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Commentary

Government should look for creative ways to address the realities facing families.

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For the next few weeks, the Michigan Legislature will be meeting in what is called a “lame-duck” session, since a third or more of its members are leaving afterwards, voluntarily or otherwise. Term limits will  end the careers of about a third, and a few others were defeated or are voluntarily moving on.

There’s more interest than usual in this year’s lame duck, in large part because the next legislature is likely to be even more tea-party driven than the last one. In other words, if there is any hope for actually coming up with new money to fix the roads, or extending civil rights protections to gay citizens, it may be now or never.

Governor Snyder is hoping, when it comes to the roads, that some lawmakers who were afraid to do the right thing before the election will be more willing now. My guess is that there is a reasonable chance of coming up with some road revenue, though probably not enough, and not much chance of expanding civil rights.

But what I find sad is that nobody is even talking about doing something to both invest in the future and help our neediest and most vulnerable citizens, people in trouble through no fault of their own.

Namely, our state’s children.

Our lawmakers have been willing to come up with more money for early childhood education, to reach more kids before kindergarten. But otherwise, they haven’t done them any favors. Instead, they have actually harmed poor families, by ending most of the Earned Income Tax Credit early in the Snyder administration.

There’s a new report out today that ought to give everyone pause, a study funded by the Annie E. Casey foundation and released by the Michigan League for Public Policy. The report looks at poor families nationwide and in Michigan. How many kids in this state do you think are growing up in low income families?

Those with an annual income of $47,000 dollars or less for a family of four?

The answer is almost half – many of those in families with much less than that. The percentage varies widely, but not the way you might think.

Yes, three-fifths of kids in Wayne County, which includes Detroit, are poor. But the percentage is much higher in some Upper Peninsula counties, and in safely conservative, Caucasian Hillsdale.

Even supposedly affluent Washtenaw County has more than a third of its kids at risk. The problem isn’t just income. It is job and housing insecurity, with poorly educated and stressed, often single parents, in jobs with few benefits and no time off to take care of sick kids.

The report, which I think every legislator and policy maker should read, also suggests solutions, which amount to more than simply throwing money at the poor. Yes, the earned income tax credit should be fully restored, and the child tax credit increased.

But beyond that, government should look for creative ways to address the realities facing today’s families. After all, these poor kids will be tomorrow’s citizens and workers and voters.

Doing something to save their futures and ours would simply be common sense. But that’s not a very common commodity these days. Sadly, too many of us don’t even really seem to care.

Jack Lessenberry is Michigan Radio's political analyst. You can read his essays online at michiganradio.org. Views expressed in his essays are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of Michigan Radio, its management or the station licensee, The University of Michigan.

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