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Posted: 02/13/13

Child well-being on
the decline in Macomb

Observer Staff Writer
      An annual report shows the number of children living in poor conditions and situations has risen in Macomb County.
       Macomb County was ranked 18th out of 82 Michigan counties for the well-being of its children in the Kids Count in Michigan Data Book that was released on Jan. 31.
       The report is the first time since 1992 that individual counties were ranked using 13 of 15 child well-being indicators. Keweenaw County was the only one not ranked due to insufficient data.
       Jane Zehnder-Merrell, Kids Count in Michigan project director at the Michigan League for Public Policy, said Macomb County is still reeling from the effects of the recession, despite it ending in 2009.
       "Macomb has seen some pretty stunning increases overall in economic security," she said. "There has been a dramatic worsening for kids, much more than the state as a whole."
       According to the report, the number of children living in poverty increased by 50 percent between 2005 and 2011, nearly twice the statewide average of 28 percent. Poverty was defined as $18,000 or less a year for a family of three.
       The report shows 32,606, or 17.1 percent, of children ages 0 to 17 live in poverty in Macomb County.
       "There's been a substantial weakening of economical security, and those counties that were mostly secure are feeling the impact the most," she said.
       In fact, all three of the economic security indicators in the report showed signs of negative increases. For instance, the amount of children qualifying for food assistance during the six year timeframe increased by 85 percent, above the statewide increase of 55 percent.
       In the health category as well as in family and community category, Macomb County saw negative increases in three of the four indicators. The number of confirmed abuse and neglect victims is on the rise, jumping by 41 percent. The statewide increase was tracked at 28 percent. The report links the rise to poverty conditions.
       "There's been an erosion in wages," Zehnder-Merrell said. "People's hours get cut back, or they take jobs that pay less."
       Conversely, the county rates fairly well in respect to confirmed victims of child abuse, coming in at sixth of 82. This was the county's highest ranking.
       The rate of abused children was reported at nine per 1,000 children, below the state's rate of 14 per 1,000 children. However, this an increase from six out of 1,000 children for the county in 2005.
       The health category saw the worst ranking for the county. According to the report, county ranked at 70 of 81 for low-birthweight babies. The report indicated 8.6 percent of babies were born too small, a fraction lower than the state's 8.5 percent.
       Infant mortality has worsened as well, rising by 13 percent between 2005 to 2010, while the state saw an overall drop of 8 percent. The rate of infant deaths was recorded at seven per 1,000 babies in Macomb County.
       "One problem is that Legislature has cut back in providing funds to local communities," she said. "While the state is cutting funding for state services that go into the county, they're shortening tax revenue that goes to local communities that deal with some of these issues."
       A bright spot in the report for the county was in education. The amount of fourth grade students that are proficient on the MEAP test in reading increased by 23 percent.
       On the other side, the amount of students not graduating on time in the county increased by 24 percent.
       Among the top rated counties in the report were Ottawa, Livingston and Clinton, while the counties of Clare, Roscommon and Lake were ranked the worst.
       Statewide, the report shows more than 500,000 children lived in poverty in 2011. Of them, more than 33,000 were victims of abuse or neglect.
       Among the biggest statewide improvements were seen in the decline of kids in foster care, dropping by 6,000 between 2005 to 2011.

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