Skip to main content
U-M Poverty Solutions Logo U-M Poverty Solutions Logo

News

Washtenaw County Prosecutor’s Office, ACLU of Michigan, University of Michigan announce release of Prosecutor Transparency Project study

Robust, Data-Driven Project Examines Racial Inequities in Prosecutorial System

Contacts: Liz Mack (Washtenaw Prosecutor’s Office), macke@washtenaw.org, 734-585-6714
Ann Mullen (ACLU of Michigan), amullen@aclumich.org, 313-400-8562
J.J. Prescott (U-M Law), jprescott@umich.edu, 734-763-2326
Trevor Bechtel (Poverty Solutions), betrevor@umich.edu, 734-615-0216

ANN ARBOR – Today, the Prosecutor Transparency Project released findings from a multi-year analysis of racial disparities in the prosecutorial system in Washtenaw County. The Prosecutor Transparency Project — a collaboration between the Washtenaw County Prosecutor’s Office, the ACLU of Michigan, the University of Michigan Law School, and the University of Michigan’s Poverty Solutions — seeks to analyze potential racial disparities in decisions made by the Washtenaw County Prosecutor’s Office.

A detailed summary of the findings is available at https://myumi.ch/23NQ4

As part of the Prosecutor Transparency Project, the Prosecutor’s Office gave independent researchers at the University of Michigan Law School complete access to its criminal case management systems, containing data from nearly 35,000 cases from 2017-2022. Those researchers analyzed the data to determine whether racial disparities exist at key prosecutorial decision-making points.

The Prosecutor Transparency Project represents the first time independent researchers have been provided access to extensive prosecutorial data in Michigan for the purpose of conducting a race-equity analysis. The Washtenaw County Prosecutor’s Office provided researchers from the University of Michigan unfettered access to felony and misdemeanor files, making the project one of the most comprehensive empirical studies on prosecutorial decision-making in the nation. The study also traverses two prosecutorial administrations, as Prosecuting Attorney Eli Savit took office in 2021.

The research team was led by Professor J.J. Prescott and Grady Bridges of the University of Michigan Law School. Prescott is one of the nation’s top empirical criminal justice scholars. Bridges has years of experience collecting and analyzing Michigan criminal justice data and served as data administrator for Michigan’s Criminal Justice Policy Commission.

Previous analyses—including the 2020 Citizens for Racial Equity in Washtenaw (CREW) report—have indicated that Black residents in Washtenaw County are disproportionately likely to face criminal charges. Although the Transparency Project focused specifically on prosecutorial decision-making (and did not purport to reach any conclusions about other systems actors), the University of Michigan’s analysis found that these numeric disparities are largely “baked in” by the time cases arrive at the Prosecutor’s Office.

Controlling for factors such as the severity of a case, the researchers also identified small disparities in certain prosecutorial decisions and no evidence of disparities in others.

Specifically, the study concluded:

  • The prosecutor’s office was 0.7 percentage points more likely to authorize charges for defendants of color than for white defendants between 2017 and 2022. Though that disparity is marginally statistically significant, its statistical significance is driven by data from one year (2019).
  • Defendants of color were charged with crimes having maximum sentences 2.15 months longer than white defendants in similar circumstances, with statistically significant disparities that were larger in 2018 and 2020.
  • Among eligible defendants, people of color are less likely than white people to be designated as habitual offenders. A habitual offender designation means longer maximum sentences.
  • Defendants of color faced 0.05 more charges per case on average than white defendants in similar circumstances between 2017 and 2022.

The study also looked for evidence of racial disparities in whether defendants are admitted into diversion programs — which allow a defendant to avoid a criminal record upon completion of a plan. The study found no evidence of racial disparities into whether similarly situated defendants are admitted into two programs: the Prosecutor’s pre-plea diversion program and the Holmes Youthful Trainee Act.

Finally, the study sought to identify potential racial disparities in plea bargaining decisions. Data limitations precluded the research team from reaching robust conclusions about plea-bargaining practices. However, its preliminary plea bargaining analysis did not find evidence of racial disparities.

“The Prosecutor and his team were always vigilant about protecting people’s privacy, but the office also made sure we had access to every bit of information we asked about that might be relevant to measuring disparities,” said J.J. Prescott, the Henry King Ransom Professor at the University of Michigan Law School. “Throughout the entire process, the Prosecutor has been eager for unvarnished answers so the office can continue to improve. PTP’s assessment in Washtenaw County provides a clear roadmap for conducting similar audits throughout Michigan and the nation.”

“The comprehensive nature of this study also puts Washtenaw County and Michigan more generally on the map in terms of evidence-based evaluation of prosecutorial decision making,” Prescott added. “Our analysis improves on other studies that have explored racial disparities in prosecutorial decision-making. Most existing work focuses on specific types or classes of cases, or suffers from significant data limitations that make it hard to pinpoint the sources of disparities. Our evaluation is not without weaknesses, of course, but we use the ‘blind spots’ in data collection and management that we uncover to shine a bright light on the need for critical data infrastructure improvements. For this reason, this collaborative effort takes an important step toward the goal of measuring, understanding, and working to eliminate disparities in prosecutorial decision-making.”

