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Poverty Solutions to help guide Michigan Unemployment Insurance Agency reforms

Contact: Nick Assendelft, AssendelftN@Michigan.gov, 517-388-3135

LANSING – The Michigan Unemployment Insurance Agency continues its transformation of the agency by announcing today a UIA Modernization Workgroup, which will advise the UIA on significant improvements in how it can better serve Michigan workers and employers. Members of the workgroup represent labor, business, and jobless advocates.

The UIA Modernization Workgroup will build on Director Julia Dale’s reform efforts that include improving customer service, fighting fraud, and reducing UIA’s case backlogs. The workgroup’s goal is to provide strategic immediate and future recommendations that will continue Dale’s goal of building an agency that is user-focused and allows for efficient processing of claims, payments, and tax collections.

“This partnership with organizations representing workers and employers reinforces the UIA’s commitment to ensure Michiganders who lose their jobs through no fault of their own will have easy, efficient, and equitable access to the jobless benefits they deserve,” Dale said. “Feedback from a coalition of partners uniquely experienced in the nuances and subtleties of the Michigan unemployment program is critical to instituting meaningful reform at the UIA.”

The stakeholders participating in the workgroup are the Detroit Regional Chamber; Hispanic Chamber of Commerce; IBEW Local 58; Legal Services Association of Michigan; Michigan AFL-CIO; Michigan Building and Construction Trades Council; Michigan Department of Technology, Management and Budget; Michigan Health and Hospital Association; Michigan League for Public Policy; Michigan Manufacturers Association; Michigan Poverty Law Program; SEIU Local No. 517M; Small Business Association of Michigan; UNITE HERE Local 24; University of Michigan Poverty Solutions; and the Upjohn Institute.

The workgroup will have four priorities:

  • Setting modernization goals.
  • Understanding users’ experiences and needs.
  • Supporting Michigan workers and economy.
  • Stabilizing the Trust Fund and continued partnership.

It will also provide informal recommendations on other UIA issues as they are identified by UIA’s Director and staff.

“Each organization’s unique experience, coupled with the Agency’s goal to implement significant change, will allow us to build a system that works for every Michigander,” Dale said. “I’m excited to collaborate closely with the members of the workgroup on immediate and long-term substantive changes that will have significant positive impacts on the ways users access the services that we provide.”

Unemployment compensation is a lifeline for workers, and weekly benefits ensure they can stay afloat, cover rent or mortgage payments, buy food and clothing, access transportation to look for work, and pay household bills. Lowering barriers with a user-focused application process will ensure timely delivery of benefits and facilitate job searches for every worker.

The UIA Modernization Workgroup builds on important reforms under Director Dale’s leadership:

  • Announced the replacement of the agency’s decade-old computer system with a user-friendly, state-of-the-art interface for claimants and businesses. The new system will allow timely program adjustments as economic conditions change and quick analysis of data, which is currently not possible.
  • Collaborated with the Attorney General’s office as well as local, state and federal law enforcement to bring bad actors to justice and combat fraud at the agency.
  • Approved more than 76,000 overpayment waivers of state and federal benefits paid out during the global pandemic, waiving more than $555 million.
  • Halted overpayment collections on claims filed since March 1, 2020, while the agency addresses pending protests and appeals.
  • Revamped the Michigan.gov/UIA website to make it more responsive to those using a mobile phone or tablet to access services.
  • Identified initiatives and processes that would ease access to jobless benefits for workers in underserved communities under a $6.8 million equity grant from the U.S. Department of Labor (USDOL).
  • Reassigned staff and resources to address the largest categories of claims that are contributing to the agency’s case backlogs.
  • Identified necessary changes to correspondence to add a human-centered approach to make letters easier to understand for claimants and employers.
  • Implemented new ethics and security clearance policies for employees and contractors.
  • Rebuilt to nearly $1.8 billion (and growing) the UI Trust Fund from which weekly benefits are paid to workers.

Release courtesy of State of Michigan’s Department of Labor and Economic Opportunity.

