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U-M research on material hardship in 2020 offers guidance for next economic relief package

Contact: Lauren Slagter, 734-929-8027,

ANN ARBOR—Material hardship in the United States rose significantly in the final months of 2020 and was particularly high for households with children, according to new research from Poverty Solutions at the University of Michigan. 

The rise in hardship occurred at a time when the income supports from the first COVID-19 relief bill, the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act, had largely expired and the months-long economic recovery had stalled. Adults with children reported food insecurity and housing hardship at a rate 70% to 100% higher than adults without children, according to the research, which is outlined in a policy brief titled “Trends in Hardship and Mental Health in the United States at the End of 2020.”

These findings can help to inform the scope and scale of the next COVID-19 relief effort currently being debated in Congress. The authors—Patrick Cooney and H. Luke Shaefer—argue that based on the success of the CARES Act, Congress should expand and extend unemployment assistance and target support directly to households with children by expanding and making fully refundable the Child Tax Credit.

Shaefer, who is the Hermann and Amalie Kohn Professor of Social Justice and Social Policy and director of Poverty Solutions, and a number of other leading poverty scholars have proposed expanding the existing Child Tax Credit and transforming it into a monthly child allowance. The Biden administration and U.S. Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) are now advancing similar proposals. Estimates suggest the Biden administration’s proposed expansion of the Child Tax Credit would reduce child poverty by 45%.

“Expanding the existing Child Tax Credit, making it fully refundable, and dispersing it on a monthly basis would bring immediate support to families struggling during the COVID-19 crisis and dramatically reduce child poverty over the long-term,” Shaefer said. “Children have long been among the poorest in our country. Now is the time to do something transformational for struggling families.”

This is the second brief from Poverty Solutions tracking hardship through the pandemic. The research includes reported food insecurity, housing hardship, financial instability and mental health symptoms from August 2020 to January 2021, through the U.S. Census Bureau’s Household Pulse Survey, a nationally representative survey deployed regularly since early in the pandemic.

The authors found hardship increased steeply beginning in November 2020, as COVID-19 cases rose, the economic recovery slowed, and CARES Act income supports may have been depleted. By December 2020, the unemployment rate had plateaued at 6.7%, there were still roughly 9 million fewer Americans working than in February 2020, and the number of long-term unemployed continued to rise, suggesting many were still unable to find work.

Household Pulse data from January suggests the relatively modest COVID-19 economic relief bill passed in late December 2020 may have provided a necessary lifeline for many households, though it is unclear if it will be enough to significantly reduce hardship. 

“This data is consistent with other analyses that found monthly poverty rates have increased in recent months, after we initially saw poverty drop and hardship stabilize after the CARES Act,” said Cooney, assistant director of economic mobility at Poverty Solutions. “It’s possible those initial supports were able to sustain struggling households for awhile, but by late fall, it appears that money had been exhausted for many who still could not find employment.”

Read the full policy brief


Expanding the Child Tax Credit in the age of COVID-19

Hardship and Well-being in the United States after the CARES Act (July 2020)

U-M study on Detroit’s Make It Home Repair Program links home repairs, housing stability

Contact: Lauren Slagter,, 734-929-8027

DETROIT – New research supported by Poverty Solutions at the University of Michigan shows a $1 million home repair grant program in Detroit has helped homeowners with low incomes complete major home repair projects that improve the quality and safety of their housing and increase their chances of remaining in their homes long term. 

These findings, outlined in a policy brief titled “Reinforcing Low-Income Homeownership Through Home Repair: Evaluation of the Make It Home Repair Program,” can help inform the city’s affordable housing strategy and guide efforts to make homeownership more stable for residents with low incomes. 

“Detroit faces an immense burden of housing disrepair that requires prompt and substantial investments from public and private institutions to protect the health and safety of residents. Home repair funds must be accessible to people with very low incomes, and prioritize long-term residents,” said Alexa Eisenberg, a doctoral candidate in U-M’s School of Public Health and Poverty Solutions research assistant, who led this research. Eisenberg co-authored the policy brief with master’s of public policy student Connor Wakayama and Patrick Cooney, assistant director of Poverty Solutions’ Detroit Partnership on Economic Mobility. 

Key findings from the research include: 

  • Program participants faced multiple, major home repair needs that impacted the safety and livability of their homes. Program-eligible homeowners reported an average of three major repair needs. The most common need related to roofing.
  • Small-sum repair grants addressed many of participants’ critical repair needs. A median of $6,000 per participant in monetary and in-kind grants enabled homeowners to address, on average, one of every two major repair needs.
  • Homeowners reported improvements to the safety of their housing and stability of their ownership as a result of the program. All participants said the program was “very important” or “important” for their household’s safety and ability to stay in the home; one-quarter reported that without the program, they would have had to leave the home permanently.
  • The program provided homeowners streamlined access to emergency repair funds that likely would have been unavailable otherwise, but gaps and challenges remain. All of the homeowners interviewed stated it would have been difficult to make repairs without the program; 75% were “not confident at all” they would have accessed another grant or loan for assistance. Still, ongoing repair needs and high housing cost burdens remain a challenge for some participants.

