Points of View

Children in Poverty Across West Michigan

Alex Andrews

Despite the fact that both non-profit and government programs in other states have made efforts to address the issue of child care, the rising costs associated with child care programs still represents one of the major barriers to gaining or maintaining employment for adults in West Michigan. Research suggests that it is vital for children to have access to high-quality child care, preparing them to enter school before they reach kindergarten. However, rising resource demands result in child care programs that can cost more than college tuition annually. While many childcare workers and providers are simultaneously leaving the industry, resulting in childcare deserts that greatly reduce accessibility and further increase the costs attributed to child care. These rising costs could force parents living under the ALICE (Asset Limited, Income Constrained, and Employed) threshold to leave the workforce entirely in order to remain home, but how many families in West Michigan are actually living in poverty and forced to make these decisions?

 

Education by County

Utilizing the most recent American Community Survey data, from 2016, provides insight regarding the number of children across West Michigan that are affected by the rising costs of child care, in addition to portraying which counties are the most affected. Throughout the 13-county West Michigan region, slightly under 20 percent of children under the age of 18 were living in a household that earned an income below the poverty threshold. This means that just two years ago, nearly 71,618 children in West Michigan were living below the poverty level. The highest portion of children living in poverty was observed in Lake County, where nearly half of the county’s population of those under 18 years of age were residing in a household that earned an income below the poverty threshold. Osceola County contained the second highest proportion of children living below the poverty threshold within the 13-county West Michigan region, at approximately 37 percent. In contrast, just 11 percent of children in Ottawa County were living under similar conditions.

View the interactive workbook on this data via Tableau here.

Family Type and Poverty Status

Although approximately 80 percent of children in West Michigan were from a household with an income level at or above the poverty threshold in 2016, the data suggests that whether a child’s householder was married or single played a significant role in determining their poverty status. Just over 91 percent of children within West Michigan residing in a married household were living at or above the poverty threshold, while just over half of those associated with a single-parent household were living under similar conditions. This disparity is particularly striking in Ottawa County, where 74 percent of children living below poverty level and almost 16 percent of children at or above poverty level were associated with a single-parent household. This trend holds throughout each of West Michigan’s 13 counties, with a greater proportion of children from married households living at or above poverty level compared to those from single-parent households.