Editor’s Note: Democrat Gretchen Whitmer, was elected the 49th governor of Michigan, on Nov. 6, 2018 and will be sworn into office Jan. 1, 2019. Both Governor-elect Whitmer and outgoing Governor Rick Snyder accepted The PuLSE Institute’s invitation to pen a column about poverty and inequality as they prepare for a changing of the guard in Lansing. During the gubernatorial campaign Whitmer emphasized a major focus on poverty and inequality and vowed to appoint the first-ever cabinet level poverty secretary. For submission inquiries contact the Institute’s editor-in-chief Bankole Thompson at firstname.lastname@example.org
By Governor-elect Gretchen Whitmer
Michigan used to be the place people moved to for opportunity. Our workers built the middle class and created pathways to opportunity for people from all over the world. In Michigan, you could get a good job that paid you well so you could raise your family up and retire with dignity here.
People knew that no matter where they settled, their kids would have a great public education, and in the state that’s home to 21 percent of the world’s fresh water, families could confidently drink the water coming out of their tap. But right now, we’re falling behind.
About half of Michigan communities saw an increase in poverty rates over the last 10 years. Too many families in Michigan cities are struggling just to get by. Our schools aren’t preparing our kids for success, our roads are crumbling, and families across the state don’t have access to good food or clean drinking water. If we’re going to make Michigan a place where our families thrive and other people move to for opportunity, we’ve got to get serious about fighting poverty.
Michigan cities need a partner in Lansing who will work every day to ensure we lift people out of poverty and take steps to prevent poverty in the future. That’s why I’m committed to ensuring poverty issues are represented at the cabinet level in my administration.
Michiganders living in poverty haven’t had an advocate in the Capitol in over eight years. The person in this position will focus on job opportunities accessible to underemployed residents, youth employment initiatives to focus on combatting juvenile delinquency, and improving financial literacy education services to help families achieve economic security and grow the middle-class.
Right now, our kids aren’t getting the support they need to get ahead in school. Michigan is currently in the bottom 10 states in the country when it comes to literacy.
When our kids can’t read by the end of third grade, we punish them instead of giving them the tools they need to be successful. This has got to change. We need to ensure that more students are literate by the end of third grade by investing in universal pre-k, increasing the number of literacy coaches in Michigan, and giving students the in-school support they need, like counselors, social workers, school nurses, school security, healthy meals and safe transportation.
We’ve got to get to work to ensure our public schools have the resources they need to help our kids get ahead. If we want students in high-poverty areas to have the same opportunities as those in suburban areas, we’ve got to fund our schools equitably and make sure they have the wraparound support they need to get a quality public education.
We’ve also got to make sure that after K-12, those kids have the opportunity to get a great postsecondary education. That means creating a scholarship program that Michigan students can use at skilled training programs, community colleges and four-year Universities so everyone can get on a path to a high wage skill.
Clean drinking water is a fundamental human right, but there are families across the state who don’t trust the water coming out of their taps or can’t afford to pay their water bills.
Whether it’s from lead or PFAS, too many people can’t bathe their kids or give them a glass of water at the dinner table, and after four years, families in Flint still don’t have clean drinking water. I’m ready to roll up my sleeves and get to work ensure that every community in Michigan can trust their drinking water.
We’ve got to get serious about fighting poverty here in Michigan. I’m getting ready to hit the ground running on day one and start working to solve problems for Michiganders. We’re going to work to clean up our drinking water and get every student in Michigan on a path to a high wage skill. I’m ready to work with everyone else who wants to solve these problems. Let’s get to work.
Gretchen Whitmer, a former state senator and prosecutor will begin her tenure as governor of Michigan on Jan. 1. During the 2018 campaign Whitmer first announced at a Democratic gubernatorial town hall on poverty moderated by Bankole Thompson at Martin Luther King Jr. High School in Detroit, that she will give the issue a cabinet-level attention.