CHICAGO—New research from the University of Michigan points to the potential of public banking to better serve the financial needs of Chicago residents as the volume of complaints about private banking services has increased exponentially over the past decade.
Terri Friedline, U-M associate professor of social work and faculty affiliate of Poverty Solutions, worked with Ameya Pawar, a fellow with the Open Society Foundations and the Economic Security Project, to analyze 40,645 complaints about financial products and services made by Chicago residents to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau between 2011 and 2022.
A new policy brief summarizes their findings and outlines considerations for a public bank in Chicago.
The number of consumer complaints rose from 785 in 2012—the first full year of operation for the CFPB’s Consumer Complaints Database—to 7,070 in 2021 and 7,696 in the first eight months of 2022, when the researchers began their analysis. The complaints came from residents of 67 ZIP codes in Chicago, and the researchers incorporated demographic data for those ZIP codes to analyze trends in the types of complaints filed by different populations.
“People need financial products and services to pay bills, send money to friends and relatives, buy a house and start businesses,” Friedline said. “Unfortunately, private banks and lenders often provide financial products on expensive and exploitative terms—especially to people who are poor and racially marginalized. The CFPB Consumer Complaints Database offers insights into how Chicago residents experience harms and problems from private banks and lenders.”
The analysis found a majority of complaints (64%) had to do with credit. The next largest categories of complaints were related to debt collection (12%), bank accounts (9%) and mortgages (8%). Credit increased in prominence as a percentage of overall complaints, rising from 23% in 2012 to 66% in 2021. This contrasts with the patterns of complaints about bank accounts and mortgages, which both comprised larger shares of overall complaints in 2012 and declined on average over time.
Chicago’s residents with low incomes and Black residents submitted complaints about credit-related products and services—for example, unauthorized charges on a credit card or incorrect information on a credit report—at substantially higher rates than their wealthier and white counterparts. More affluent and whiter communities submitted more complaints about bank accounts and mortgages than disproportionately poorer and racially marginalized communities.
Among the ZIP codes with the lowest poverty rates, 52% of total complaints have to do with credit, compared to 72% among ZIP codes with the highest poverty rates in the city. Similarly, 51% of total complaints among ZIP codes with the smallest shares of Black residents have to do with credit, compared to 72% among ZIP codes with the largest shares of Black residents.
“The analysis reveals differences in the types of financial products used by different populations and the problems they experience with those products,” Pawar said. “When we consider these complaints alongside evidence of historic and contemporary racist lending practices, it is evident that private banks and lenders are not equipped to support Chicago residents’ full and equal participation in the economy.”
Public banking is one idea for mitigating the harms and problems Chicago residents experience from private banks and lenders, according to the researchers. A public bank is a locally and democratically governed institution that can serve as the city’s fiscal agent; support a variety of banking products and services like bank accounts, credit and mortgage lending; and invest in the types of development communities need.
Rather than borrowing expensive debt from private lenders or using a private bank as a fiscal agent that reinvests profits elsewhere, the city of Chicago could establish a public bank mandated to invest locally and equitably, the researchers say. A public bank could be designed to equip Chicago residents with easy-to-access and inexpensive bank accounts, credit cards, home mortgages and business loans.
The researchers note the importance of gauging residents’ interest in establishing a public bank and having residents lead its design.
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On July 25, Jeffrey Morenoff, professor of public policy and sociology, and research professor at U-M’s Institute for Social Research, testified before the U.S. Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs on the magnitude and implications of the undercount of Detroit’s population in the 2020 Census
In 2019, the U.S. Census Bureau estimated Detroit’s population to be 670,031 people. However, results from the 2020 Census purported a count of 639,111, suggesting that the city had singularly lost over 30,900 people, or 4.6% of its population, in one year alone.
Concerned by the likelihood of an inaccurate Census count, Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan’s office asked Jeffrey Morenoff and other researchers at the University of Michigan and Wayne State University to undertake an independent study to determine whether there was evidence of an undercount in the 2020 Census.
Examining the data from this study, Morenoff discussed the existence of an undercount, its causes, and ideas for improving future Census accuracy before the U.S. Senate committee.