Employers, mentors needed to develop future talent through summer youth employment program

SummerWorks connects young adults ages 16-24 with 10-weeks of paid, quality career experience, professional development, and mentorship opportunities

Contact: Kathleen Hurley, mail@summerworks.info, 734-219-5141

WASHTENAW COUNTY – SummerWorks seeks to pair more than 100 of Washtenaw County’s motivated young people, aged 16-24, with Washtenaw County employers and University of Michigan departments. Youth living or attending school in Washtenaw County can apply for a quality, 10-week paid summer internship in a variety of fields. During the program, SummerWorks also provides structured professional development as well as mentorship and leadership opportunities.

“SummerWorks is a great opportunity for employers and young adults to connect in ways that they may not have otherwise. The young adults are talented and eager to learn, and the employers understand that to stay competitive they need to utilize innovative strategies and help. The program allows both parties to help each other reach their goals by joining the best and brightest young adults and employers to make magic happen over 10 weeks,” said Cheranissa Roach, economic opportunity manager at Washtenaw County’s Office for Economic and Community Development

SummerWorks’ mentorship program receives applications from retired and professional adults worldwide. Those interested commit as little as 1 hour per week and receive ongoing mentorship guidance and support from SummerWorks staff.

SummerWorks’ employer participants provide a minimum of 20 hours of internship work per week at a rate of $15/hour or $17/hour, based on youth participants’ completion of a high school degree or equivalent. Intern wage support is available for employers who qualify.

Applications for employers and mentors open Jan. 15 at SummerWorks.info. If you are interested in learning more, please RSVP to attend an employer and mentor info session, by visiting https://bit.ly/SW-Info-Sessions-23. Virtual and in-person info sessions run Feb. 10 through March 15 and are held at MichiganWorks! Southeast in Ypsilanti
or on the University of Michigan campus.

Info sessions offer a chance to meet SummerWorks staff, get an overview of the program, and learn about the benefits of providing internships for young adults through the SummerWorks program.

For more information, Washtenaw County businesses and organizations can contact Kathleen Hurley at mail@summerworks.info or 734-219-5141, and U-M departments can contact Armeka Richey at armeka@umich.edu or 734-355-4597.

If you know someone aged 16-24 residing or attending school in Washtenaw County who would like to participate in SummerWorks 2023, youth application and program information can be found at summerworks.info. The youth application deadline is March 12.

SummerWorks is a partnership between the Washtenaw County Office for Community and Economic Development, MichiganWorks! Southeast, Michigan Rehabilitation Services, and the University of Michigan. SummerWorks’ Washtenaw County employer recruitment effort is supported again this year by Amy Cell Talent.

Partner Profile: Detroit Phoenix Center

In the wake of the economic upheaval of the pandemic, 43% of Detroit parents reported they fell behind on housing payments in 2021, putting their families at risk of eviction, housing instability, and homelessness. The Detroit Phoenix Center is a crucial source of support for youth in Detroit without a stable place to live. Every year, the nonprofit serves hundreds of young people, meeting their basic needs and offering leadership development opportunities. Courtney Smith, founder and CEO of the Detroit Phoenix Center, talked with the University of Michigan about how the organization meets immediate needs while pursuing systemic change.

Visit the U-M Detroit page to learn more about Poverty Solutions’ partnership with the Detroit Phoenix Center.

Detroit eviction filings on track to return to pre-pandemic level as COVID-19 protections expire

Contact:
Lauren Slagter, 734-929-8027, lslag@umich.edu
Jared Wadley, jwadley@umich.edu

DETROIT—With pandemic-era protections expiring, eviction filings in Detroit rose from historic lows to 75% of the pre-pandemic rate as of June. At the current filing rate, 21% of Detroit renters—61,000 tenants—will face the threat of eviction this year.

University of Michigan researchers analyzed data from nearly 68,000 eviction case records filed in Detroit’s 36th District Court between January 2019 and June 2022 to note trends in eviction filings during the pandemic and make projections for the rest of 2022.

“In Detroit and cities like it, COVID-19 eviction response measures disrupted a status quo of unjust and unmitigated mass displacement,” said Alexa Eisenberg, postdoctoral research fellow at U-M’s Poverty Solutions initiative. “The policy changes early in the pandemic showed us evictions are preventable but inevitable within a system that prioritizes landlords’ investment interests over tenants’ health and human right to shelter.”

