43% of Michiganders are too poor to afford basic living costs, a state poverty report found

Almost half of Michigan residents earn less money than the basic cost of living in the state, a new report on poverty shows.

A Poverty Task Force (PTF) commissioned to assess the state of economic and educational inequality more than a year ago released the analysis Wednesday, along with a comprehensive list of almost three dozen recommendations that target root causes of poverty.

The recommendations take aim at five areas that contribute to poverty that could be reworked to better benefit some of the state's poorest residents.

"The task force’s approach to poverty eradication will not only lift the poorest Michiganders but will also help those who’ve seen their middle-class status slip away because of stagnant wages and an evolving job market," said Susan Corbin, acting director of the Labor and Economic Opportunity Department. 

A total of 35 policy recommendations were made that look at housing, education, criminal justice, economic opportunity, and fiscal relief. They include ideas like increasing income eligibility for child care, bolstering funding in the housing and community development fund, prioritizing mental health in prisons, and increasing access to Michigan's Earned Income Tax Credit.

"The comprehensive way the task force has approached issues will have a tremendous impact across Michigan, in communities large and small, urban and rural," said Lori Johnson, a member of the task force and project director of EightCAP in Greenville.

A single adult needs to earn $21,000 while a family of four needs $61,000 to afford basic living necessities in Michigan. Among the starkest findings in the report is that 43% of Michigan residents don't make enough to afford the basic cost of living. That could be costs like food, shelter, transportation, communication, and child care.

One in five children lives in poverty, according to a subsidiary report from United Way. 

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Among the boldest policy recommendations from the task force was to "completely overhaul" the state's TANF (Temporary Aid to Needy Families) dollars. "Too often, the state's TANF block grant has been used for purposes that do not fulfill the foundational goal of giving needed assistance to Michigan's poorest families."

Only 19% of available TANF dollars went to basic assistance and child care, as of 2017. The national average is 52%. Instead, much of those dollars go to pay for foster care services and funding merit-based college scholarships. The PTF says those dollars should go to scholarships for low-income students. 

The PTF said addressing asset tests for food assistance, simplifying the process to getting aid, reexamining how to reduce the digital divide, and expanding the housing choice voucher could reduce economic disparities from a benefit's perspective. 

The team targeted criminal justice reform by:

  • Expanding apprenticeship opportunities for those incarcerated
  • Diverting people with behavioral health needs away from the prison system. 

Among the health policy recommendations offered, they included:

  • Expanding addiction treatment
  • Establishing community land trusts

For education recommendations, they looked at:

  • Increasing the eligibility for child care services from earning 130% of the federal poverty limit to 180%
  • Expand school breakfast programs
  • Eliminate Pay to Play fees 
  • Increase eligibility for the Great Start Readiness Program

Read the full report here.