“If Detroit really had lost over 30,000 people from 2019 to 2020, I would have expected to see a somewhat comparable decline during the following year, but this is not what the data show,” Morenoff said in his testimony. “In short, the 2020 Census population count for Detroit was anomalous and difficult to reconcile with the city’s population trend over the prior decade or its estimated population change from 2020 to 2021.”
Morenoff and his collaborators build their inferences from a comprehensive analysis of population trends in Detroit and other comparable cities, a visual audit of housing in 4,350 Census blocks, and United States Postal Service Data. Although researchers do not know for certain the scale of the undercount citywide, if undercounts of a similar magnitude are found in a majority of the city’s more than 600 block groups, the ultimate size of a population undercount could be in the tens of thousands.
To improve the count of Detroit and other cities in the future, Morenoff argued that local governments should be permitted continual access to specific information about which housing units are accounted for in the Census’ Master Address File before, during, and after the Census enumeration period.
Other witnesses at the hearing included: Duggan ; N. Charles Anderson, President & Chief Executive Officer of the Urban League of Detroit & Southeastern Michigan; Jane C. Garcia, Vice Chair of the Latin Americans for Social and Economic Development; Maha Freij, President & Chief Executive Officer of the Arab Community Center for Economic and Social Services; and Kelley J. Kuhn, President & Chief Executive Officer of the Michigan Nonprofit Association.
Watch the hearing >
Speakers start at 18:15 minutes.
DETROIT – A new Detroit Land Contract Buyer Guide launched in conjunction with National Homeownership Month offers step-by-step guidance for housing counselors and prospective and current buyers on how to connect with resources, identify predatory or fraudulent situations, and successfully purchase their home. Land contracts are a valuable tool to achieve homeownership, but buyers often lack the support they need to navigate the purchasing process successfully.
The City of Detroit, Enterprise Community Partners, and University of Michigan’s Poverty Solutions co-authored and published the buyer guide. The guide includes information, do-it-yourself checklists, and guidance on risks for before signing, at signing, after signing, and after paying the land contract in full. The guide and additional resources, including materials in Spanish, are available at www.detroitlandcontracthelp.com.
These resources are the result of a grant from Center for Financial Empowerment to the City of Detroit, to support consumer financial protection issues in the city.
“The City of Detroit is committed to supporting homeownership, and we know that many Detroiters attempt to purchase their homes on land contracts without the benefit of support. The Detroit Land Buyer Contract Guide and supportive resources are part of our effort to fill the knowledge gap, connect buyers to resources that can help them avoid potential scams, and successfully navigate the home-buying process,” said Michele Oberholtzer, Chief Policy Advisor for Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan and co-author of the Land Contract Buyer Guide. “We appreciate the legal experts, housing advocates and Detroit residents whose input shaped the guide, and we’re proud to offer this valuable resource to residents and housing counselors.”
A land contract is a real estate transaction in which the buyer makes monthly payments to the seller for the purchase of a property over time. The seller holds the deed until the purchase is fully paid, and the buyer has most of the other rights and responsibilities of ownership throughout the payment period, including paying property taxes and making home repairs.
Land contracts are valuable tools for prospective homebuyers and homes that do not qualify for traditional mortgages. Historical red-lining, lack of credit, or need for home repairs have led many to turn to land contracts in the City of Detroit. However, land contracts have often been used as a predatory lending tool with high interest rates, lack of protection through the buying process, and other terms that increase the likelihood the buyer will default.
Mission-driven organizations in Detroit have used supportive land contracts to enable homeownership for credit-constrained households, leveraging the flexibility of land contracts and to provide leniency, as well as wraparound and assistance to buyers.
Karen Ann Kling, senior strategic projects manager at U-M’s Poverty Solutions, and Evelyn Zwiebach, Director with Enterprise Community Partners, Inc. in Detroit, documented this approach and recommended policies to reduce the abuse of land contracts in a policy brief published in May2021. Those findings inspired the creation of the Detroit Land Contract Buyer Guide, with support from the City of Detroit’s participation in the Cities for Financial Empowerment Fund’s Local Consumer Financial Protection Initiative.