Detroit’s rental market is growing increasingly competitive, as homeownership rates dropped following the city’s mortgage and tax foreclosure crises. In 2019, housing costs were unaffordable for 73% of Detroit renters earning less than $35,000, which is about the median income in the city. 

Housing advocates and local officials have increasingly promoted homeownership as a way to increase housing stability for low-income households. Home values are low and many homes are available through foreclosure sales, which makes homeownership more feasible for families with low incomes in Detroit than in other housing markets. However, Detroit’s aging housing stock and cycles of disinvestment from speculative landlords have left many properties in substandard condition. A recent Poverty Solutions report conservatively estimates more than 24,000 houses in the city are moderately or severely inadequate.That report found the most common housing quality issues facing Metro Detroit residents include inadequate heating, exterior water leaks, signs of mice or rats, and weak foundations.

Since 2017, the City of Detroit and United Community Housing Coalition have implemented the Make It Home program, which has offered more than 1,100 occupants of taxed foreclosed houses the chance to purchase (or re-purchase) their homes through a 0% interest loan. An ongoing evaluation of the 2017 Make It Home pilot program found all of the home purchasers who were interviewed had repair needs. 

With $300,000  from Rocket Community Fund, UCHC launched the Make It Home Repair Program in 2019 to address the home repair needs of Make It Home participants; Rocket Community Fund has since contributed another $700,000 to the program. In 2019, 261 homeowners pursued assistance through the Make It Home Repair Program and UCHC worked with 62 homeowners to complete repairs. 

“As far as bills, I can basically handle it. You’ve got to pay those. But the repairs, trying to fix what you got, I can’t keep up with that,” said one of the 24 homeowners interviewed for the research.

In addition to interviewing homeowners, Poverty Solutions researchers reviewed intake data for 218 Make It Home homeowners who sought home repair assistance. 

The policy brief includes several recommendations to build on the successes of the Make It Home Repair Program:

  • The City of Detroit, nonprofit entities, and their philanthropic partners should prioritize occupied housing for home repair investments and couple programs that convey foreclosed homes to their occupants with adequate resources for major home repairs.
  • State and local governments should provide streamlined access to small-sum emergency grants for health and safety repairs.
  • The City of Detroit can restructure its 0% Interest Home Repair Loan Program to serve homeowners with very low incomes by offering deferred loans with no credit score requirement.
  • The City of Detroit should enforce its rental ordinance and strengthen tenant protections to improve conditions for renters and prevent further deterioration of Detroit’s affordable housing stock.
  • The federal government should invest substantially in home repair and new affordable housing, especially in cities harmed by a legacy of structural racism and discrimination in housing.

“The immense scale of Detroit’s unmet home repair needs is in large part a legacy of anti-Black structural racism and discrimination in the U.S. housing system, which was shaped by policy decisions of the federal government. This relegated Black households to older, disinvested housing and denied opportunities for homeownership, economic mobility, and wealth creation,” Cooney said. “Federal support for home repair in Detroit and other predominantly Black communities can serve as an insufficient but necessary measure to remediate some of the harm caused by a history of racial injustices.” 

Read the full policy brief.

Joe Biden’s economic relief plan: U-M experts can comment

Contact: Lauren Slagter,, 734-929-8027
Jared Wadley,, 734-834-7719


ANN ARBOR—President-elect Joe Biden outlined his proposal for a legislative package to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic, including economic relief measures, in a public address Thursday. University of Michigan faculty are available to comment on the potential impact of the proposal.

H. Luke Shaefer is the faculty director of Poverty Solutions and the Hermann and Amalie Kohn Professor of Social Policy at the Ford School of Public Policy. Shaefer’s research on how transforming the child tax credit into a child allowance would put a major dent in child poverty has been influential among federal policymakers seeking to expand the child tax credit in the way that President-elect Biden has proposed.

“Children have long been amongst the poorest in America,” Shaefer said. “Transforming the child tax credit into a universal child allowance available to families with no or very low earnings would recognize the challenges faced by poor and middle class families while reducing stigma and boosting political viability. Even during the uncertain times of the COVID-19 pandemic, the table is set to do something transformational for struggling families with children.”

Contact:, 734-615-5997

Kristin Seefeldt, associate professor of social work and public policy and associate faculty director of Poverty Solutions, explores how economic and policy changes affect the everyday lives of economically vulnerable families. She conducts research on family financial coping strategies, particularly the use of debt as a way to make ends meet. Seefeldt can comment on stimulus checks and unemployment insurance.