Eisenberg and Katlin Brantley, a graduate student research assistant at Poverty Solutions, co-authored a new policy brief based on data from the Eviction Machine, an organizing, advocacy and research tool that was developed by the Urban Praxis Workshop with support from Poverty Solutions and Data Driven Detroit.

Tenants’ access to legal counsel increased during the pandemic, according to the court data. However, only 1 in 5 tenants had full legal representation, and landlords were four times more likely than tenants to have attorneys. Fully funding and implementing the city of Detroit’s Right to Counsel ordinance would help address this disparity, but city leadership has yet to do so despite the ordinance’s October start date.

The researchers propose a thorough and transparent evaluation of the Right to Counsel program that centers the perspectives of tenants to monitor whether high-quality legal representation for people facing eviction is guaranteed in practice, not only in policy.

The research also found default judgments against tenants who did not appear in court remained the primary cause of eviction, occuring in 24% of all closed cases after the onset of COVID-19. Default judgments declined 44% during the pandemic, since the 36th District Court began holding hearings virtually and the Michigan Supreme Court required courts to conduct pretrial hearings to give tenants facing eviction more time and information before starting the trial process.

“We see a drop in default evictions when tenants face fewer barriers and have more opportunities to meaningfully participate in court proceedings,” Brantley said. “To further reduce default evictions, the court could raise the burden of proof required from landlords to justify the eviction, regardless of whether the tenant is able to appear in court.”

Eviction Machine data shows nearly 9 in 10 pandemic-era eviction filings involved properties operated by landlords in violation of the city of Detroit’s rental ordinance, despite the law stating that landlords may not occupy rental units or collect rent without a Certificate of Compliance.

Researchers also noted a stark increase in evictions filed for termination of tenancy since the start of Michigan’s COVID-19 Emergency Rental Assistance program. CERA’s rent assistance could not prevent termination of tenancy evictions, creating a legal loophole for landlords who opted not to participate due to program delays or to seek higher-paying tenants. Termination of tenancy cases comprised 17% of cases filed before the CERA program began in April 2021 and 29% after—an increase of 70%.

To prevent evictions, the researchers recommended enforcing Detroit’s rental ordinance, reducing no-cause evictions by passing “just cause” and “right to renew” laws that better protect tenants against arbitrary or retaliatory evictions, banning evictions during the winter and during the school year for households with children, and establishing an eviction diversion program based on successful models in other cities.

“Eradicating the U.S.’s racially unjust eviction crisis will require policymakers to work alongside organized tenant movements to realize their visions for housing justice,” Eisenberg said.

Learn more about this research at a virtual event with Q&A at noon Nov. 17 featuring Eisenberg and Tonya Myers Phillips, director of community partnerships & development at the Sugar Law Center for Economic and Social Justice in Detroit, with moderator Margaret Dewar, U-M professor emerita of urban and regional planning.

Policy brief: A Public Health Crisis, Not a Property Dispute: Learning from COVID-19 Eviction Response Measures in Detroit

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Candidate support for reparations would mobilize Detroit voters

Contact: Morgan Sherburne, morganls@umich.edu

While most Detroiters intend to vote in the November midterm election, those who are uncertain about voting or unlikely to vote could be motivated to cast a ballot by a candidate’s support for reparations, according to a new survey from the University of Michigan.

Young Black residents ages 18-34 were particularly likely (59%) to say a candidate’s support for reparations would increase their likelihood of voting. The survey was fielded in June through August by U-M’s Detroit Metro Area Communities Study. Results from the survey—which gathered responses from 2,339 Detroit residents—are weighted to reflect the population of the city of Detroit.

Based on the survey results, a new report from U-M’s Center for Racial Justice examines Detroit residents’ plans to vote in the midterm elections, their views of reparations for Black Americans, and how candidates’ positions on reparations may affect Detroiters’ voting behavior. The report defines reparations as some form of payment to Black Americans to counter the impact of slavery and discriminatory policies.

