Michigan poverty map shows economic security by county

May 4, 2020

Even before the economic repercussions of the COVID-19 pandemic began, about 14% of Michiganders were living in poverty and another 29% of households were struggling to make ends meet.

That’s according to the latest Michigan Poverty and Well-Being Map released by the University of Michigan’s Poverty Solutions, an initiative that aims to prevent and alleviate poverty through action-based research.

People living in poverty and the working poor will have an especially difficult time weathering the global pandemic, which is taking a toll on people’s economic security and health, said H. Luke Shaefer, director of Poverty Solutions.

“Even before the pandemic spread to Michigan, there were many people struggling, and that shows up in a number of different ways on the Poverty and Well-Being Map,” said Shaefer, the Hermann and Amalie Kohn Professor of Social Justice and Social Policy.

“Understanding this is critically important as we think about how federal, state and local relief efforts are rolled out. We need to make sure we are not letting residents who were already struggling slip through the cracks.”

Taking into account people living in poverty as well as working-poor households—also known as Asset Limited, Income Constrained, and Employed (ALICE)—provides a sense of how many Michiganders are struggling financially, said Jennifer Erb-Downward, a senior research associate at Poverty Solutions.

ALICE is a metric developed by United Way that counts the number of households in each county, as well as statewide, whose income puts them above the federal poverty line, and yet they still cannot afford a basic household budget.

The following Michigan counties have the highest poverty rates:

  • Isabella County (mid-Michigan): 23.4%
  • Lake County (northern Michigan): 22.3%
  • Wayne County (southeast Michigan): 21.7%
  • Luce County (northern Michigan): 20.7%
  • Clare County (northern Michigan): 20.6%

The following Michigan counties have the highest percentage of ALICE households:

  • Baraga County (northern Michigan): 43%
  • Alger County (northern Michigan): 40.6%
  • Luce County (northern Michigan): 40.1%
  • Montmorency County (northern Michigan): 38.7%
  • Lake County (northern Michigan): 38.3%

Another key indicator of well-being is the percentage of students who have experienced homelessness by the time they reach fifth grade—7.6% of students statewide.

Erb-Downward’s research has linked child homelessness and chronic absenteeism, which hurts students’ academic performance. She anticipates the COVID-19 pandemic will leave even more families without a stable place to live.

“We have people whose bills are piling up if they’ve lost income during this public health emergency,” Erb-Downward said. “Given how many people were experiencing housing instability before this, we need to be proactive in thinking about how we can prevent a large number of evictions as soon as this crisis is over and emergency protections like the temporary statewide eviction moratorium end.”

The following counties have the highest rate of student homelessness by fifth grade:

  • Oceana County (west Michigan): 27.4%
  • Lake County (northern Michigan): 25.5%
  • Iosco County (northern Michigan): 22.9%
  • Alcona County (northern Michigan): 22.4%
  • Ogemaw County (northern Michigan) and Newaygo County (west Michigan): 18.8%

It’s important to note there is evidence of an undercount of homeless children in Wayne County, which means the percentage of children who experience homelessness by the end of elementary school is likely much higher than the data show for Southeast Michigan as a whole, Erb-Downward said. Also, these data are not available for eight counties where the number of students is too small to report.

Poverty Solutions has updated the Michigan Poverty and Well-Being Map annually since 2017 and compiled more than 50 publicly available indicators in addition to the indicators displayed on the map.


More information:


This article was written by Michigan News.