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Our future is tied to our kids' future, and a new report shows that doesn't look good

Jack Lessenberry


You have to give Detroiters a lot of credit.

They voted, by overwhelming margins, to accept major cuts to their pensions. In what was most surprising, nearly 90% of city retirees also voted to give up 90% of their health care benefits. They voted to make sacrifices in their old age to give their city a chance at a future, something that we should find pretty admirable.

Now, granted, they had a gun to their heads. They were told to take this deal, or something worse would be imposed on them, but they could have raged against the machine, and didn’t.

In fact, they weren’t even obligated to approve the health care cuts, though they probably couldn’t have stopped them.

People love to bash Detroiters, but throughout the years, they have stepped up time and again, voting to tax themselves when told they had to do so to save the city; voting now to accept new painful sacrifices.

Meanwhile, four classes of the city’s hugest creditors voted no on settlement offers made to them, and so further court battles lie ahead.

All of this is bound to overshadow another story today that in the long run may be as meaningful for our future.

That’s the release of the latest national and state Kids Count Data Book, showing how our children are doing.

For a quarter of a century, the Annie E. Casey Foundation has funded this study; their partner in our state is the Lansing-based MichiganLeague for Public Policy.

There is a little good news this year.

Dramatically fewer teenagers are having babies. Fewer children and teenagers are dying, but that’s pretty much where the good news ends.

Though the statistics are a couple of years old, it is clear that the number of children living in poverty has dramatically worsened over the last decade, climbing from less than a fifth of all children to one in every four.  More than a third of all Michigan kids are in families where the parents lack secure jobs.

Twice as many kids live in high poverty areas than at the turn of the century, and seven-tenths of our fourth graders aren’t proficient in reading. I am not talking about Detroit; I am talking statewide.

What does that say about our kids’ prospects for the future?

What about our futures? Especially when you consider that our kids are in worse shape than those in 31 other states.

"We must redouble our efforts to make Michigan a great place to raise a child." - Gilda Jacobs

Gilda Jacobs, the head of the Michigan League, said being one of the weakest states “is not acceptable.”

She added, “we must redouble our efforts to make Michigan a great place to raise a child."

Our legislators could do that, if they were willing to restore education funding cuts and help poorer families by fully restoring the Earned Income Tax Credit. We could also invest in the future by helping working families with child care.

But we haven’t seemed willing to do this. The bottom line is something past generations knew and we’ve forgotten: Today’s children are more important than we are. After all, as the old joke goes, they will be determining what kind of nursing homes we get.

That ought to make some of our lawmakers very scared.

Jack Lessenberry is Michigan Radio’s political analyst. Views expressed in the essays by Lessenberry 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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