“Consequences in the criminal legal system should be imposed because of what someone did, not because of who they are,” said Washtenaw County Prosecuting Attorney Eli Savit. “I’m grateful to the research team for taking an unflinching look at potential racial disparities in prosecution. I am also grateful to the ACLU for funding this project, allowing this work to be completed without taxpayer expenditure. The data from this report will inform our continuing efforts to promote equal justice in our system.”

“The researchers’ independent report, for me, confirms my observations that our assistant prosecutors charging and resolving cases are doing so in a manner consistent with fairness and justice, not based on the color of someone’s skin,” said Washtenaw County Chief Assistant Prosecutor Victoria Burton-Harris. “As a leader of this office, that’s important to me. I’m proud to stand by it, and I look forward to continued efforts to ensure transparency and equity in our system.”

“A critical step in beginning to address the racial disparities in the criminal legal system is for agencies to track, analyze, and make publicly available data at every stage of the criminal legal process,” said Loren Khogali, executive director of the Michigan ACLU. “We commend the Washtenaw County Prosecutor’s Office for taking a look in the proverbial mirror and contributing to a growing body of data-driven studies, which also show how our criminal legal system has an inequitable impact on people of color, especially Black people. This report adds to the imperative that agency leaders throughout Michigan, including police chiefs, prosecutors, judges, and court administrators, also hold themselves accountable by examining their part in our deeply flawed criminal legal system.”

The Prosecutor Transparency Project’s full 116-page report is available for the public to read at
https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=4680695. In addition, to promote data accessibility, Poverty Solutions at the University of Michigan has published a digestible, interactive digital report outlining the key takeaways from the analysis, which is available at https://myumi.ch/23NQ4.

Dr. Trevor Bechtel — who has led multiple projects designed to increase access to information — spearheaded that effort.

“Working on the Prosecutor Transparency Project has allowed us at Poverty Solutions to bring our commitment to data and accessibility and transparency to work understanding the criminal legal system,” said Bechtel, the strategic projects manager of Poverty Solutions’ Washtenaw County programs. “We are excited to continue working with the Prosecutor Savit’s office as we move towards release of a data dashboard on prosecution in our county.”

Next steps for the Prosecutor Transparency Project include the identification of trackable metrics to ensure equitable treatment in the justice system and the creation of an interactive “data dashboard” for the Prosecutor’s Office. Results will continue to be made available as they are completed.

 

Poverty Solutions workshop generates novel solutions for addressing Michigan’s debt collection crisis

Participants gather at the Innovation Workshop 2024: Debt hosted by Poverty Solutions and held Jan. 27-28, 2024, at the U-M School of Information. Photo by Jose Juarez | Michigan Photography

Contact: Malcolm Phelan, 484-587-0094, mtphelan@umich.edu

ANN ARBOR – This past weekend at “Innovation Workshop 2024: Debt,” more than 50 lawyers, policymakers, students, and coders from around the country convened over two days to tackle the pressing issue of debt collection and its impact on Michigan’s families and legal system. Teams, led through a design-thinking framework, developed over 20 new approaches for reining in predatory debt collection, lessening the barrage of filings on local court systems, and providing information and resources to low-income Michiganders facing debt-related lawsuits. 

Participants designed and prototyped ideas including an online “chat-bot” that would provide automated texts to defendants alerting them about critical court dates and offering referrals to legal aid organizations. Another concept was a computer application for court systems that could scan filings from debt collectors to ensure that the debt was legally owed. Many more concepts were designed and will continue to be explored by participants and participating organizations.

Participants share ideas at the Innovation Workshop 2024: Debt hosted by Poverty Solutions and held Jan. 27-28, 2024, at the U-M School of Information. Photo by Malcolm Phelan

Matt Andres, clinical professor of law at University of Michigan and chair of the Justice for All Commission Debt Collection Working Group, said: “Over 200,000 debt collection cases are filed in Michigan courts annually, and most of them result in a judgment for the creditor without a hearing ever taking place. Experts in Michigan and throughout the country have done some great work in the last few years on improving the fairness and legitimacy of how debt is collected through the courts. The Innovation Workshop brought many of those experts together in the same room with smart, creative students from a variety of disciplines in a well-structured problem-solving process. The out-of-the-box thinking the workshop encouraged yielded innovative ideas for products and policies that could be game changers for Michiganders facing the harsh consequences of debt.”

The event was hosted by U-M’s Poverty Solutions initiative. Trevor Bechtel, strategic projects manager at Poverty Solutions, said: “Poverty is a set of interlinking systems that don’t work for people facing economic insecurity. Debt can be one of the most challenging and pernicious barriers to prosperity, so we were delighted to see the ideas and energy generated by this event around this critical issue.”