Contact: 734-615-2113,

Trina Shanks, professor of social work and faculty associate at the Institute for Social Research, has conducted research on the impact of poverty and wealth on child well-being; asset-building policy and practice across the life cycle; and community and economic development.

“Housing support is so important for renters and those that are in danger of losing their homes to mortgage and tax foreclosures,” she said. “Moratoriums are OK as a start, but making families economically whole and ensuring there are reasonable housing options for families must be a priority. We have relied on market forces so long that we seem to ignore the fact that there could be other approaches to add to the housing supply.”

Contact: 734-764-7411,

New report outlines barriers to financial success for Detroiters

Jan. 22 virtual convening co-hosted by United Way for Southeastern Michigan and University of Michigan Poverty Solutions to discuss findings and solutions for families 

Contact: Jerome Espy of United Way for Southeastern Michigan,, (248) 417-9567 (mobile) 

DETROIT  For many low- and moderate-income Detroiters, the necessary ingredients for financial health and financial stability are out of reach. United Way for Southeastern Michigan is proud to partner with Poverty Solutions at the University of Michigan to release a study on the financial wellbeing of Detroit households. The study and workable solutions will be discussed during a virtual convening on Friday, Jan. 22, at 1:30 p.m. that is open to the public. 

This first of several online convenings will discuss historic and systemic barriers Detroit families face to achieving financial wellbeing, a critical ingredient to creating and maintaining stable households. 

The studyThe Financial Well-Being of Detroit Residents: What Do We Know?, builds on United Way’s ALICE reportUnited Way’s ALICE report shows that 43% of families statewide and more than 74% of Detroit families struggle to meet their basic needs. The new report, written by researchers at University of Michigan’s Poverty Solutions, delves in-depth to identify the underlying reasons it is so difficult for the average Detroiter to consistently make ends meet – more so than in suburban towns and peer cities.   

“It’s safe to say that these are turbulent times for all of us, but some are more impacted than others. The ongoing pandemic has shone a light on an issue that has existed for far too long – the financial and opportunity gaps that exist for the most vulnerable, particularly in Black and Brown populations,” said Dr. Darienne Hudson, president and CEO, United Way for Southeastern Michigan. “Thanks to this new research by the University of Michigan, we now can better understand the barriers those in our most challenged communities face every day and begin working toward lasting solutions.”  

The report synthesizes a rich array of previously-published research from a range of sources together with original research from University of Michigan.  Key findings from the report include: 

  • One-half of Detroit residents are either financially insecure (32%) or in financial trouble (24%).  
  • Tens of thousands of Detroiters struggle to earn sufficient and steady incomethey also confront a set of disproportionately high basic expenses, including property taxes, auto insurance, and utilities. 
  • The combination of low and volatile incomes and disproportionately excessive costs makes it especially difficult for Detroit households to consistently maintain positive cash flow. In turn, this makes it challenging to build savings, protect assets, or maintain access to a bank account.  
  • Nearly one-third of residents with incomes below $30,000 said they are saving less following the COVID-19 outbreak, but it is encouraging that 40% of residents earning below $30,000 said they are saving more due to the pandemic. 
  • Detroit residents filed at least 43,020 consumer bankruptcy cases in court between 2008 and 2015. 
  • 66% of Detroiters have some form of debt in collections, including credit card debt, medical debt, and government fines and fees, according to a 2016 Urban Institute report. 
  • Limited disposable income makes it difficult for many Detroit households to build savings for short-term needs, long-term goals, or for an emergency like COVID-19. 

Afton Branche-Wilson

“Our report illustrates the set of structural challenges Detroiters confront every day when seeking steady financial footing, such as high utility bills and unpredictable wages,” said Afton Branche-Wilson of Poverty Solutions at the University of Michigan and the report’s lead author. “We also highlight practical and urgent steps that policymakers and practitioners can take to help residents gain control over their finances, recover from financial setbacks, and build lasting financial security.” 

The virtual convening on Friday, Jan. 22, at 1:30 p.m. will present key findings from the report and kick off a series of community conversations around opportunities for action to address the underlying conditions which create financial instability and hardship for so many Detroiters. 

To register for the convening, visit:   

For more information about United Way for Southeastern Michigan and their commitment to serving the community or to make a donation, please visit:   

For more information about United Way’s ALICE report, please visit: 

For more information about University of Michigan’s Poverty Solutions, please visit:  


United Way for Southeastern Michigan, a member of the United Way Worldwide network and an independently governed 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, works to help households become stable and ensure children have the support they need to thrive. For more than 100 years, United Way has been a leader in creating positive, measurable, and sustainable change in communities throughout southeast Michigan. United Way works in partnership with donors, agencies, corporate and municipal partners to help families meet their basic needs of housing, food, health care and family finances, and ensure children start school ready to learn and graduate ready for life. To give, advocate, volunteer or learn more, visit  


 Poverty Solutions is a university-wide initiative that aims to prevent and alleviate poverty through action-based research that informs policymakers, community organizations, government entities, and practitioners about what works in confronting poverty. 

