State Has Leaders More Anxious to Help CEOs Than Children

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The people who actually care about children saw this coming years ago.

Even before Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder and the Republican-dominated legislature decided to decimate the Earned Income Tax Credit in 2011, reducing it from 20 percent of the national average to just six percent even as they handed big businesses a nearly $2-billion tax cut, state child-welfare advocates were warning loudly of devastating consequences the EITC cuts would have kids.

“The bill would raise taxes on 800,000 working families and push 14,000 children into poverty,” cautioned the Michigan League for Public Policy back when.

Unfortunately, such alarums didn’t faze the people who don’t care about the state’s children, didn’t stop them from slashing the tax credit while lying about how the state couldn’t afford the $370-million cost of the program (probably because of that aforementioned billion-dollar-plus corporate Bridge Card).

More Poverty

Fast forward a couple of years, and Michigan already appears to be reaping early yields from the state’s misbegotten right-wing assault on the poor. 

According to a news release announcing MLPP’s 2013 report for its “Kids Count In Michigan” project, Michigan has seen a dramatic increase in children who’ve fallen—or fallen deeper—into poverty. Nearly 560,000 children under age 17, almost one in every four children in the state, live in poverty.

Statewide, the most dramatic change was a 53 percent increase in the rate of young children who qualified for federal food assistance between 2005 and 2012. More than one in every three (37 percent) qualified for nutritional help because their families were living on incomes under 130 percent of poverty or less (about $31,000 a year for a two-parent, two-child family).

“Though the recession officially ended years ago, the toll on children is still apparent with the persistently high number of children living in need. It’s especially troubling that young children are growing up in poverty because research shows a deeper lifelong impact of deprivation during early childhood,’’ said Jane Zehnder- Merrell, Kids Count in Michigan director at the Michigan League for Public Policy.

The child poverty rate increased 34 percent between 2005 and 2011. Nearly 560,000 children, about one in every four, lived in poverty in 2011.

The EITC gave an average of about $400 to more than 700,000 families statewide. In 2008, two years after then-Gov. Jennifer Granholm signed the bill that created the state EITC, more than 711,0000 filers claimed more than $145.2 million. Before the cuts to the state’s EITC, the measure, along with the Child Tax Credit, was lauded for helping to raise about 120,000 Michigan children out of poverty each year between 2009 and 2011. The EITC also boosted employment and slashed poverty among single-mother households.

Praising Cuts

Republicans cast the credit as a threat to Michigan’s economic well-being and crowed proudly about slashing it. Two years ago, Lisa Posthumus, a wingnut in the state House, praised the cuts and the accompanying corporate welfare handouts as a “day of reckoning for our state.” “It is long past the time we act to make Michigan competitive," she said. "This is about putting your kids and my kids and my generation to work." 

Not surprisingly, Posthumus didn’t actually explain how we can expect to be competitive with nearly a quarter of our kids growing up in poverty, but who’s got time to think about those sort of details when we’re “reinventing Michigan,” right?

Of course, as with so much else about poverty, it really doesn’t have to be this way. The fact that children in this state are struggling to get enough to eat isn’t some random occurrence that popped up out of the void. This is the clear-cut result of choices that we’ve made, a glaring illustration of just how screwed-up priorities have become in a state where right-wing crazies can compromise a woman’s right to choose and still have the gall to slash programs aimed at the children they demand these women bear. This is on purpose. This is who they are. 

And if this is the leadership we think is really going to lead Michigan out of its morass, a leadership that believes it’s more important to give tax breaks to  CEOs than to help raise our children out of poverty, then we’re already far more impoverished than we can possibly imagine.

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