Malcolm Phelan, the Michigan Law student who organized the event, said: “It was inspiring to see so many students and professionals excited to spend a full weekend working together to address the critical issue of debt collection in Michigan. The goal was to bring together practitioners who have spent decades working on these issues with coders, designers, and policy researchers who could bring new technologies and ideas to the effort. Based on the thoughtful and innovative solutions that were produced, the event was a resounding success.”

Participants listen to Michigan Supreme Court Justice Elizabeth Welch at the Innovation Workshop 2024: Debt hosted by Poverty Solutions and held Jan. 27-28, 2024, at the U-M School of Information. Photo by Malcolm Phelan

The event was facilitated by Scott TenBrink, assistant director of civic engagement and lecturer at U-M’s School of Information, and Bridgette Carr, clinical professor of law at Michigan Law School. Presenters and participants included Justice Elizabeth Welch, former Chief Justice of the Michigan Supreme Court Bridget McCormack, Washtenaw County Prosecutor Eli Savit, state Sen. Jeff Irwin, as well as participants from national organizations such as the Aspen Institute, the Pew Foundation, the Legal Services Corporation, the American Arbitration Association, and the Princeton Debt Collection Lab. Michigan organizations included Detroit Justice Center, Michigan Poverty Law Program, and Legal Services of South Central Michigan. Student participants joined from U-M Schools of Law, Public Policy, Social Work, and Computer Science and Engineering as well as Michigan State University College of Law and Georgetown Law School. The event was sponsored by Michigan State University’s Center for Law, Technology & Innovation, the American Arbitration Association, and U-M’s School of Information.

SummerWorks seeks Washtenaw County employers, mentors to invest in future workforce

SummerWorks participants gather at an end-of-summer celebration on Aug. 17, 2023, at Washtenaw Community College. Photo by Doug Coombe

Contact: Kathleen Clancey, mail@summerworks.info 

WASHTENAW COUNTY – Washtenaw County’s summer youth employment program is seeking local employers and professionals to provide paid internships and mentorship to teens and young adults. 

Since 2016, SummerWorks has offered 10-week paid summer internships to young adults ages 16 to 24 who live in Washtenaw County. In the past, the summer youth employment program has facilitated about 80 internship placements each year, and this year the program aims to grow to 130 internship placements.  

“We continue to see an increased demand from young adults in our community. They are eager to gain experience and develop professionally,” said Kathleen Clancey, program manager for SummerWorks, which is run by the University of Michigan, Michigan Works! Southeast, Washtenaw County Office of Community and Economic Development, and Michigan Rehabilitation Services.

“SummerWorks is a life-changing opportunity for so many youth and young adults in Washtenaw County,” said Shamar Herron, executive director of Michigan Works! Southeast. “The program is game changing. It teaches all aspects of employment from essential/soft skill development to how to engage in what often is a first employment opportunity. SummerWorks provides the foundation for youth to confidently explore and land in career opportunities right here in our community. We work diligently at Michigan Works! Southeast to positively affect our economies and create connections to a better future.”

Young adults are paid $15 to $17 an hour during their internships, depending on high school completion status. Employers from all fields are welcome to host an intern, as youth have varied interests. Through a collaboration with Advance Ypsi, SummerWorks aims to increase the number of mobility-focused and technology-related internship placements this year. Local employers who want to host a SummerWorks internship will need to commit $3,000 to $3,400 to fund the position. Employers can apply for financial support to subsidize a SummerWorks internship. 

The deadline to apply to host a SummerWorks intern is March 17. Potential employers and mentors who want to learn more about the program can register for an upcoming informational session, which include virtual and in-person options between Feb. 9 and March 13. 

SummerWorks participants gather at an end-of-summer celebration on Aug. 17, 2023, at Washtenaw Community College.

SummerWorks participants gather at an end-of-summer celebration on Aug. 17, 2023, at Washtenaw Community College. Photo by Doug Coombe

SummerWorks employers receive tips and support for recruiting and retaining Generation Z workers. Employers have the opportunity to engage in optional sessions focused on how to engage interns in meaningful ways, how to bring DEI practices into their workplaces, and how to promote inclusive mentorship. On the flipside, youth involved in the program receive professional development to improve essential skills such as resume writing, interviewing, and professionalism in the workplace. This summer, Washtenaw County’s new Financial Empowerment Center will be involved in some of the workshops for youth focusing on budgeting, taxes, and overall financial wellness.

In addition to internships and professional development, SummerWorks also facilitates mentorships for youth who are interested. Local professionals can apply to be a mentor to help youth explore career opportunities, build their professional networks, and develop job and leadership skills. 

Mentors should commit to meeting with their mentee once a week for the duration of the summer program. Meetings can be virtual, and SummerWorks would like to attract a diverse group of mentors from a variety of professional, educational, and personal backgrounds. SummerWorks also provides support and guidance for mentors on how to facilitate the mentorship relationship. The deadline to apply to be a mentor is March 17. 

SummerWorks participants gather at an end-of-summer celebration on Aug. 17, 2023, at Washtenaw Community College.

