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Not Only In Detroit

One of the little-discussed problems with Detroit serving as the focal point for so much outrage statewide, and nationally, is that the poor condition of our city tends to overshadow problems elsewhere in Michigan -- even to people who live amid those problems. Obsessing over urban ills makes it easy for some folks to rail about, say, "drugs in the city" while ignoring or downplaying rampant drug use in the suburbs from which those same ranters lob their myopic diatribes.

Likewise, when it comes to poverty, most people tend to think of Wayne County, where Detroit is located, as the most impoverished place in all of Michigan, thanks to the well-publicized struggles of the city. As it turns out, though, that isn't so. According a new report, the worst poverty lies in the rural areas of our state.

Three counties in the northern half of Michigan's Lower Peninsula — Clare, Lake and Roscommon — had child poverty rates above 32 percent, the highest rates in the state. Children in rural counties also were more likely to be covered by Medicaid and be eligible for free or reduced price school lunch programs.

"It's pretty stark, when you look at it, to see what's happening in these rural areas," said Jane Zehnder-Merrell of the Michigan League for Human Services, a partner in the report. "And there's not a lot of attention paid to it."

Part of the reason why it's too often ignored, I think, is because it's so much easier for some folks to pass poverty, crime, drug use, etc., off as a city (read: "black") problem. Pitying or being pissed off at those folks "over there" becomes simpler when you think of them as being beset by problems that you don't have. But it's all a lie.

I dug the way the folks at Dyspathy put a pin in that bubble when mentioning the new Kids Count report:

Turns out that all of our pastoral small towns populated by humble, God-fearing real ‘mericans are cesspools of poverty. And probably meth. You're better off growing up in Herman Gardens compared to rural Michigan. Clearly, the government should build more prisons so the good people on Main Street USA can work as prison guards. It's not socialism when it benefits rural folks. Otherwise this most special jewel of false nostalgia will continue to be a place where hopelessly poor people beat their kids.

The truth is, we're all catching hell in Michigan, and none of us can afford to point fingers or talk trash. Sure, Detroit may have pneumonia -- but there are plenty of other places around this state with a worsening case of whooping cough, and acting like we're not all sick won't change that. Think, for instance, that Detroit schoolkids are inept because of their record low scores on the NAEP? Well, consider that Michigan as a state lags behind the nation on that same test.

Nationally, 30 states scored higher than Michigan among fourth-graders. Tops were Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Minnesota; at the bottom were Mississippi and Alabama.

And...

In eighth-grade rankings, 31 states scored higher than Michigan. The best states were Massachusetts, Minnesota and Vermont. Mississippi and Alabama were the worst among eighth-graders.

It's going to take all of us to get these problems under control, and in that regard, the calls for regional cooperation are critical and long overdue. For Michigan to have a brighter future, we've all got to row toward tomorrow together.

But first, we need to stop acting like we're not all in the same boat.

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