New map offers snapshot of poverty, well-being in Michigan

December 21, 2017

ANN ARBOR—A new map that streamlines an overwhelming amount of poverty and well-being data will make it easier to understand what’s happening in counties across Michigan.

Poverty Solutions—the University of Michigan’s major initiative dedicated to the prevention and alleviation of poverty—developed the map to help policymakers, community organizations and the public understand the state of poverty in their communities.

“Any one statistic shows only a piece of the puzzle,” said H. Luke Shaefer, associate professor of social work and public policy and director of Poverty Solutions. “By looking at a range of things we learn more about the strengths and opportunities for improving the lives of Michigan residents.”

According to the latest American Community Survey, Michigan’s poverty rate of 15 percent puts it slightly higher than the national poverty rate of 12.7 percent and 36th in the nation. People considered poor had incomes below the poverty line—$24,250 for a family of four—in 2016.

Making data accessible to the public is one way a public institution like the U-M can better inform actions on some of our big challenges like poverty.

The data comes from the U.S. Census Bureau, the United Way, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s County Health Rankings, and others. The map focuses on eight broad poverty and well-being ­related indicators, such as poverty rate, percentage of people on food assistance and life expectancy, to provide a snapshot of strengths and challenges in each county.

“When we’re able to look across a range of things like the indicators highlighted here, we can better find solutions that can address the unique challenges faced across the different regions in Michigan,” Shaefer said.

Some highlights from the map broken down by county include:

Median income

  • Wayne County has a median income of more than $43,000, higher than 31 other counties.
  • The lowest household median income is $33,708 in Lake County.
  • The highest median income is $79,388 in Livingston County.

Percent below poverty

  • Livingston County has the lowest poverty rate at 5.8 percent.
  • Only one county outranks Wayne County’s poverty rate of 22.9 percent—Isabella County with 23.4 percent.

Under 18 below poverty

  • Lake County, where the adult poverty rate is third highest in the state at 21.9 percent, has a child poverty rate of more than 40 percent.
  • Three counties in the top 10 for highest child poverty rate didn’t make the top 10 for overall poverty rate: Lake, Clare and Crawford.

Food assistance (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program)

  • Lowest SNAP: Clinton County (5.2 percent)
  • Highest SNAP: Wayne County (24.1 percent)

Life expectancy (male/female)

  • Lowest: Wayne County: 72.2/78 years
  • Highest: Leelanau County: 80.4/83.3 years

In addition to the data available on the map, Poverty Solutions has compiled more than 50 additional indicators available to the public with which it plans to create tailored maps for categories such housing, health and children’s issues.


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