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About Us

Poverty Solutions is a university-wide presidential initiative at the University of Michigan that partners with communities and policymakers to find new ways to prevent and alleviate poverty through action-based research.

The University of Michigan has a proud tradition of groundbreaking research and teaching on poverty and inequality. U-M scholars have made pivotal contributions to knowledge and policymaking in the field of poverty dating back to the 1950s.

Poverty Solutions builds on this tradition. Its mission is to cultivate action-based research partnerships with community stakeholders and policymakers to find what works in confronting poverty, and use that evidence to be a part of positive change in communities.

In confronting the challenges of poverty, we know scholars don’t have all the answers. Yet we have an important role to play. We can bring data, evidence, and analysis to identify critical issues and evidence-based solutions. Working in partnership, we can inform concrete action that empowers families to live healthy and productive lives.

We view poverty as the result of interlinked systems —housing, education, criminal justice, labor markets — that fail to function as they should for people with low incomes. Such a systems approach puts the emphasis on structural, rather than individual, causes of poverty.

We recognize that many of these systems failures are the result of long-term racial and socioeconomic inequalities. Addressing poverty means confronting these disparities and seeking out just, equitable solutions.

By focusing on systems, we seek to partner in action that positively impacts the lives of many families. We look for ways to intervene through action ranging from small scale, community-focused projects to large-scale policy change.

We conceptualize our work as an arc of change. We build partnerships with dynamic community stakeholders and policy makers. We listen, share findings, propose interventions, and evaluate and monitor—listening again as new models take shape.

graphic displaying Poverty Solutions systems change approach

These pillars guide our work:

  • A data-driven approach focused on deep understanding of the challenges of poverty and evidence-based solutions in policy and practice
  • Action-based research centered on boosting economic opportunity, expanding educational attainment and improving health that brings new discoveries to policymakers and community stakeholders
  • Mutually respectful, dynamic, solution-focused partnerships with community organizations, government entities, practitioners, and policymakers at every level
  • A highly interdisciplinary approach that engages community partners with scholars from across U-M’s many schools and colleges including information, public health, social work, public policy, medicine, urban planning, law, engineering, and U-M’s Institute for Social Research
  • A commitment to an anti-racist approach to research and policy solutions aimed at dismantling systemic and institutional racism
  • Dedication to training the next generation of thought leaders through classes and field work, a graduate fellowship program, campus-wide grant competitions, and advanced learning opportunities for U-M students
  • Ongoing and open communication with residents, policymakers, stakeholders and communities through platforms ranging from national events to public community forums
H. Luke Shaefer
Director H. Luke Shaefer
In confronting the challenges of poverty, we know scholars don’t have all the answers. Yet we have an important role to play. We can use data, evidence, and analysis to identify critical issues and evidence-based solutions to inform action.
Read Luke's Letter

Our Work in Action

These stories demonstrate how Poverty Solutions has worked with partners to inform concrete policy change in the areas of affordable housing, auto insurance, and homelessness. The arc of systems change starts with listening to community input to set a collective research agenda and then analyzing data and research to help identify policy gaps. Next, we identify possible solutions and propose evidence-based interventions. Finally, we support the implementation of new policies and practices and evaluate the outcome.


Speakers from the the 2019 Real-World Perspectives on Poverty Solutions speaker series discuss how they define poverty.

Work opportunities

At Poverty Solutions, we believe that no challenge is too big or too complex. We are dedicated to producing action-based research and cultivating strong partnerships to help solve poverty. We value data and evidence and community connections. If this mission inspires you, see our open listings below.