Kids’ poverty up sharply in Ottawa, Allegan counties

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Capital News Service
LANSING– The number of children living in poverty in Ottawa and Allegan counties continues to increase, according to a new report.
In 2000, there were 4,970 Ottawa County children and 3,353 Allegan County children living in poverty. In 2010, the number jumped to 7,295 and 4,601.
That is a 76 percent increase in Ottawa County and a 34.4 percent increase in Allegan County, according to the study by Kids Count.
Statewide, the number of children in poverty increased 28.4 percent over the decade.
“The data shows Ottawa County has the highest increasing trend,” said Jan Shangle, coordinator of the Great Start Collaborative in Holland. Great Start is a statewide initiative to foster school readiness and success for young children.
Children growing up in poverty face lifelong consequences. They are less likely to graduate from high school and more likely to suffer from heart disease, obesity and high blood pressure as adults, according to Kids Count.
The report found the state’s Earned Income Tax credit for low-income workers was highly effective in reducing child poverty. Last year, the legislature cut EITC from 20 percent of the federal credit to 6 percent, resulting in an average $294 loss for almost 800,000 families.
Jane Zehnder-Merrell, Kids Count in Michigan project director, said, “The credit specifically targets families with children. The better solution is to reinstate the credit to strengthen family income to a level where they are more financially secure.”
Another key factor is that the increasing rate of children in poverty is tightly linked to the unemployment rate.
Shangle said the high unemployment rate in Ottawa County is a serious problem. “We are losing the industries which help us stabilize. Then the county government cannot help much. At the time of increased need of families in Ottawa County, we also have limited services.”
The unemployment rate in both counties more than tripled between 2000 and 2010. Last year, the state reduced the minimum weeks of jobless benefit from 26 weeks to 20 weeks.
Melissa Smith, senior policy analyst in the Michigan League for Human Services, said, “By limiting the amount of time an unemployed person can receive benefits, we seriously reduce the ability of that worker and their family to maintain themselves. This will impact the ability of families to take care of their children.”
The policies that negatively affect children are stricter time limits on cash assistance for 12,000 families living in poverty, including nearly 30,000 children, and asset limits on food assistance that will hurt the newly unemployed and divert needed federal aid from Michigan, the report said.
Megan Koops-Fisher is the director of Great Start Collaborative in Allegan. She said the two Counties are building an early childhood system that offers services for family health, emotional health, child early education and more.
“The Great Start Network was designed in part to build better connections between all the programs and services in Michigan that serve the 0-5 population and their families,” Koops-Fisher said.
She continued, “We look for ways to better serve the 0-5 population through streamlining the early childhood programs and services.”
However, Shangle said finding funding to support local children and families is difficult.
“Unfortunately, it comes down to money. We often do not meet the requirements for being a ‘high-need’ or ‘high-risk’ community. When we look at the significant change in economics over the past five to 10 years compared to the service capacity available, that is where the gap can be found,” Shangle said.
© 2012, Capital News Service, Michigan State University School of Journalism. Nonmembers cannot reproduce CNS articles without written permission.
Children Poverty and Unemployment Rates

Location Increase in Unemployment Rate, 2000 to 2010  Increase inChildren Poverty rate,2006 to 2010
Ottawa County 323% 76%
Allegan County 325% 34.4%
Michigan 200% 64%

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