Release courtesy of United Way for Southeastern Michigan.

U-M scholars awarded $10M in Mellon Foundation grants to address racial justice, inequity

Contact: Lauren Love, 734-936-5190,
Sydney Hawkins, 734-615-8765,

ANN ARBOR — The University of Michigan has been awarded two $5 million grants through The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation’s Just Futures Initiative competition. The grants, led by professors Stephanie Fryberg and Earl Lewis, will fund projects that focus on addressing racial inequity.

Fryberg, a University Diversity and Social Transformation Professor and professor of psychology, and Lewis, the Thomas C. Holt Distinguished University Professor of History, Afroamerican and African Studies and Public Policy, and director of the Center for Social Solutions, will receive the funding to be used over the next three years.

The Mellon Foundation awarded more than $72 million in grants for 16 humanities, arts, and humanities-inflected social sciences projects across the country, the organization announced Jan. 13.

The foundation said the initiative was designed to support “visionary, unconventional, experimental and groundbreaking projects in order to address the long-existing fault lines of racism, inequality and injustice that tear at the fabric of democracy and civil society.”

“We’re proud to have these exceptional scholars on our campus,” Provost Susan Collins said. “These unprecedented awards recognize the outstanding humanities research that is happening at U-M, supported by a robust ecosystem, as well as the ingenuity of our scholars.

“They also reflect the excellent support provided by humanities leadership in the Provost’s Office, the U-M Humanities Collaboratory, the Humanities Institute, U-M Office of Research and the Office of University Development, as well as the College of Literature, Science, and the Arts, throughout the application process,” Collins said. “We are especially pleased that these projects will amplify and be supported by our broader campus-wide initiatives to enhance research and scholarship on anti-racism, equity and social justice.”

In collaboration with IllumiNative, the Center for Native American Youth at Aspen Institute and the Native Organizers Alliance, Fryberg will develop the Research for Indigenous Social Action and Equity Center, with the help of the Just Futures grant. The new center’s university collaborations include Harvard, Brown, and Stanford universities and the University of California, Berkeley.

The center’s mission will be to:

  • Conduct multidisciplinary humanist research centering the voices of Indigenous peoples and experiences.

  • Build, support, and sustain a multi-university pipeline of Indigenous scholar-activists.

  • Put research into action by integrating artists and activists who use the center’s research to promote and share accurate, expansive and empowering narratives of Indigenous people.

“Our aims are bold,” said Fryberg, who also is a faculty associate in the Research Center for Group Dynamics at the Institute for Social Research. “We want to reimagine and re-create how mainstream U.S. culture engages with narratives about Indigenous people. We are working toward a society in which all individuals not only learn about Indigenous people but also learn from Indigenous people.”

Research, including Fryberg’s, indicates that the United States’ ongoing system of power, which perpetuates settler colonialism, also undermines and negatively impacts the physical and mental health, education, income, employment and housing outcomes for Indigenous communities.

“Indigenous people and Indigenous issues are largely omitted from contemporary narratives and public consciousness,” Fryberg said. “This pervasive invisibility creates a void that is easily filled with harmful myths and misconceptions that draw on negative stereotypes and fail to portray Indigenous peoples’ contemporary lived experiences or full humanity.”

The first center of its kind, RISE will initially develop online, as part of efforts to de-densify U-M’s campus due to COVID-19. Eventually there will be a dedicated space on campus where Indigenous students and others can meet.

Lewis’ project, “Crafting Democratic Futures: Situating Colleges and Universities in Community-based Reparations Solutions,” will aim to build on institutional and community-based partnerships to explore localized reparations solutions for African American and some Native American communities. U-M’s Center for Social Solutions, Poverty Solutions initiative, and University Musical Society will partner on U-M’s role in the project.

The policies and initiatives that are produced, which Lewis intends to be related to workforce development, entrepreneurship, homeownership, education and infrastructure, will stem from the deep exploration of local histories, municipal support and meaningful community engagement.

“There has been a turn of events in the United States in the last four or five years,” said Lewis, who also is a professor of history and Afroamerican and African studies in LSA, and professor of public policy in the Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy. “Instead of waiting for the federal government to actually come up with a solution, communities themselves have begun to mount efforts to look at community-based solutions. We’ve moved from what was for the last 30-plus years deemed to be only a federal solution, to something that is grassroots and local.”

To carry out the pilot program, Lewis will collaborate with Carnegie Mellon and Emory universities, Rutgers University-Newark, Spelman College, WQED Multimedia, and the Council of Independent Colleges, whose member institutions include Concordia College in Moorhead, Minnesota; Connecticut College; Wesleyan College in Macon, Georgia; and Wofford College in Spartanburg, South Carolina.