SummerWorks participants gather at an end-of-summer celebration on Aug. 17, 2023, at Washtenaw Community College. Photo by Doug Coombe

“This gave me a bit more experience of what it would be like in the workforce. It was my first job experience,” said David Chen, a 2023 SummerWorks participant. “I learned a lot about how to act in the work environment and networking and personal finance.”

“[SummerWorks is a] beautiful program, it’s well needed because parents can’t teach us everything we’ve learned here,” said Tierra Patterson, a 2023 SummerWorks participant regarding the value of SummerWorks. 

Young adults interested in SummerWorks must apply by March 24. The application should take between 10-15 minutes to complete, and the link and more information can be found at Summerworks.info 

 

Developing youth leadership to end youth homelessness

U-M Poverty Solutions staff work with youth in the Detroit Phoenix Center’s Summer Leaders Academy in 2023. (Photo by Nina Williams | Poverty Solutions)

By Nina Williams
Poverty Solutions

Fifteen Detroit teens and young adults spent this past summer developing communications skills to share their expertise and experiences with decision makers, through a partnership between the Detroit Phoenix Center and the University of Michigan’s Poverty Solutions. The workshops were part of DPC’s Summer Leadership Academy and offered various ways for youth to share their perspectives – ranging from poetry to advocacy statements to vision boards and video interviews – so the teens and young adults could engage in a way that felt authentic to them.

The workshops focused on youth casting a positive vision for their future and a strength-based approach to maintaining their mental health  – a topic that youth leaders at the Detroit Phoenix Center have identified as a priority. The Detroit Phoenix Center is a nonprofit that provides critical resources, wraparound support, and a safe, nurturing environment to youth who are transitioning out of homelessness and poverty in Detroit.

“We at DPC believe that those who are closer to the problem need to be driving the solutions, so we uniquely position them to do so,” said Courtney Smith, CEO of the Detroit Phoenix Center.

 

DMACS surveys show where Detroiters get their news

By Lauren Slagter
Poverty Solutions 

DETROIT – In today’s fractured media landscape, where are Detroiters getting their news? 

A series of three surveys from the University of Michigan’s Detroit Metro Area Communities Study sheds new light on which media platforms are shaping Detroiters’ views. The surveys were fielded between Nov. 3, 2021, and Aug. 29, 2023. Results are weighted to reflect the population of the City of Detroit. 

Television is by far the most commonly relied upon source of news, with 74% of Detroit residents saying they typically get news from TV. Local television sources are particularly popular among Detroiters, according to responses to open-ended survey questions. The most frequently mentioned local sources included Fox 2, NBC’s WDIV Local 4, and ABC’s WXYZ 7.

Online news is the second most common means of accessing the news, with 41.3% of Detroiters reporting that they typically get their news from online sources. Online news includes exclusively digital news outlets (for example, Detroiters mentioned Bridge, Vox, and HuffPost); the online version of print publications (for example, detroitnews.com, freep.com, nytimes.com, and cnn.com); and news aggregators like Google News and Yahoo News.

More than one-third of Detroiters (35.2%) typically get news from social media, with Facebook and YouTube being the most commonly mentioned social media sources.

About 3 in 10 Detroiters (29.7%) typically get news from radio programs, with Detroiters saying they turn to traditional news radio like NPR or WWJ as well as stations that primarily play music like WJLB and WMXD and morning talk shows like the Breakfast Club and Steve Harvey in the Morning. 

Just over one-fifth of Detroiters (21.9%) typically get news from print news sources, like newspapers or magazines. The New York Times and the Detroit Free Press were the print news sources most commonly mentioned by survey respondents. 

Detroiters are less likely to report getting news from podcasts than any of the other listed sources. Only 9.2% reported typically getting their news from podcasts.

“Access to high-quality information is one of the most important elements of a healthy democracy. By understanding where Detroiters get their news, community leaders and public officials can better reach and engage them in civic and political processes,” said Mara Cecilia Ostfeld, faculty lead of DMACS and co-author of a new report, “The Media Platforms that are Shaping Detroiters’ Views.” 

News consumption patterns vary by race, age, and educational attainment, the surveys found. Black Detroiters (80.5%) are far more likely to turn to television for their regular news than White (46.6%) or Latino (58.7%) Detroiters. Among Latino Detroiters, social media is more commonly relied upon than other news media sources, with 57.2% of Latinos reporting that they typically get news from social media. White Detroiters (64.3%) are most likely to get news from online news media sources, and print media is more likely to be a regular news source for White Detroiters (34%) than for Black (20.3%) or Latino (19.2%) Detroiters.

Over one-half of Detroiters between 18 and 34 (54.3%) said they typically get their news from social media, compared to 32.3% of Detroiters between 35 and 54, 18.7% of Detroiters between 55 and 64, and 21.3% of Detroiters 65 and older. Among the youngest age group, YouTube and Instagram are the most popular social media platforms to find news. Latino Detroiters – the most likely to get news from social media – reported going to TikTok (30.1%), Facebook (23.8%), Instagram (19.4%), and YouTube (19.1%) often for their news.

Television and social media are key to reaching Detroiters with fewer years of education, while online and radio sources are widely used among Detroiters with more education.