“Understanding the connections between voting behavior and support for reparations in Detroit has national implications since Michigan is one of the closely watched ‘purple states.’ Given our finding that candidates’ support for reparations would especially motivate young Black Detroiters, support for reparations in Detroit should be of concern to voter engagement and outreach efforts,” said Erykah Benson, graduate student research assistant at DMACS and CRJ and co-author of the report.

Survey results show a majority of eligible voters in Detroit (65%) intend to vote in the upcoming election, and 35% are not sure about voting or are planning not to vote. Sixty-three percent of Detroit residents support reparations for Black Americans, while 22% neither oppose nor support reparations and 13% oppose reparations.

Thirty-seven percent of Detroiters who said they would not vote in the upcoming election reported a candidate’s support for reparations would make them more likely to vote. More than half of Detroiters (52%) who said they would “probably” vote said a candidate’s support for reparations would make them more likely to vote. By contrast, 37% of those who will “probably” vote said a candidate’s support for reparations would have no effect on their likelihood of voting, and 8% said a candidate’s support for reparations will make them less likely to vote.

Young voters are particularly likely to be motivated to participate in upcoming elections by candidate support for reparations, with 49% of Detroiters between the ages of 18 and 34 saying they would be more likely to vote if a candidate voiced support for reparations.

The survey found variation across ethno-racial identities in candidate support for reparations as a factor in voter turnout. Black residents, the largest ethno-racial group in Detroit, were particularly likely to say a candidate’s support for reparations would make them more likely to vote. Just under half of Black Detroiters (46%) said candidate support for reparations would make them more likely to vote. Twenty-six percent of white Detroiters and 35% of Latino Detroiters also said they would be more likely to vote if a candidate supported reparations.

A majority of white (61%) and Latino (58%) Detroiters said a candidate’s support for reparations would not affect their likelihood of voting. This compares with 47% of Black Detroiters who said it would not affect their likelihood of voting. Only 13% of white Detroiters, 6% of Latino Detroiters and 4% of Black Detroiters said candidates’ support for reparations would make them less likely to vote.

In addition to affecting voter turnout in upcoming elections, a reparations policy may also shape which candidates voters support. The majority of Detroiters who said they will “definitely” or “probably” vote in the upcoming election said a reparations policy was an important factor in who they will support.

“Overall, the survey shows the majority of Detroiters support reparations, and candidates stand to gain more support from Detroit voters than they would potentially lose by supporting a plan for reparations. Having closer alignment between voter preferences and the policies promoted by candidates can strengthen political trust, increase voter turnout, and in the long run, reduce racial inequality,” said Jasmine Simington, graduate student research assistant and co-author of the report.

 

HOPE Village Revitalization

Photo: HOPE Village LaSalle house.

By: Lauren Slagter
Source: Special to Michigan News

On a tree-lined street in north central Detroit stands a brick two-family house renovated to the highest standards of energy efficiency from a state of burned-out disrepair. Home to the HOPE Village Revitalization offices and neighborhood center, the house serves as a model of the type of transformation the community development corporation is bringing to the neighborhood.

Executive Director Debbie Fisher, who has been with HOPE Village Revitalization since its start in 2002, shares how the community-controlled organization works toward its vision of a sustainable, equitable, healthy neighborhood with a high quality of life for all.

Introduce us to HOPE Village Revitalization and the neighborhood you serve.

We work at the intersection of people and places, with three major focal points for achieving our goals. One is fresh, local food access. We believe this is important to both a healthy community and to building entrepreneurship in the community. So we host a farmers market for 16 weeks of the year.

HOPE Village farmers market.

The second focal point is sustainable, affordable housing through energy efficiency. We’ve worked with over 100 residents in the last three years to install high-efficiency furnaces, high-efficiency water heaters, insulation, infiltration reduction, and improvements like those. We do minor home repairs through a Michigan State Housing Development Authority neighborhood enhancement program grant. We are also working on opportunities for the neighborhood to move into the clean energy economy through solar on rooftops and moving toward electrification.

The third focal area is building a green and healthy community. We work on this area through a number of health initiatives. We have a walk-in wellness clinic and a community health advocate who connects adults and children to health resources. We also work to remove blight and advocate about neighborhood infrastructure issues.