Stephanie Fryberg

Earl Lewis

Release courtesy of Michigan News

U-M partners with Washtenaw County Prosecutor Eli Savit on ‘Prosecutor Transparency Project’

Data-driven project to focus on uncovering potential inequities within prosecutorial system

Contact: Shruti Lakshmanan, Washtenaw County Office of the Prosecuting Attorney Transition Manager,, 734-697-3933

ANN ARBOR – Washtenaw County Prosecutor Eli Savit today announced that his office will launch the “Prosecutor Transparency Project” in partnership with the ACLU of Michigan and the University of Michigan Law School. The aim of the project is to uncover potential racial inequities through the collection and analysis of data regarding decisions made by the prosecutor’s office, including who is charged with a crime, the nature of the charge, the race of the individual charged, and other crucial information such as plea-bargaining conduct. The results of the project — the first of its kind to be conducted in Michigan — will be shared with the public.

“I’m thrilled to have this incredible partnership in place to drill down into the data in an effort to identify and eliminate racial inequities in the prosecutor’s office,” Savit said. “We know systemic racism exists in all facets of society, and the prosecutor’s office is no exception. This partnership will go a long way towards helping inform how we make decisions and ensuring that justice is dispensed in an unbiased manner moving forward. With nationally-renowned experts leading our work, Washtenaw County residents will have confidence that our prosecutor’s office is treating everyone fairly and evenhandedly.”

The audit will be done by independent researchers at the University of Michigan and funded by the ACLU and Oregon-based Vital Projects Fund, in addition to U-M. The announcement of the partnership fulfills one of Savit’s major campaign promises: to partner with independent, third-party researchers to identify and eliminate racially disparate treatment in the criminal-justice system. No taxpayer funds will be spent on the project.

The announcement also fulfills a recommendation from Citizens for Racial Equity in Washtenaw (CREW). In August 2020, CREW released a report indicating that Black residents of Washtenaw County were far more likely to be charged with criminal offenses than white residents. One of CREW’s primary recommendations was for further, in-depth study of racially disparate treatment.

“CREW is elated by this partnership and by our new prosecutor’s commitment to address racial inequity head-on,” said Alma Wheeler Smith, who serves as co-chair of CREW and was formerly a state senator and chair of the Michigan Civil Rights Commission. “The CREW report scratched the surface of deep racial injustice in our criminal system, and further study is sorely needed. We are confident that the Washtenaw County prosecutor’s model can be replicated across the state and applaud Eli Savit’s leadership.”

The project will proceed in three parts. First, researchers will quantify racial disparities in decisions made by the prosecutor’s office. Second, they will review cases with similar fact patterns for white people and people of color to determine how the outcomes of those cases may reflect racial inequities. Finally, in consultation with researchers, the prosecutor’s office will identify metrics to track to ensure equitable treatment. These metrics will be made public on the prosecutor’s website.

“Prosecutors are the most powerful actors in the criminal legal system and must be held accountable through transparency in their decision making,” said Shelli Weisberg, ACLU of Michigan political director. “The ACLU is deeply committed to dismantling racism in our criminal legal system and ending mass incarceration in Michigan’s criminal legal system, and we are confident that funding the ‘Prosecutor Transparency Project’ will go a long way to accomplishing this goal and hope to develop similar partnerships around the state with other prosecutors.”

The research team will be led by Professor J.J. Prescott at the University of Michigan Law School, one of the nation’s top empirical criminal justice scholars. Recently, Prescott’s work was instrumental in successfully moving a far-reaching package of expungement bills through the Michigan Legislature.

“It’s exceedingly rare — if not unheard of — for prosecutors to take an unflinching, unbiased look at racial bias in our system,” Prescott said. “I’m excited that this work is starting in Washtenaw County, and I’m hopeful that this project can serve as a national model for prosecutors across the nation.”

Data scientist and University of Michigan Law School Research Scholar Grady Bridges will be primarily responsible for the research project. Bridges has years of experience collecting and analyzing Michigan criminal justice data. He served as data administrator for Michigan’s Criminal Justice Policy Commission and was the data consultant for the CREW report.

Poverty Solutions, a university-wide initiative that aims to prevent and alleviate poverty through action-based research at the University of Michigan, will provide technical expertise and will lead the creation of a transparent, publicly accessible data dashboard for the prosecutor’s office. Trevor Bechtel — who manages student engagement at Poverty Solutions and has led multiple projects designed to increase access to information—will spearhead those efforts.

Work on the project will begin immediately. The results of the research project will be shared publicly as they are completed.

Release courtesy of the Washtenaw County Prosecutor’s Office.

Federal pandemic assistance set to expire at end of 2020: U-M experts available

Contact: Lauren Slagter, 734-929-8027,
Jared Wadley, 734-936-7819,


ANN ARBOR—Congress has not taken action to extend or replace the federal unemployment pandemic assistance, which expires at year’s end. The University of Michigan has experts available to discuss how the inaction could devastate millions of households, especially those living in poverty.