“In this era of misinformation, local and national leaders need to know how to better reach and empower Detroit residents with high-quality information. This survey analysis brings new insights into Detroiters’ media consumption habits and how they access information about events beyond their immediate social circles,” said Yucheng Fan, data manager at DMACS, who co-authored the report. 

DMACS is supported by the Knight Foundation, Ballmer Group, Kresge Foundation, and Poverty Solutions at the University of Michigan. The DMACS surveys analyzed in this report were conducted in collaboration with, and supported by, Michigan CEAL: Communities Conquering COVID. 

 

New Michigan landscape map highlights counties affected hardest by opioid epidemic

Contact: Cole Dzubak, codzubak@med.umich.edu

Poverty Solutions at the University of Michigan and the Opioid Prescribing Engagement Network (OPEN) have partnered together to create a landmap of Michigan that shows demographic information with a connection to Opioid Use Disorder (OUD). This landscape map, and accompanying white paper, look at data such as unemployment rates, annual income, opioid-related hospitalizations, as well as physical and mental health and well-being.

To create this landscape map, Poverty Solutions and OPEN used available data from sources such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, among others. 

Luke Shaefer profile photo

Luke Shaefer

“Substance abuse is a complex medical issue with ties to mental health, lack of social infrastructure, and limited economic mobility. Analyzing multiple indicators related to opioid use, access to medical care, and poverty provides new insights into the causes and consequences of Michigan’s opioid epidemic,” said H. Luke Shaefer, faculty director of Poverty Solutions and the Hermann and Amalie Kohn Professor of Social Justice and Social Policy at the Ford School of Public Policy.

Along with documenting different demographics, the new landscape map also highlights three county clusters that have been especially affected by the opioid epidemic. The Bay County cluster includes Genesee, Saginaw, Bay, Arenac, Iosco, and Alcona counties. The Marquette County region includes the Marquette, Baraga, Dickinson, Delta, and Menominee counties. The Wayne-Macomb-St.Clair County cluster includes Wayne, Macomb, and St. Clair counties.

“This tool will allow us, and other organizations, to focus our programs, education, and resources on the counties that need them most. This new landscape map is a helpful next step in reducing the impact of the opioid crisis,” said Dr. Chad Brummett, co-director of both OPEN and the University of Michigan Opioid Research Institute. 

Through researching and analyzing the data sets collected, these three clusters were found to be some of the highest ranked areas in the state for opioid-related connections. Counties in the Bay County cluster rank amongst the highest in the state for opioid-related hospitalizations, opioid-related emergency department visits, and opioid prescribing. Counties in the Wayne-Macomb-St. Clair County cluster rank amongst the highest in the state for opioid-related hospitalizations and opioid-related emergency department visits. Counties in the Marquette County cluster rank amongst the highest in the state for opioid prescribing. Together, these clusters hold four of the top five counties in the state in terms of rates of admission for opioid treatment.

John Bulat

John Bulat

With the completion of this project, the teams at both Poverty Solutions and OPEN hope that organizations will be able to look at this data and discover ways to engage further with their communities and reduce the impact of the opioid epidemic. 

“There are many great organizations throughout the state making positive contributions to the fight against opioid use disorder. As the opioid crisis continues to evolve and the number of fatal opioid overdoses continues to rise, it’s our hope that maps and reports like these can provide new insights into the problem at hand and supplement the work that is already being done,” added John Bulat, data and policy analyst with Poverty Solutions who worked on the opioid landscape map and analysis.

 

U-M survey: Majority of Flint residents support reparations for Black Americans

Contact: Lauren Slagter, lslag@umich.edu 

FLINT—The majority of Flint residents support reparations for Black Americans, although levels of support vary depending on whether the proposal refers to reparations as a broad concept or specific reparative policies like cash payments or financial support for housing and education. 

A new report from the University of Michigan’s Center for Racial Justice summarizes Flint residents’ attitudes about reparations, based on a representative survey conducted by the Michigan Metro Area Communities Study. 

The survey shows 53% of Flint residents support the idea of governments making amends to Black Americans, while 22% neither support nor oppose it, 22% oppose it, and 3% don’t know or didn’t answer the survey question. However, a larger share of Flint residents (71%) support at least one of the specific reparative policies targeted toward individuals. 

Among the Flint residents who opposed the general idea of reparations, 30% supported the specific action of governments offering financial assistance for buying or improving a home, 26% were in favor of financial support for postsecondary education, 26% supported free health care, and 17% supported the idea of cash payments for Black Americans. 

“Reparations is where history meets action,” said Erykah Benson, a research fellow at the Center for Racial Justice. “The findings show how language plays a key role in attitudes toward reparations. It reveals how many Flint residents recognize that the impact of structural racism, past and present, extends to various areas of society, including as health care, homeownership, business ownership, wealth-building, criminal justice and more.” 

Benson co-authored the report, “Forty acres and a mule? How Flint residents believe the government should repay Black Americans,” with Jasmine Simington, a research fellow at CRJ. 

