Growing up in Michigan isn’t easy for many children. That’s according to the latest “Kids Count in Michigan” report that shows how the long economic slump has pushed more kids into poverty — and put more stress on social “safety net” programs.

Kids Count Director Jane Zehnder-Merrill tells WWJ Newsradio 950 education is one of the keys to the economic future of the state — but she stresses that it’s only one component of the turnaround.

“Good schools are important, yes, but to make drastic cuts in other systems that support children and families is not going to get us there,” Zehnder-Merrill said.

“These other systems of support are as important as the education system and helping kids be successful in school,” she said.

The Kids Count report shows the poverty rate for children under 18 in the state climbed from 14 percent in 2000 to 23 percent in 2009.  And, the percentage of kids who depend on food stamps rose from 10 percent in 2000 to 28 percent in 2009.  Those most impacted were African-American and Hispanic children, with 1 out of 2 and 1 out of 3, respectively, living in poverty in 2009.

The report also indicated a sharp rise – 25 percent – in the rate of confirmed victims of childhood abuse and neglect between 2000 and 2009.  The reports shows 90 percent of the cases are due to neglect, often made worse by poverty.

Following the report’s release, Tuesday morning,  groups from around the state were commenting on the implications of the study and effects of increased poverty on an already overburdened system.

“This is a call to action if ever there was one,” said Judy Samelson, CEO of the Early Childhood Investment Corp., a public/private initiative working to improve early childhood factors in Michigan.

“This is the state’s future workforce we’re talking about, and the research is clear that years spent in poverty during childhood affect education and employment,” Samelson said in a statement out Tuesday.

“This is precisely the wrong time to make any further cuts to the support system for children in Michigan. Fortunately, we have a new administration in Lansing that seems to understand that we can’t rebuild the state’s economy by allowing another generation of children to fall through the cracks,” she said.

For more on this report, visit the Michigan League for Human Services website at

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