, to Create Statewide Rental Housing Partnership Trust. This recommendation is essentially designed to support landlords who have taken on “risky” tenants. What is more alarming is that there was no recommendation suggesting that housing is a human right or what the minimum income is for families to afford rental costs in Michigan. According to the Living Wage Calculator, a family of four – 2 adults and 2 children – would need to earn $35.94 an hour to afford the average rent costs in Michigan.

The third focus area the Poverty Task Force includes is early childhood development. One of their recommendations is, increase rural childcare options for families. Again, not a bad idea, but this recommendation never addresses income levels or the need for families to make a living wage, in order to even afford childcare costs. 

A fourth area included in the recommendations is, social inclusion and nondiscrimination. There are only two recommendations in this section, one of which is to improve water quality and affordability. This recommendation is instructive, since it does not acknowledge the harsh realties that so many families in the state are facing when it comes to level of contaminated water that families (disproportionately BIPOC families) are facing. Flint is not even mentioned or acknowledged in this recommendation. 

The fifth focus area included in the Poverty Task Force report is listed as, access to affordable health services of decent quality. One recommendation is coextend coverage to “children of qualified immigrants.” This essentially means they want to provide more access to immigrant children, as long as they are documented. What about the thousands of families who live and work in Michigan every year, mostly in the agricultural sector, who are undocumented? 

Reading through the 29 recommendations of the Michigan Poverty Task Force was like an exercise in, “how to make minor tweaks to the economic system of Capitalism, without threatening its core value of profits over people.” Again, the recommendations are not bad, but they not only fail to address the root causes of systemic poverty, they end up perpetuating an economic system that is designed to create poverty. 

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