Residents and community leaders in Flint are working with U-M to explore what community-based reparations for Black residents might look like, as part of a national reparations project called Crafting Democratic Futures

The chart shows the percentage of Flint residents who support different forms of reparations, according to a survey by the Michigan Metro Area Communities Study.

The chart shows the percentage of Flint residents who support different forms of reparations, according to a survey by the Michigan Metro Area Communities Study.

In the Michigan Metro Area Communities Study, reparations are defined as governmental action to make amends to Black Americans for the ongoing harm caused by slavery and more recent discriminatory policies. The survey asked about the general idea of governments making amends, as well as specific reparative policies that are either aimed at individual Black Americans or larger systemic changes.

“This report offers nuanced insights into how Flint residents think about reparations, whether that’s in the form of cash payments, financial assistance for improving or buying a house, investing in historically Black neighborhoods, or other options. We can focus on community-based reparations proposals that align with Flint residents’ priorities,” said Asa Zuccaro, director of the Latinx Technology and Community Center in Flint and a community fellow for the Crafting Democratic Futures project. 

Race, education and income figured prominently into Flint residents’ attitudes toward reparations, with Black residents, residents with higher incomes and residents with more formal education showing higher levels of support for efforts to make amends to Black Americans. 

About 57% of Flint’s more than 79,800 residents are Black, and about 33% of residents are white. More than two-thirds of the city’s Black residents support reparations (67%), compared to just under one-third (31%) of white residents. 

Flint residents with a bachelor’s degree or more higher education are more likely to support reparations (74%), compared to residents with some college (60%) and residents with a high school education or less (43%). Residents with a household income of at least $60,000 are more likely to support reparations (73%), compared to residents with an income between $30,000 and $59,999 (46%) and those with an income of less than $30,000 (50%). The median household income in Flint is $32,350. 

Options for individual-level amends asked about on the survey included: 

  • Financial support for postsecondary education (61% of Flint residents support this approach)
  • Financial assistance for buying or improving a home (61% support)
  • Financial support for Black-owned businesses (60% support)
  • Free health care (60% support)
  • Land grants (54% support)
  • Cash payments (51% support)
  • Baby bonds, where the government establishes a savings account for a newborn and invests in it throughout their childhood (48%)

A majority of Black Flint residents, the intended beneficiaries of the reparations policies under consideration, support cash payments (73%). An even greater proportion of Black residents (78%) support reparations in the form of financial assistance for buying or improving a home, financial support for postsecondary education (77%), financial support for Black businesses (75%) or free health care (74%).

Options for systemic-level amends asked about on the survey included: 

  • Investments into historically Black neighborhoods harmed by economic and environmental discrimination (59%)
  • Expedited review and expungement of eligible criminal records for Black Americans (52%)
  • Creation of an accountability commission that seeks to hold governments accountable for the ways that slavery and discriminatory policies have harmed Black Americans (52%)

“To Flint residents, reparations doesn’t mean one thing,” Simington said. “There are a variety of approaches local and national governments can take to making amends to Black Americans at an individual level or through systemic change. The approaches need not be mutually exclusive, and residents’ priorities should guide efforts.”

 

Q&A: What does guaranteed income mean for Ann Arbor?

Guaranteed income programs are popping up across the country, including the University of Michigan’s hometown of Ann Arbor. But what are these programs, who is eligible to participate, and how does guaranteed income address poverty and inequality?

Led by Poverty Solutions at the University of Michigan, Guaranteed Income to Grow Ann Arbor (GIG A2) is a two-year guaranteed income pilot to provide monthly payments of $528 to 100 entrepreneurs with low and very low incomes in Ann Arbor. The City of Ann Arbor selected U-M to implement the pilot and study its effects, and GIG A2 is accepting applications in October. 

Kristin Seefeldt

“This guaranteed income pilot is about celebrating residents who do much to strengthen our community but are still struggling to make ends meet,” said Kristin Seefeldt, associate director of Poverty Solutions, in an official announcement of the program. “Pilot participants are vital to the success of the research study, which will allow other communities across the country to learn from Ann Arbor’s approach to guaranteed income.” 

Here, the three U-M faculty researchers leading the pilot program discuss the idea behind guaranteed income and the GIG A2 pilot program goals.

Kristin Seefeldt is an associate professor of social work at the U-M School of Social Work, with a courtesy appointment at U-M’s Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy. Seefeldt is also the principal investigator for GIG A2.

William Lopez

William Lopez is a clinical assistant professor of health behavior and health education at the U-M School of Public Health and Faculty Associate in the Latina/o Studies Program. Lopez is also a co-principal investigator for GIG A2 and a senior advisor at Poverty Solutions.

Rebeccah Sokol is an assistant professor of social work at the U-M School of Social Work. Sokol is also an adjunct assistant professor of health behavior and health education at the U-M School of Public Health and a co-principal investigator for GIG A2.

What is guaranteed income?