H. Luke Shaefer is the director of Poverty Solutions, the Hermann and Amalie Kohn Professor of Social Justice and Social Policy, and associate dean for research and policy engagement at the Ford School of Public Policy. He is an expert on unemployment insurance, material hardship, food insecurity and housing instability.

“The safety net provisions included in the CARES Act were as effective as anything we’ve ever done, but these provisions are either in the rearview mirror or set to expire,” he said. “It is time for Congress to do more, and now they have a playbook on how to effectively stem hardship during the greatest economic crisis since the Great Depression.”


Roshanak Mehdipanah, assistant professor of health behavior and health education at the School of Public Health, is an expert on housing instability and health.

“The national moratorium on evictions ends at the end of this month,” she said. “Unless we see more federal intervention, 2021 will start with mass evictions across the country, in the middle of winter and a pandemic. Unfortunately, the health impacts of mass evictions would be irreversible and felt for many decades to come.”


Margaret Dewar, professor emerita of urban and regional planning at the Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning, is an expert on evictions and property tax foreclosure.


William Elliott III, professor at the School of Social Work and director of the Joint Doctoral Program in Social Work and Social Science, is an expert on how the pandemic is affecting wealth inequality.


Mentorship that meets the moment: SummerWorks shares lessons learned in mentoring guide

Click on the image to open the SummerWorks Mentoring Guide.

Washtenaw County’s SummerWorks team was gearing up for their fifth year of the summer youth employment program when the COVID-19 pandemic changed everything. The central feature of the program  — a 10-week in-person job placement for young adults aged 16-24  — was no longer possible due to health concerns that led to business closures and restrictions on in-person gatherings. 

In response, Poverty Solutions at the University of Michigan, in partnership with Michigan Works! Southeast and the Washtenaw County Office of Community and Economic Development, translated the jobs program to a virtual format to continue offering critical opportunities during a difficult time. Youth participants engaged in virtual professional development webinars, attended job shadow events, and created a professional portfolio to help them land their next job or internship. 

SummerWorks also piloted a new program that paired youth with two mentors — career professionals — based on mutual interests, career field, and educational background. Participants met with their mentors at least once per week over an eight-week period throughout the summer. Eighty-three mentors participated in the pilot program and represented a broad range of industries and careers. 

SummerWorks staff compiled the resources they used to develop the mentoring program in a SummerWorks Mentoring Guide, which covers topics like roles and responsibilities of mentors and mentees, stages of the mentoring relationship, best practices for mentorship, practicing cultural humility, principles of positive youth development, conversation tips, potential meeting topics, and additional activities.

Jordan Greene, SummerWorks project manager

In this Q&A, SummerWorks Project Manager Jordan Greene shares more about how the mentoring program came together and lessons learned from the pivot to virtual programming in 2020. 

Before diving in to how SummerWorks changed in 2020, can you tell us more about the original concept behind the summer youth employment program? 

Greene: Where you live matters for employment opportunities, access to education and training, and economic mobility. Washtenaw County is no exception, where a history of housing segregation created a landscape of inequity in access to opportunity. Structural racism disproportionately impacts communities of color in Washtenaw County, and as a result, young people often find it difficult to access training and resources that help prepare them for postsecondary education and the workforce. SummerWorks aims to address some of these inequities by connecting local young adults to resources for building professional networks, exploring career opportunities, and developing essential job and leadership skills.

Is there anything that didn’t go as expected as you launched the mentorship program this year, and how did you adapt? 

Greene: We realized very quickly that both our mentors and young people would benefit from additional resources and support regarding how to structure their meetings and get the most out of their mentoring relationship. However, in our search for additional resources, we learned that there is a lack of comprehensive training and information sources for mentorship and best practices for programming. In response, our team compiled this mentoring guide in hopes that it will be beneficial to other communities and programs hoping to engage in mentorship. Moving forward, we plan to continue building out these resources for young people in our program to help them set learning goals, identify questions to ask a mentor, and exercise agency in the mentoring relationship. 

What was the most surprising part of the pivot to virtual programming? 

Greene: I was most surprised, and inspired, by the willingness from both our Washtenaw County and U-M communities to engage with the SummerWorks program in new ways. We received an overwhelming amount of interest in our mentoring program from professionals who represented so many different career and educational backgrounds. COVID-19 has created challenging times for folks, and I was so appreciative of our mentors’ willingness to reach out, connect with young people, and share their expertise.

Can you share an example that illustrates the impact of the program? 

