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About Us

2020 Report

2020 has tested individuals, families, and organizations the world over. At Poverty Solutions, we leaned deeply into our partnerships and, together, took steps to help those hit hardest by the COVID-19 pandemic. We’ve committed to supporting work that can play a role in confronting and combating racism. We’ve supported new action-based research, contributed to policy action, and convened conversations on difficult and important topics.

This past year has solidified our belief that strong partnerships are the root of what makes positive change possible. Together with communities and policymakers we were able to meet these moments with new approaches to informing policies and programs addressing poverty and injustice in Detroit, Michigan, and the nation. Thank you for your partnership this year.


In response to the pandemic, our team and affiliated scholars worked together to develop and share rapid-response research and policy analysis to inform the efforts of policymakers, government agencies, and nonprofit organizations to support those most at risk.

We worked closely with the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services to expand access to public assistance during the crisis

Poverty Solutions partners with the State of Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS) to inform anti-poverty and economic mobility initiatives that enhance public benefit programs and identify pathways for sustainable employment for those with major barriers to work. During COVID, this included advising on major changes to Michigan LIHEAP energy assistance program and the State’s TANF cash assistance program, and on the development of a $50 million State of Michigan Eviction Prevention Program.

We created educational tools and navigational resources to help Michigan residents access essential resources during the crisis.

Poverty Solutions staff compiled the Michigan COVID-19 Pandemic Resource Guide, which has garnered statewide attention as a critical, comprehensive resource to help residents and community-based organizations navigate the crisis.

Poverty Solutions partnered with Civilla to create a website to help Michigan residents access their economic impact payments. The Coronavirus Stimulus Payments website has over 550,000 unique views and received mention in over 70 media outlets around the country.

We analyzed impact of federal pandemic relief and made policy recommendations

A Poverty Solutions analysis of the impact of the federal CARES Act showed the role stimulus checks and expanded unemployment benefits played in stabilizing material hardship levels early in the pandemic. This research was cited in The Atlantic, and lead author Luke Shaefer commented on these issues in the New York Times, while co-authors Rick Rodems and Patrick Cooney authored an op-ed with policy recommendations for future relief packages.

Luke Shaefer and Patrick Cooney analyzed material hardship and mental health during COVID and the research inspired an article in The New York Times.

Poverty Solutions Director H. Luke Shaefer’s research has long focused on the potential of a universal child allowance to reduce child poverty. Amid the pandemic, there is growing bipartisan support among federal policymakers for an expanded child tax credit.

We supported new research projects addressing the impact of COVID-19

Using survey data from Black and Latino respondents in the United States and Puerto Rico, Ana Patricia Esqueda, Ann Chih Lin, Twila Tardif, and Lydwan Perez Westerband are gathering information about worldwide mental, physical, and emotional health in the wake of the pandemic; willingness to vaccinate, compliance with masking and other public health initiatives; and attributions of blame to particular leaders and countries.

Using data from a national survey of low-income adults in mid-March, Julia Wolfson and Cindy Leung of the U-M School of Public Health measured household food security—the lack of consistent access to food—and challenges to meeting basic needs due to COVID-19 through their project examining the Effect of COVID-19 on Food Insecurity in the U.S.


Confronting and
Combating Racism

At Poverty Solutions, we view poverty as the result of interlinked systems like housing, education and criminal justice that fail to work as they should for people with low incomes. We know that in many cases these systems are designed by people in power in ways that disproportionately benefit white people while disadvantaging people of color.

In September, we launched a new set of projects that seek to confront structural racism in order to create a more equitable and just society. These research projects will help us better understand how to do that important work.

Connecting with Community

Community partnerships keep Poverty Solutions’ research relevant and responsive to real-world needs. In Detroit, we look to residents, activists, and service providers as the pulse of the city, and their expertise guides our research and engagement with policymakers. Across the state and the nation, Poverty Solutions continues to foster public discussions that promote a deeper understanding of how poverty intersects with health, housing, education, criminal justice, and more.

Improving quality of life in Detroit by ensuring Detroiters’ voices are heard

  • In partnership with the Ballmer Group, Poverty Solutions conducted a deep, qualitative study of Detroiters’ priorities for change called Investing in Us.
  • Poverty Solutions also supported an expansion of the Detroit Metro Area Community Study to conduct frequent, representative surveys in Detroit neighborhoods, and our team regularly communicates survey findings to local policymakers.
  • Poverty Solutions fellow Joshua Edmonds spent the past year laying the groundwork for Connect 313, a citywide digital inclusion strategy that brings together numerous organizations with the goal of making Detroit a national model for digital inclusion.

Speaker Series Addressed Poverty, COVID-19

Thousands of viewers tuned in to hear state officials leading Michigan’s COVID-19 response, mayors from across the country, leading scholars, and authors as they shared their thoughts on strategies to prevent and alleviate poverty during the Real-World Perspectives on Poverty Solutions series this fall.

View the YouTube playlist

New Workshops to Improve the Poverty Narrative

In 2020, we kicked off this new series that explored why it’s so important to get the poverty narrative right, the intersection of race and poverty, and strategies for impactful reporting that centers the experiences of people with low incomes. We brought together leading journalists and academic researchers and anyone interested in improving the narrative around poverty for a series of discussions dedicated to a deeper understanding of poverty in the U.S. and especially the Midwest.

View the workshop page

The work that consumed us in 2020 does not come to a close at the end of the calendar year.

The challenges brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic will be with us for years to come, and the work of remedying centuries of racial injustice is ever-present. In 2021 we seek to continue to make concrete improvements in the lives of those struggling, through deep partnerships with government and community. We thank all of you who have partnered with us in these efforts, and look forward to working with many more of you in the years ahead.

Gothic stone arches in the Law Quadrangle

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