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Poverty Solutions at the University of Michigan

Joan and Sanford Weill hall
Suite 5100
735 South State Street
Ann Arbor, MI 48109-3091

About Us


To know where we’re going, we have to know where we’ve been. The University of Michigan has invested in poverty research and teaching dating back to the 1960s.

Here are just a few milestones:


1879: U-M President James Angell: “We need to make higher education accessible to the poor.”

1964: U.S. President Lyndon Johnson: “Poverty shall not keep a gifted youth from the opportunity for a liberal education.”

In 1964, President Johnson was seeking ideas for a radical domestic program to inspire American voters. At U-M’s Spring Commencement that year, he outlined a loose plan to declare “war” on poverty and create a “Great Society.” Read more:

1968: Panel Study of Income Dynamics

In 1966 and 1967, the government identified 30,000 American households for interviews in an effort to track whether its programs actually worked. Government researchers approached Jim Morgan with the Institute for Social Research at U-M to do the research. This eventually led to the Panel Study of Income Dynamics at the university, the longest-running and most complete portrait of the economics of the American family. Read more:

Wilber J. Cohen being sworn in as U.S. Secretary of Health, Education and Welfare

Wilber J. Cohen

10-Point Program to Abolish Poverty

As U.S. Secretary of Health, Education and Welfare, Wilbur J. Cohen was instrumental in developing the New Deal and Great Society programs. In December 1968, he wrote “A Ten- Point Program to Abolish Poverty” that future leaders used as a blueprint for later legislation. Cohen later served as a professor of social work and dean of the School of Education at U-M. Read more:

1971: Perspectives on Poverty

A pioneer in interdisciplinary study, Max Heirich taught one of U-M’s first courses specifically focused on poverty. This course used a variety of methods to explore the phenomenon of poverty in an affluent society.

1989-2015: Research and Training Program on Poverty and Public Policy

U-M professor Sheldon H. Danziger launches the Research and Training Program in Poverty and Public Policy. The program provided mentorship and support for over 50 postdoctoral fellows and doctoral students on the causes and consequences of urban poverty.

1995-2002: National Institute of Mental Health Research and Development Center on Poverty, Risk, and Mental Health

The U-M Research and Development Center on Poverty Risk and Mental Health, funded by the NIMH, expanded knowledge for research and practice on the relationship between poverty and mental health.

1997: Women’s Employment Study

This U-M study combined the insights of poverty researchers, epidemiologists, and social workers, analyzing the ways in which a broad range of issues (labor market, mental health, physical health, and family problems) affect a welfare recipient’s ability to obtain and retain employment overtime.

2002-2016: National Poverty Center

The National Poverty Center (NPC) at U-M’s Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy was established as a university-based, nonpartisan research center. NPC conducted and promoted multidisciplinary, policy-relevant research, mentored and trained emerging scholars, and informed public discourse on the causes and consequences of poverty.

Sheldon Danziger, currently the president of the Russell Sage Foundation, led the National Poverty Center as the Henry J. Meyer Distinguished University Professor of Public Policy at the Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy.

Rebecca Blank, currently chancellor of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, was dean of the Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy and served as co-director of the National Poverty Center. From 1997 to 1999, Blank also was one of three members of President Bill Clinton’s Council of Economic Advisers.

President Mark Schlissel announcing the Poverty Solutions initiative at the President's Leadership Breakfast

President Mark Schlissel

2016: Poverty Solutions at the University of Michigan

U-M President Mark Schlissel launched Poverty Solutions at the University of Michigan, a university-wide effort to explore and test models to ease the effects of poverty and broadly share that knowledge, while working with community groups and supporting active-learning options for students. H. Luke Shaefer, then associate professor at the U-M School of Social Work and Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy, was appointed the inaugural director of Poverty Solutions.

2018: Partnership on Economic Mobility with the City of Detroit

The University of Michigan and the City of Detroit joined forces to boost economic mobility and break the cycle of poverty in Detroit. The four-year agreement supports action-based partnerships that pair U-M experts with city leaders.