Employment and Risk for Undocumented Workers
Undocumented workers play critical roles in our economy and society. However, they often do so at significant risk to themselves and their families. These workers tend to work in the most dangerous sectors of employment. Within these industries, unauthorized immigrant workers are often assigned the hardest jobs with the highest risk. Consequently, unauthorized immigrants have significantly higher rates of workplace injury, workplace fatalities, and work-related health problems than U.S.-born workers. Yet immigrant workers are much less likely to receive workers’ compensation when they are injured at work.
In a brief prepared for the Michigan Immigrant Rights Council (MIRC), Poverty Solutions Senior Data and Evaluation Manager Amanda Nothaft outlined just how costly these jobs can be for these families. Drawing on analyses from multiple large datasets, Nothaft finds that about 1,400 undocumented workers in Michigan are injured at work each year. Among those, about 440 are injured to a degree that requires them to miss work. Yet despite their contributions to Michigan’ social and economic fabric, undocumented workers in Michigan lose close to $3 million, or an estimated $6,620 per worker, due to lost wages that result from a workplace injury and a lack of access to workers’ compensation benefits. Nothaft continues to provide MIRC and other partners across the state with rigorous empirical analyses that illuminate the deeply consequential, yet often overlooked, experiences with economic vulnerability taking place throughout Michigan each day.
Beyond being aware of an issue, quantifying the scope of it is the first step in understanding and addressing unmet needs. Working with partners to elucidate and measure an issue provides insight on the real, potential impacts of policy change.
—Amanda Nothaft, senior data and evaluation manager, Poverty Solutions
Addressing Child Poverty in Emmet County
In 2019, a private donor from Emmet County reached out to Poverty Solutions to investigate the possibility of improving the well-being of people in his community who faced significant challenges related to poverty. In 2020, Poverty Solutions accepted the invitation to start a conversation with community leaders and residents in the Charlevoix-Emmet County area in the northwest tip of Michigan’s Lower Peninsula.
Through conversations with stakeholders, researchers identified three intersecting issues—a “triangle of trouble”—that many families experience: a lack of affordable child care, unstable housing, and unreliable transportation, with the most urgent issue being the need for child care. With a generous investment from private donors, Poverty Solutions will spend the next two years working alongside a local child care advisory group convened by North Central Michigan Community College to create a comprehensive plan to address the local shortage of affordable and high-quality child care. The goal is to pilot at least one new program proposed through that plan, with Poverty Solutions providing research and evaluation support. This project also includes a communications campaign to ensure eligible Emmet County families claim the expanded Child Tax Credit and know how to access the state’s child care subsidy.
I was honored that they invited Poverty Solutions to bring its skills to bear to further their efforts to increase access to affordable, quality child care in their community. I’m looking forward to working with them to bring their ideas to action this year!
—Karen Kling, senior strategic projects manager at Poverty Solutions
Enhancing Access to State Support
Through its partnership with the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS), Luke Shaefer and the Poverty Solutions team have contributed to numerous evidence-based policy changes, including the expansion of food assistance to community college students, the simplification of asset limit tests for public assistance programs, streamlining the application process for energy assistance, and the design of a $50 million eviction prevention program that U-M research finds cut evictions to a tiny fraction of what they were pre-pandemic.
One particularly novel policy change was a direct assistance collaboration with the state’s largest energy providers. Spurred by fears about a wave of utility shut-offs during the summer of 2020, Shaefer and the Poverty Solutions team worked with MDHHS, the major energy providers, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s office, and the Michigan Public Service Commission to reduce the likelihood of this concern being realized. To do so, the major utilities sent MDHHS a confidential file of families facing shut-off of their utilities. The government agency was able to identify 41,000 households already receiving other public benefits, and use a process called “categorical eligibility” to make a direct payment on these accounts. Families did not have to take any steps to apply for aid.
Working on behalf of MDHHS, Shaefer asked the utilities to be a partner in this effort by forgiving 25% of all arrearages paid by the state, which they agreed to do. This had the effect of saving tens of thousands of Michigan families from utility shut-off during the first summer of the pandemic and also sharply reducing the flow of families seeking traditional forms of energy assistance from MDHHS, thus cutting administrative burden. The utilities forgave over $5 million in arrears as a part of the program. Building on this success, MDHHS is currently working on a second, even larger round using funds from the American Rescue Plan.