Sokol: Guaranteed income is a cash transfer program that provides regular, unconditional, and unrestricted funds to individuals or households. Recipients can spend the money however they would like without requiring that they perform specific activities—like working or going to school—to remain eligible.

Rebeccah Sokol

Rebeccah Sokol

Guaranteed income is always unconditional. Recipients do not need to perform specific behaviors to continue receiving funds. The program may, however, focus on certain people. For example, a guaranteed income program may focus on people who earn an income below a certain threshold. 

In Guaranteed Income to Grow Ann Arbor, we are implementing a guaranteed income program that is focused on entrepreneurs in Ann Arbor who qualify as low-income earners. We are not requiring, however, that these individuals continue working to continue receiving their monthly guaranteed income payments.

What do these types of programs seek to achieve and how do they benefit individuals within (and maybe outside) of the program? 

Seefeldt: These programs seek to provide people with a stable and dependable income. We know that many people who work lower-paying jobs also experience great variability in their scheduled hours week-to-week. This means that their pay varies as well, making it difficult to plan and manage finances. Having a reliable source of income, and one that can be flexibly used, may help mitigate some of the stress associated with unstable pay and lower the likelihood of experiencing hardships such as food and housing insecurity.

There could be a number of positive spillover effects of guaranteed income to the larger community, including for people not receiving payments. The payment may be used to help support extended family and friend networks. Many recipients will use the money to purchase goods and services, which is important to keeping the economy going.

Lopez: It’s also critical to remember that guaranteed income programs are fundamentally community health programs. Individuals and their families often know best what is needed to keep them healthy and happy. Unrestricted income allows them to spend that money on things like meals, medicines, fuel, child care, or even socializing. We often think of health interventions as interventions that specifically increase access to medications or to medical care, but there are many other aspects of our lives that actually keep us healthy. For members of marginalized communities, maintaining their health often requires navigating government systems working against them; and there are rarely, if ever, government programs to support maintaining one’s health in this way. For example, families who accrued debt while incarcerated may be able to pay down debt, or those who need a lawyer to fight deportation may be able to afford to hire one.  Unrestricted cash allows families to prioritize these aspects as they see fit.  

Where else in the U.S. are guaranteed income programs happening?

Seefeldt: Currently more than 100 cities have run—or are in the process of running—guaranteed income pilots. There are guaranteed income pilots planned and happening in communities across the United States, including Flint, Michigan; Stockton, California; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; and New Orleans, Louisiana. 

Lopez: Importantly, guaranteed income programs are not just—nor primarily—an academic idea. There is a growing movement throughout the country for more cities to embrace guaranteed income programs as a means of addressing economic disparities and the harms to health and well-being that often accompany poverty. Guaranteed income is rooted in the simple idea that every human being deserves to have their basic needs met, no matter what, and that unrestricted income empowers individuals and families to decide how to meet these needs. 

What are some of the questions you’ve grappled with so far in designing the study? 

Seefeldt: One issue that continually comes up is how to design a pilot that isn’t overly bureaucratic. A common complaint about many social service programs in the U.S. is that they require applicants and recipients to jump through many hoops in order to receive a benefit. Some refer to this practice as “administrative burden.” We don’t want the GIG A2 application process to be overly burdensome; we don’t want anyone to be deterred from applying because the application seems daunting and requires too many forms of documentation.

On the other hand, we have a responsibility to make sure that the funds for this pilot are spent in an ethical and responsible manner. Part of doing so means making sure that the pilot is serving those whom it was intended to serve and being accountable to the federal government to make sure that taxpayer dollars go toward their intended use. Thus, we are requiring that applicants provide some documentation to support their application.

 

Applications open Oct. 2-13 for Ann Arbor’s guaranteed income for low-income entrepreneurs

Contact: Lauren Slagter, lslag@umich.edu

ANN ARBOR – Entrepreneurs, self-employed people, owners of formal or informal small businesses, gig workers, and people with side hustles who have low incomes can apply Oct. 2-13 to receive monthly payments from Guaranteed Income to Grow Ann Arbor (GIG A2). 

After the application window closes, 100 eligible applicants will be randomly selected to receive payments of $528 per month for two years, starting early in 2024. Recipients can use the money however they want – no strings attached. They will be asked to complete three surveys over the course of the two-year pilot, answering questions about how they use the guaranteed income money; other experiences such as affording food, housing, and child care; and their health and well-being.

Another 100 eligible applicants will be randomly selected to participate in a research study of the guaranteed income program, but they will not receive the cash payments. They will be paid as a token of appreciation for taking similar surveys as the participants who receive the payments. 

The City of Ann Arbor selected Poverty Solutions at the University of Michigan to manage the guaranteed income pilot and conduct a research study to measure its impact. 

“This guaranteed income pilot is about celebrating residents who do much to strengthen our community but are still struggling to make ends meet. The funded and unfunded participants are both vital to the success of the research study, which will allow other communities across the country to learn from Ann Arbor’s approach to guaranteed income,” said Kristin Seefeldt, an associate professor of social work and public policy at U-M and associate director of Poverty Solutions, who is the lead researcher for the guaranteed income pilot. 

