By Robin Erb & John Wisely| Detroit Free Press

Michigan’s median household income rose by 2.4% in real terms in 2011 — at a time when incomes nationwide fell slightly. That growth, eighth best among states, contributes to what might be a halt in Michigan’s years-long slide into deeper poverty, according to preliminary numbers released today by the U.S. Census Bureau.

Overall, poverty rates fell from 15.7% to 15% and the number of Michigan residents without health insurance also fell from 13% to 12.5%, according to the Census.

More valid and in-depth statistics will be released next week, but state data released this morning offer an early peek into good news for Michigan, said Melissa Smith at the Michigan League for Human Services.

“It shows we’re moving in the direction we need to go,” Smith said of the report.

The numbers released today mostly focus on national trends, and suggest that poverty levels are stabilizing across the U.S. Additionally, the numbers of uninsured Americans fell, possibly as a result of the Obama Administration’s Affordable Care Act.

Though health care coverage data don’t directly impact poverty levels in data reports, the real-life links are inescapable for too many Michiganders, Smith said.

“The costs of health care can run a family into poverty or destabilize them if they’re on the edge of poverty,” she said.

Census officials attributed some of the drop in national poverty levels to growth in full-time jobs, but much of that growth is among families with the lowest income, and that seems to be happening in Michigan as well, Smith noted.

“That indicates to me that people are getting jobs, that the jobs are available, but they’re not high-paying jobs,” she said.

Donna Harrison, 46, of Westland said she’s wasn’t surprised to learn that things in Michigan are getting better.

She landed a job last month cleaning machines at a commercial bread bakery. Harrison, a single mother, started at $12 an hour with a raise to $16 an hour after she finishes training.

“It’s through a temp service now, but there’s a possibility of making it permanent after your probationary period,” she said.

She had some benefits through the state before she was hired, but now has better ones through her job.

Still, she said employers are choosy about whom they hire. She went through two interviews, a nationwide criminal background check, a drug screen and an intelligence assessment before landing the job.

“I think it’s still pretty tough out there,” Harrison said.

Contact Robin Erb: 313-222-2708 or

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