Greene: Whenever I think about this, one young person comes to mind. When I met them during their first year in the program, they were a shy high school student who never spoke up because they felt like they didn’t have anything meaningful or important to share. Three years later, that young person shared their story at our end-of-program celebration event in front of over 200 people. They shared a quote with me that captures why mentorship matters: 

“For three years I have been proud to be in this program. It taught me something about life and I’m blessed to have been around great people. I met staff who are now great friends and mentors who care about me and my life. They have been helping me since day one when I joined the program. I also had great supervisors who guided me through everything at work. I gained confidence and help that got me to college, something I never thought I would do. I will never forget this job, my first job that I ever had.

How do you anticipate the lessons learned this year will shape the future of SummerWorks?  

Greene: Last summer really helped us understand that facilitating close, supportive relationships with youth through our programming is the most important thing we do. Personally, I believe that there is power in telling our stories. Forming connections with trusted mentors who can coach us, offer resources, share their personal experiences, and connect us to resources is extremely beneficial to our development and exploration of future opportunities. “You can’t be what you can’t see” is a quote that really resonates with me, and I think that SummerWorks embodies that by promoting really immersive career exploration opportunities. I’m excited to continue carrying this philosophy forward with how we design our programming, think about expansion, and consider ways to engage youth long after the summer ends. 

For more information, visit the SummerWorks website or contact Jordan Greene at

Download the SummerWorks Mentoring Guide (PDF).

Warning labels help reduce sugary drink intake among college students

Contact: Nardy Baeza Bickel,

ANN ARBOR—Placing warning labels on beverage dispensers might be enough to help college students cut back on sugary drinks, according to a new study.

The study by the University of Michigan School of Public Health and University of California, Davis, found that labels helped reduce consumption by nearly 15%.

“Warning labels may be effective tools for reducing consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages, particularly beverages such as sweetened teas, pink lemonade and chocolate milk for which the sugar content is not immediately obvious or well known,” said lead author Cindy Leung, U-M assistant professor of nutritional sciences.

Co-author Julia Wolfson, U-M assistant professor of health management and policy and nutritional sciences, said that sugar-sweetened beverages remain ubiquitous in retail and cafeteria settings on college campuses.

“As we explore avenues to promote healthy food and beverage choices, warning labels are a potential tool to reduce their consumption that should be tested in other populations and other settings,” she said.

The researchers placed warning labels on beverage dispensers at a U-M cafeteria for one semester in 2019.

The labels, based on previously proposed California legislation, were bright yellow with a large triangle and exclamation mark stating, “Warning: Drinking beverages with added sugar(s) contributes to type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and tooth decay.”

Two other cafeterias on campus—located geographically distant from the cafeteria with the labels—served as control sites and had no warning labels.

Nearly 1,000 students were contacted by email before and after the warning labels were implemented to ask them to participate in surveys with no specific mention of sugar-sweetened beverages. In all, 840 students across were included in the study.

At the intervention site, consumption of sugary drinks that had the warning label declined by nearly 19%, compared to a decline of about 5% at the control sites. Students exposed to the warning labels also reduced their 100% fruit juice consumption by 21% even though in the experiment they had not been labeled as sugar-sweetened beverages.

Jennifer Falbe, assistant professor of nutrition and human development at UC Davis, designed the warning label used in the study.

“These results provide evidence to inform future institutional strategies … and legislative efforts to use warning labels as a promising approach to SSB consumption,” she said, adding that nine states, including California, have introduced sugar-sweetened beverage warning label legislation. “These laws could ensure that consumers have the necessary information to make informed choices.”

Co-author Keith Soster, director of student engagement for Michigan Dining, agreed.

“College is a great time to educate students on healthy eating and beverage consumption. We hope to aid in building habits that will last a lifetime,” he said.

Co-author Steve Manga, director of Michigan Dining, said “the study will help inform future adjustments to our beverage program as we explore  healthier options for our customers.”

The study was published in the Journal of Nutrition. Other authors include Keith Soster, Robert Hsu and Steve Mangan, all of U-M.

Funding for the research came from a grant from U-M Poverty Solutions; the McNerney Award from the U-M Department of Health Management and Policy; the National Institutes of Health: Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development grant 4R00HD084758; and the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases grants K01DK119166 and K01DK113068.

Study abstract: Warning Labels Reduce Sugar-Sweetened Beverage Intake among College Students

Cindy Leung

Julia Wolfson

Release courtesy of Michigan News. 

U-M, community partners tackle energy insecurity in three Detroit neighborhoods

Contact: Jim Erickson, 734-647-1842,

ANN ARBOR—Some Detroiters spend up to 30% of their monthly income on home energy bills, a sky-high rate that places the city among the Top 10 nationally in a category that researchers call household energy burden.

The COVID-19 pandemic has only worsened the situation, adding financial challenges that make it increasingly difficult for many low- and moderate-income residents to pay their utility bills.