To be eligible for the monthly payments, applicants must: 

  • Live in the City of Ann Arbor and be at least 18 years old.
  • Have an income at or below 225% of the federal poverty line. People who currently receive or are eligible for any type of public assistance (SNAP, TANF, Section 8, Pell Grants) likely qualify. 
  • Be an entrepreneur, owner of a formal or informal small business, independent contractor, provide paid services informally, or a gig worker. Many different activities meet this criteria, from doing hair, to shoveling snow, to selling art and performing.

More details on eligibility and how the program works are available on the Guaranteed Income to Grow Ann Arbor website, www.giga2.org. The application will be available online, and there will be in-person opportunities in the coming weeks to learn more about the pilot and to receive assistance completing the application. 

In 2022, Ann Arbor City Council allocated $1.6 million of the city’s federal American Rescue Plan Act funds to a basic income pilot. After reviewing proposals for how the pilot program could be structured and evaluated, city staff recommended partnering with U-M Poverty Solutions, and the city council signed off on the proposal in June. In August, U-M’s Institutional Review Board approved the design of the study.

The pilot is supported by several community partners, including Friends in Deed, Ann Arbor Area Community Foundation, Ann Arbor District Library, Express Your Yes Foundation, Groundcover News, and Washtenaw Community College’s Entrepreneurship Center.

 

Chronic housing instability poses educational risk for Detroit students

Contact: Lauren Slagter, lslag@umich.edu

DETROIT– As Detroit children prepare to return to school, widespread and chronic housing instability among city residents poses a threat to students’ ability to perform well academically. 

New research from the University of Michigan’s Poverty Solutions and Wayne State University’s Detroit Partnership for Education Equity & Research (PEER) analyzed survey data with responses from more than 1,400 Detroit parents plus in-depth interviews with 20 parents identified as homeless or housing unstable. A policy brief summarizes themes from the parents’ experiences and offers policy recommendations that would promote housing stability and help ensure Detroit children have an equitable opportunity to learn.  

“Having a stable place to live is the foundation of academic success and many dimensions of well-being. Unfortunately, many Detroit parents describe a rental environment where short-term leases, poor housing conditions, and few legal protections mean they face a near-constant threat of displacement. This is a problem that schools cannot solve alone,” said Jennifer Erb-Downward, director of housing programs and policy initiatives at U-M Poverty Solutions and co-author of the policy brief. 

Detroit has one of the highest rates of childhood housing instability in the country, and 11% to 16% of school-aged children experience homelessness. While federal law guarantees students experiencing homelessness the right to an education, schools do not always identify when students lack stable housing, and families are not always aware of their rights. As a result, many students without a stable place to live do not get the extra support and resources they need to participate fully in school. In the 2021-22 school year, 90% of Detroit Public Schools Community District students identified as experiencing homelessness were chronically absent from school.

“It was making it where it was hard for me to get my kids to school, and I almost lost my job because we didn’t have a stable home,” said one parent interviewed by the researchers. “It was hard because at the hours I would have to be at work, they would have to be at school, so sometimes they would have to miss school and go to work with me.”

The researchers found displacement is a significant financial drain on parents with school-aged children in Detroit. In the wake of a forced move, families need to replace lost possessions and pay repeatedly for application fees and security deposits at new rentals. This extends periods of homelessness for Detroit’s children and reduces family resources available to pay for school necessities – such as gas or car repairs needed to reliably attend school. 

Parents also described long-lasting repercussions that continue years after housing loss first occurs. Because eviction filings are open records, parents report that rental screening practices exclude them from the majority of stable, quality rental units, even when they meet income requirements and can pay the security deposit.

“City government and the local court system can implement changes that would increase housing stability for Detroit’s children. We have opportunities to turn the tide of chronic housing instability in Detroit,” said Sarah Winchell Lenhoff, director of Detroit PEER, associate professor of educational leadership and policy studies at Wayne State, and co-author of the policy brief. 

One way to stabilize housing for families with children is to ban evictions during the school year. The researchers pointed to the city of Seattle as an example of implementing that type of targeted eviction moratorium.

All of the parents interviewed said the lack of quality affordable housing is a barrier to housing stability. To address this, the researchers recommend the city enforce its existing rental code and expand Detroit’s affordable housing stock. Plus, the 36th District Court should refuse eviction filings for rental properties that are not up to code. Nine in 10 pandemic-era evictions in Detroit occurred at properties without a Certificate of Compliance (CoC), despite Detroit’s rental code requiring properties to be inspected and receive a CoC prior to rental. 

The researchers offered the following additional policy recommendations to promote housing stability in Detroit: 

  • Implement rental application fee limits and require application fee refunds to tenants not selected for housing, in order to prevent predatory landlords from exploiting the scarcity and urgency of the rental market
  • Ensure tenants have access to remote eviction proceedings to reduce the number of default judgments against Detroit tenants who do not attend in-person hearings 
  • Pass just cause and right to renew legislation, which would require that landlords justify evictions and lease non-renewals with a valid legal cause