United Way Michigan report points to impact of income disparities on health and well-being of low income families

A new study published by the United Way organizations has provided even stronger evidence that the declining economic status of working families in Michigan is impacting their ability to meet basic needs. This has tremendous implications for population health — not simply whether someone is able to afford disease prevention and health promotion activities — but whether they can afford water service, healthy food options, a house or apartment in a safe place, transportation. Income, alone, doesn’t determine one’s health and well-being, but it certainly is a major determinant. And the trend is going the wrong way.

Low income households in Michigan “are forced to make difficult choices,” the United Way report, “ALICE – Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed,” notes. “There are serious consequences for both ALICE households and their communities when these households cannot afford the basic necessities. ALICE households are forced to make difficult choices, such as skipping preventative health care, accredited child care, healthy food or care insurance. These ‘savings’ threaten their health, safety, and future — and they reduce Michigan’s economic productivity and raise insurance premiums and taxes for everyone.”

This report examines people who might also be referred to as the working poor: retail workers, truck drivers, nursing assistants and other human service workers. “The core problem is that these jobs do not pay enough to afford the basics of housing, child care, food, health care, and transportation.” The report notes that 1.54 million households in Michigan — 40 percent — are struggling to meet basic needs. Nearly 70 percent of households in Detroit are struggling.

“A decade-long economic decline capped by the Great Recession hit Michigan’s communities with hurricane force, hobbling the auto industry, bruising wages, and destabilizing families statewide,” noted Scott Dzurka, president and CEO of the Michigan Association of United Ways.”

Elected officials, particularly those running for office in this election cycle, would be wise to be briefed on the implications of this report for Michigan. Population health advocates will find the material helpful in framing arguments regarding the economic determinants of health and health behavior.