A new University of Michigan-led project, in partnership with four Detroit community-based organizations, will try to lighten that load a bit. Team members will work with residents of 200 low- and moderate-income (LMI) households in three Detroit neighborhoods—Jefferson Chalmers, Southwest Detroit and The Villages at Parkside—to improve home energy efficiency and to lower monthly utility bills.

At the same time, the U-M researchers will explore the possibility of reforming the utility rate structure to provide the basic electricity needs of LMI households for free while ensuring that the utility provider’s costs are covered.

“Our premise is that energy is a basic human right. With a better understanding of energy consumption, we can determine if there is a free block of ‘essential’ energy that everyone should get—and if not everyone, then those least likely to be able to afford it,” said project leader Tony Reames, an assistant professor of energy justice at the U-M School for Environment and Sustainability.

The project is funded by a $2.1 million grant from the U.S. National Science Foundation’s Smart and Connected Communities program, with 30% of the funding going to U-M’s community partners in Detroit: Jefferson East Inc., Friends of Parkside, Southwest Detroit Environmental Vision, and Ecoworks. DTE Energy is also a partner.

The four-year effort, which involves home visits and neighborhood focus groups, has been delayed by the pandemic. Originally scheduled to begin this fall, the face-to-face portions of the project will likely start next spring or early summer, depending on what happens with COVID-19.

“The pandemic exacerbates the very disparities that we are trying to address,” said Reames, who directs the Urban Energy Justice Lab at SEAS. “This project is very timely, and we need to get it underway as soon as possible because it’s even more relevant now than when we proposed it last year.”

For each participating home, local case managers and energy evaluators from Ecoworks, a Detroit-based nonprofit, will develop an energy improvement plan. Each plan includes a list of energy-saving DIY projects and the names of energy-assistance programs that the household can join.

The DIY projects could include things like adding door sweeps, window caulking, LED light bulbs or a programmable thermostat. Energy assistance programs could include the U.S. Department of Energy’s Weatherization Assistance Program, various city of Detroit home improvement programs, and DTE’s Energy Efficiency Assistance program, for example.

The case managers will help residents implement the recommendations in their energy improvement plan. A key project goal is to help lower the household energy burden, defined as the percentage of household income spent on energy bills.

Researchers will also collect anonymized energy-consumption data from smart meters in all of the homes.

The smart-meter data will be used to develop algorithms that identify consumers’ basic electricity needs. The researchers will also weigh insights from the focus groups, where residents will be asked about their electricity-dependent household necessities.

Knowledge gained from both sources will inform a new electricity rate paradigm, one that explores the possibility of providing a free level of basic electricity to residents who need it most. At the end of the project, the researchers plan to submit a policy recommendation to DTE Energy and to the Michigan Public Service Commission.

“One goal of the NSF Smart and Connected Communities program is to engage directly with real communities, and I think this project is structured to accomplish just that, since the research goals and approaches are structured around real challenges faced by LMI  households in Detroit,” said Johanna Mathieu, an associate professor in the U-M Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science.

Mathieu is one of the project’s four co-principal investigators. The other three are Marie O’Neill and Barbara Israel of the U-M School of Public Health and Carina Gronlund of the U-M Institute for Social Research.

The project is titled “Reducing barriers to residential energy security through an integrated case-management, data-driven, community-based approach.” Household energy security is the ability to meet basic heating, cooling and energy needs. Household energy insecurity is the opposite: uncertainty that a household can pay its energy bills.

Energy insecurity often co-occurs with food insecurity—a phenomenon sometimes called the “heat or eat” syndrome. Both energy and food insecurity can impact personal health, and both have been worsened by the COVID-19 pandemic, which has hit Detroit residents especially hard.

“Given the challenges associated with the COVID-19 pandemic, in particular their impact on the financial resources available to Detroit residents, the active engagement of our community partners and their constituents in this effort is even more critical for understanding and addressing energy insecurity and promoting health equity,” said Israel, a professor of health behavior and education.

O’Neill, a professor of epidemiology and environmental health sciences, said, “Health equity has been defined as everyone having a fair and just opportunity to be as healthy as possible. Lowering the obstacle of high financial energy burden—thus reducing stress and enabling people to more easily pay for other basic necessities, including food and medicine—is one way this project can enhance health equity.”

Another goal of the project is to increase participation in energy efficiency programs among LMI households.

“Connecting people to those programs and identifying barriers to enrollment is essential to making them work,” said Gronlund, an environmental epidemiologist and a research assistant professor at the Institute for Social Research.

At the same time, improving household energy efficiency can be viewed as a form of climate adaptation, Gronlund said. And if households use less energy, then power plants will generate less air pollution and climate-warming greenhouse gases, she said.

“By expanding participation in energy efficiency programs, we can simultaneously improve outdoor and indoor environments, adapt to a changing climate, and slow climate change,” she said. “It’s potentially a win-win-win.”

Tony Reames
Johanna Mathieu
Barbara Israel
Carina Gronlund