- Associated Press - Tuesday, April 1, 2014

DETROIT (AP) - Michigan ranks slightly below the national average in the overall well-being of its white children and lags significantly behind most of the nation in how black children are faring, according to a report released Tuesday.

The private Annie E. Casey Foundation released the report, titled “Race for Results” as well as “Kids Count” reports, with reams of state-specific data. The foundation says Michigan has the third-lowest score for the overall well-being of black children. White kids ranked 32nd out of 50.

The study examines 12 indicators to determine the rankings, including reading and math proficiency, high school graduation data, teen birthrates, employment prospects, family income and education levels, and neighborhood poverty levels.

“The … data paint a very distressful picture about all children in Michigan,” said Tonya Allen, president and chief executive of the Detroit-based Skillman Foundation, a nonprofit that works to improve the lives of youth in the city.

The report’s national average for white children was a composite score of 704. Michigan’s average is 668. The overall well-being for black children in the state is 244, one point better than Mississippi and higher than Wisconsin’s 238. The national average for black children is 345.

“We are third from the bottom in terms of overall well-being, and we’re one point away from Mississippi,” said Jane Zehnder-Merrell, of the Michigan League for Public Policy and project director for Kids Count in Michigan. “You think of the implications of that, and it’s pretty sobering.”

American-Indian, Hispanic and children of Asian and Pacific islander descent in Michigan ranked above the national averages for their ethnic groups.

Zehnder-Merrell notes the correlation between both white and black children in Michigan coming in below national averages and the economic meltdown that crippled the state several years ago.

“We’ve seen a huge increase in child poverty,” she said. “People who lost their jobs can’t find jobs that pay anywhere near what their former jobs have paid.”

Allen said a stronger education policy is needed at the state level to address achievement gaps between white, black and Latino students.

But the state has not been standing pat, the Department of Human Services told The Associated Press Tuesday.

Officials there pointed to a program that puts DHS workers in more than 160 schools across the state to help make sure students get to - and stay in - class.

Since Pathways to Potential was launched in 2012, school attendance has improved and chronic absenteeism is coming down, DHS said in an emailed statement.

DHS workers “help keep small problems from becoming bigger problems, leverage resources and work with community agencies to help children and their families, especially those in poverty,” the agency said.

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