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Hardship spikes kids' health risks

Hardship spikes kids' health risks

Picture of Karen Bouffard

Michigan is starting to heal from the Great Recession, which was accompanied here by the collapse of the auto industry and the loss of hundreds of thousands of manufacturing jobs. But for families who experienced job losses and home foreclosures over a decade of economic decline, the recession isn’t really over.

Republicans who took control of the Michigan governor’s office and Legislature in the GOP sweep of 2010 quickly implemented the most expansive tax reforms in memory, granting a $1.8 billion tax cut for businesses--paid for in part with new taxes on pensions, and cuts to personal income tax credits and exemptions.

Companies have begun to recover, businesses are hiring and the economy is humming again. But recovery has remained elusive for many families whose struggles have been exacerbated by severe cuts to social safety nets, education and social programs.

Roughly 1 in 10 children in parts of Detroit and Flint lost welfare benefits in 2011, when cash benefits for families who had been on welfare 48 months or longer were cut off.

Nearly 41,000 people statewide lost payments averaging $515 a month, but the brunt of the impact was felt in two of the poorest cities in the state, with Detroit accounting for more than half of those losing benefits.

Michigan also cut basic unemployment benefits from 26 weeks to 20, the first state in the nation to do so. At the same time, lawmakers reduced the earned income tax credit for the working poor, and the Department of Human Services approved an assets test for those on food assistance, trimming 15,000 from the program.

As a 2013 National Health Journalism Fellow, I will examine how Michigan’s economic and social policies have impacted health risks to children. I will talk with experts about how the stress of living in poverty can make children vulnerable to gangs and drugs when they enter their teen years.

I will also speak with health officials, community leaders and other stakeholders about ways to reduce these health risks, and explore how economic and social policies can be used to positively impact health outcomes for kids.

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