Can you tell us about a project you worked on with U-M?

Through the Ginsberg Center, Semester in Detroit, and the Undergraduate Research Opportunity Program, we’ve had wonderful students who have worked with us on probably seven different projects. Most recently, we had students help us put together our new webpage. It speaks of our work in a really robust way. A couple of students have started to help us put together “neighborhood stories” talking to people in the neighborhood to understand how they got to where they are and what their plans are for the future. We’ve seen a significant increase in our website traffic, and we’ve had people contact us through the website who didn’t know we existed before and want to volunteer and help with our mission in other ways.

Through Poverty Solutions, we’ve been working with a coalition to champion the Child Tax Credit and the Earned Income Tax Credit. We’ve had at least 30 neighborhood residents connect to resources through that effort. One person who didn’t know she was eligible for the Child Tax Credit and couldn’t figure out how to navigate the process connected with our neighborhood resource navigator and applied for two years’ worth of credits she hadn’t received. She got more than $17,000 for her family. She was ecstatic that she would be able to get her car fixed, and she had a long list of things she would be able to do that she wouldn’t have been able to do otherwise.

What have you found most valuable about your partnerships with U-M?

U-M brings a range of resources that we don’t otherwise have access to. It’s a big research university and there are lots of people working on different aspects of problems. We don’t have the bandwidth to do the research ourselves, so that’s helpful. We’ve made connections with other entities and institutions through the Poverty Solutions Child Tax Credit project. We’ve had a wide range of committed, passionate, very intelligent U-M students who are willing to use their time and talents to help our neighborhood and our mission. That’s priceless.

What advice would you give to other organizations interested in partnering with the university?

U-M seems like it’s a multifaceted organization. There are so many different departments and centers, and you’re never going to know the full scope of what’s available. Connecting with folks who are like-minded there – like Ray Wang from UROP, Craig Regester from Semester in Detroit, the Ginsberg Center, and the Graham Sustainability Institute with the Dow fellows – who can help you navigate the process and the different opportunities, that’s helpful. You do have to invest time in the partnership. Meeting each week with the students who are helping us has been important.

2021 Child Tax Credit reduced hardship for families in poverty, had no significant impact on employment

Contact: Lauren Slagter, lslag@umich.edu
Jared Wadley, jwadley@umich.edu

ANN ARBOR — New research from the University of Michigan focuses on the effect of the 2021 Child Tax Credit on families living in poverty, noting that the monthly payments reduced certain types of hardship and had little to no impact on parents’ employment status.

As part of the federal government’s pandemic response, the 2021 expansion of the Child Tax Credit increased the amount of the credit, made more families eligible for the tax credit, and distributed half of the money as monthly payments of $250 to $300 per child from July to December 2021. A new policy brief by U-M public policy professors Natasha Pilkauskas, Katherine Michelmore, and Luke Shaefer focuses on what the expanded Child Tax Credit meant for the poorest families in the U.S., including those making less than $2,500 a year who are no longer eligible for the CTC since the 2021 expansion expired.

The researchers analyzed monthly survey responses from 2,000 to 3,000 people with children from across the U.S. who use the Providers app to manage their food benefits; 81 percent of survey respondents made less than $2,000 a month, including 22 percent who had no income. The analysis found a $500 monthly CTC payment was enough to reduce the number of hardships families experienced by 17 percent. Reports of food insecurity – the experience of not having enough nutritious food – dropped by one-third while families received the monthly payments.

“Every month, around 75 percent of parents reported they used the Child Tax Credit payments to pay bills. Other common uses were to pay for housing, food, and child-related expenses like school supplies and children’s clothing. These are basic necessities that improve families’ material well-being,” said Pilkauskas, an associate professor of public policy.

Survey responses suggested the CTC payments made a less dramatic impact on families’ ability to pay for medical expenses, cover the full amount of a utility bill, and the need to rely on friends or family for food. The research found the CTC payments had no effect on: severe housing hardship, like eviction or homelessness; whether families decided to pay a bill; families’ transportation security; whether families reported having “everything they typically need”; total money families had on hand; the time the money on hand would last; whether they borrowed money from friends and family; and whether they visited a food pantry in the last month.

