Putting numbers before words

“Putting numbers before words.”

An interesting prospect, especially in using it to start off a newspaper column, but bear with me.

Last night was President Donald Trump’s State of the Union speech, followed by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s nationally televised Democratic response. And, last week, Gov. Whitmer delivered her State of the State speech.

As their formal titles indicate, those three speeches are intended to look at how we are doing as a nation, as a state, and as a people.

But words and rhetoric are easy to come by and particularly politically charged in a heated election year.

Promises, big ideas, lofty proposals, and pointed criticism are easy to come by, too, and often play into our preexisting opinions and positions, rather than swaying them.

So, now that some big words from key leaders are behind us, I’d like to offer up a hard look at the numbers to help inform your opinions.

The Michigan League for Public Policy is a data-driven organization, and, every year, we put together a variety of materials compiling local data to help residents and elected officials from all over the state better understand how their neighbors, their communities, their constituents, and their districts are doing.

We just released our 2020 county census data fact sheets. We also have those by legislative district and select cities. As part of our annual Kids Count in Michigan Data Book, we put together county profiles for all 83 counties. We also do special localized fact sheets on different relevant policy issues, most recently looking at immigrant population data.

Those call be found at mlpp.org/geographic-fact-sheets.

Those data fact sheets allow residents — and readers like you — to look up your county and see a variety of demographic, economic, and education information. Those are the numbers that really tell the story of the state of our state and of our union, and what policies are needed to address them.

So, I urge you to look at them as you think about state and national policy proposals unveiled last week, last night, and in the governor and Michigan Legislature’s upcoming state budget proposals.

Here are just a few examples of the important context these data pieces add to the policy discussion:

∫ As the fate of the Affordable Care Act remains in question and Gov. Whitmer is proposing to put many of its protections into state law, you can use our census data fact sheets look up the number of and percentage of people in your county without health insurance.

∫ As jobs and the economy continue to be discussed, you can also use our census fact sheets to see what the median household income, the median wage for men and women and the gender wage gap, and the poverty rate is for your county. A couple of hints: Poverty is still extremely high in most parts of the state and the gender wage gap is significant everywhere.

∫ Higher education cost and attainment also continue to be significant issues in Michigan and around the country, including for older workers. As Gov. Whitmer works to fulfill her goal of 60 by 30 — 60% of the state having some type of secondary degree or trade certification by 2030 — and promotes her Michigan Reconnect and MI Opportunity initiatives to do so, our census fact sheets also have the level of educational attainment by age for each county.

∫ Our Kids Count county profiles are also helpful in seeing the number of kids on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, a program that has come under fire nationally at the same time that Gov. Whitmer has worked to make it more user-friendly, raising the asset test limit. And, with the governor’s discussion of increased maternal health and child care initiatives in her State of the State address, our Kids Count county profiles also have county data on mothers receiving prenatal care, babies born with low birthweights, infant mortality, as well as the number of 3- and 4-year-olds not in preschool.

∫ And, while immigration unfortunately continues to be a hot-button issue politically, our fact sheets on county and state immigrant populations try to illustrate how much immigrants are a part of the fabric of every county — and illustrate the variety of contributions they make to our state, including economically.

While my organization is nonpartisan, we are not neutral, in either the words we use or the policies we promote.

But, first and foremost, we let the data and research drive our work.

We are constantly looking at how residents are doing in every part of our state, including Northeast Michigan, and letting that inform the policies we support.

Upon reading this, I hope you will do the same.

Alex Rossman is external affairs director at the Michigan League for Public Policy.


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