“It’s a bit surprising to see the Child Tax Credit payments had no effect on certain types of material hardship. In some cases, like severe housing hardship, the monthly payments may not have been enough to make a difference. With other forms of hardship – like total money on hand – families may have had to spend the credit quickly because their regular income is so low, and the relatively short period of payments may not have been long enough for families to get fully out of debt and achieve more financial stability,” said Michelmore, an associate professor of public policy.

While some politicians and policymakers worried monthly cash payments would reduce people’s motivation to work, the survey analysis affirmed what other studies on the effects of the Child Tax Credit on employment found: the 2021 CTC had little to no statistically significant effect on employment for families with very low incomes.

The research also found little to no evidence of differences in the effects of the 2021 CTC by income level. There was some evidence the monthly payments reduced hardships among Black families more than White or Hispanic families, but the differences were not large.

“The 2021 monthly Child Tax Credit was short-lived, so it is hard to know what the effects of a longer-term, more stable credit would be. Available evidence suggests the expanded tax credit was effective at reducing material hardship for families with very low incomes and improving well-being,” said Shaefer, the Hermann and Amalie Kohn professor of social justice and social policy and faculty director of U-M’s Poverty Solutions.

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U-M public policy professors awarded Equitable Growth grant to study effects of expanded Child Tax Credit

By Lauren Slagter

ANN ARBOR – With support from the Washington Center for Equitable Growth, public policy professors at the University of Michigan’s Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy will delve deeper into exploring the effects of the expanded Child Tax Credit on household economic well-being

The expanded Child Tax Credit was a pivotal part of the pandemic safety net, contributing to a historically low child poverty rate in 2021 when families received the tax credit as monthly payments. A $70,000 grant announced last month will enable Natasha Pilkauskas and Katherine Michelmore, both associate professors of public policy; with H. Luke Shaefer, the Hermann and Amalie Kohn professor of social justice and social policy; to examine how the expanded Child Tax Credit impacted low-income households’ experience of material hardship, debt, savings, and employment, with a focus on racial disparities in receipt of the tax credit. 

“Existing evidence reveals the monthly Child Tax Credit payments reduced poverty, and especially child poverty, despite the economic downturn related to the COVID-19 pandemic. Our research going forward will explore non-income outcomes related to the expanded tax credit, like the ability to afford basic necessities and get enough food to eat,” Pilkauskas said. 

The U.S. Census Bureau credited the expanded Child Tax Credit with contributing to a 46% decline in child poverty, from 9.7% in 2020 to 5.2% in 2021 – the lowest Supplemental Poverty Measure child poverty rate on record. The Supplemental Poverty Measure, which takes into account safety net programs, tax credits, and regional differences in the cost of living, is broadly considered more accurate than the government’s Official Poverty Measure.

The expanded Child Tax Credit, which was distributed as monthly payments of up to $300 per child from July to December 2021, increased the amount of the credit and made it available to the poorest families, who previously were not eligible. In 2022, the Child Tax Credit returned to its previous form, providing families with a lump sum as part of their tax refund and excluding families with no income. 

In 2021, Pilkauskas and Michelmore authored a series of policy briefs on receipt and usage of the monthly CTC payments among families with low incomes. They analyzed survey data from Propel, the creators of a Providers mobile application that helps over 5 million families manage their Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits. 

“The survey data revealed parents were using their CTC payments to pay for basic needs and child-related expenses. We also found disparities in which families received the tax credit, with families making less than $500 a month and Hispanic parents being substantially less likely to receive the monthly payments for which they qualified at the end of 2021,” Michelmore said.  

Shaefer has conducted ongoing analysis of material hardship levels during the pandemic. That research found a direct link between the level of hardship faced by U.S. households and the federal government’s response in the form of stimulus checks, expanded unemployment insurance, and the expanded Child Tax Credit. Shaefer is among a group of poverty scholars that have contributed significant research on the potential for an expanded Child Tax Credit that follows the design of a child allowance to reduce child poverty rates in the U.S.

In the past two years, the United States made more progress in reducing child poverty than ever before as a result of smart, evidence-based public policies. A better understanding of the effects of the expanded Child Tax Credit can help policymakers make informed decisions about the best ways to support families struggling to afford basic necessities,” said Shaefer, who is the founding director of U-M’s Poverty Solutions, an interdisciplinary initiative that partners with communities and policymakers to find new ways to prevent and alleviate poverty through action-based research. 

A forthcoming policy brief from Pilkauskas, Michelmore, and Shaefer will provide insights into how families spent the monthly CTC payments and how the payments affected their experience of material hardship and employment decisions. 

Related reading

Op-ed in Vox: Child poverty in the US was stagnant – and then something changed 

New York Times: Pandemic aid cut US poverty to new low in 2021, Census Bureau reports

State & Hill: Changing the conversation around child poverty

Poverty Solutions research on the economic impact of COVID-19

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U-M study finds 1 in 4 adults experience transportation insecurity

ANN ARBOR — Nearly one-quarter of adults age 25 and older in the United States experience transportation insecurity, meaning they are unable to move from place to place in a safe or timely manner.

The Transportation Security Index, a novel measure of transportation insecurity recently developed by University of Michigan researchers, offers new insights into the experience of this form of material hardship.

Their analysis found the experience of transportation insecurity as reported on a 2018 nationally representative survey is closely linked to income level. More than half of people living below the poverty line experience transportation insecurity, which is higher than the rate of food insecurity among people in poverty.

The latest research found transportation insecurity was more common among Black adults (33%) and Hispanic adults (29%) than White adults (19%). Residents of urban areas (39%) are more likely to experience transportation insecurity compared to suburban (22%) and rural (13%) residents, and transportation insecurity rates are higher among people who do not own a car (42%) than car owners (18%).

“Transportation security is an essential element of economic mobility, individual well-being, and understanding how to address poverty,” said Alexandra Murphy, U-M assistant professor of sociology. “If people don’t have the ability to move from place to place, they’re going to struggle to get to work, health care appointments, school, grocery stores and social services. They will also find it challenging to stay connected to important sources of social support, including friends and family.”

Murphy co-led the research team that developed the Transportation Security Index. Modeled after the Food Security Index, the Transportation Security Index includes a validated 16-question survey focused on the symptoms of transportation insecurity, like taking a long time to plan everyday trips, rescheduling appointments or worrying about inconveniencing acquaintances for help with transportation.

The survey questions were informed by the researchers’ extensive qualitative research, which included interviews with 187 people with low incomes in urban, suburban and rural areas in the Midwest. The survey asks how often people experience various symptoms of transportation security and assigns a transportation security score based on their responses. Transportation security scores are divided into five levels of transportation insecurity: no insecurity, marginal insecurity, low insecurity, moderate insecurity and high insecurity.

“By focusing on symptoms of transportation insecurity, the Transportation Security Index spares urban planners, government officials, social scientists and transportation experts from attempting the impossible task of cataloging every possible variable—from bus schedules to gas prices—that influences transportation insecurity,” said Alix Gould-Werth, director of Family Economic Security Policy at the Washington Center for Equitable Growth who co-led the Transportation Security Index research with Murphy.

“The index offers new insights into who is experiencing transportation insecurity and the severity of the experience.”

Researchers validated the index against a nationally representative sample, which supported the Transportation Security Index as a useful way to measure a range of experiences of transportation insecurity. The findings have been published in 2018 and 2021 articles in Survey Practice, an editor-reviewed journal published by the American Association for Public Opinion Research; and this week in Socius, a peer-reviewed journal published by the American Sociological Association.

The research was funded by the National Science Foundation; Stanford University’s Center on Poverty and Inequality; and the University of Michigan’s Poverty Solutions, Office of Research, Department of Sociology, Center for Public Policies in Diverse Societies, MCity, Population Studies Center and College of Literature, Science, and the Arts.

 

Amplifying youth voices to drive change in Detroit

U-M’s Poverty Solutions collaborated with Detroit Phoenix Center’s Summer Leadership Academy to support youth-led communications projects