“Prior research on land contracts focused on the potential for exploitation. But we learned from Detroit nonprofit and community development organizations that land contracts are not inherently predatory,” said Enterprise’s Zwiebach, who also co-authored the buyer guide. “The Land Contract Buyer Guide empowers buyers, equipping them with the information they need to make informed decisions about their home purchase and identify red flags that signal a bad deal. This is a critical first step in getting more Detroiters onto the pathway of homeownership, which contributes to greater housing stability, upward mobility and generational wealth.”
With support from the Brookings Institute and Ashoka, Zwiebach and Kling are continuing their research on reforms to land contract policies and program interventions that would protect buyers and maintain the flexibility of land contracts.
“We see the potential for land contracts to increase homeownership rates, improve property values, and advance racial equity by providing an alternative path to homeownership for people who historically and presently have faced discrimination in the housing market,” said Kling, who co-authored the buyer guide. “The Land Contract Buyer Guide takes the guesswork out of the purchase process. And in addition to putting critical information in residents’ hands, University of Michigan is currently working with Enterprise Community Partners to inform discussions regarding how we can change Michigan law to make land contracts a safer tool.”
The City of Detroit also supports the following homeownership initiatives:
- Make it Home, which gives residents living in foreclosed houses the option to purchase the property before the foreclosure auction;
- Michigan Homeowner Assistance Fund, which provides funds to help prevent mortgage delinquencies, foreclosure, or loss of utilities due to financial hardship during the pandemic.
- HOPE, Homeowners Property Tax Exemption program
- Detroit Tax Relief Fund to pay delinquent taxes for low-income homeowners approved for the HOPE exemption. (313) 244-0274
Michigan poverty map identifies regional needs related to child care, health care, affordable housing
Contact: Lauren Slagter, firstname.lastname@example.org, 734-929-8027
A new data map displaying a variety of poverty and well-being metrics across Michigan holds implications for how federal American Rescue Plan Act funds could be used to address the state’s most pressing needs.
Poverty Solutions at the University of Michigan has released an updated version of its Michigan Poverty & Well-being Map with county and regional data. The new iteration of the map, which Poverty Solutions has maintained since 2017, features 2019 data from the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey, the most recent available.
“The poverty rate alone doesn’t tell a complete story of how many people are facing economic instability and hardship. The Michigan Poverty & Well-being Map looks at multiple metrics to give us a more holistic sense of Michiganders’ well-being,” said Poverty Solutions faculty director Luke Shaefer, the Hermann and Amalie Kohn Professor of Social Justice and Social Policy, and a professor of public policy and social work.
Overall, Michigan residents were in a more stable financial position than in previous years, according to key metrics:
- 12.9% of the population were living on income below the federal poverty line
- 17.5% of children under the age of 18 were in households below the federal poverty line
- 7.8% of working-age adults did not have health insurance coverage, a new metric added to the map this year
“The map gives us a pre-pandemic snapshot of well-being across Michigan and how many people were struggling to afford basic necessities,” said Amanda Nothaft, senior data and evaluation manager at Poverty Solutions, who led the data analysis for the map project. “We know the COVID-19 pandemic brought increased financial hardship for many families and also unprecedented levels of government support to help people through that difficult time.”
Looking ahead, Nothaft said the disparities brought to light by the Poverty & Well-being Map can inform how state and local officials prioritize the use of federal American Rescue Plan Act funds. The updated map divides the state into 10 regions—which match the prosperity regions defined by the state of Michigan—to offer a nuanced look at the unique dynamics at play in different parts of the state.
A series of regional factsheets highlight the need for increased access to child care and health care, investments in transportation infrastructure, and more comprehensive affordable housing solutions in certain communities.
“The influx of federal funds from the American Rescue Plan Act provides a rare opportunity to address some of the underlying disparities and drivers of poverty in Michigan,” Nothaft said. “The Poverty & Well-being Map can help local leaders make informed decisions about their communities’ most pressing needs.”
See the regional factsheets:
- Detroit Metro: Burdened by Cost of Housing
- East: Fighting Food Insecurity
- East Central: Declining Population Amid Diminishing Economic Opportunity
- Northeast: Barriers to Health Care Access
- Northwest: Quality Child Care as an Economic Mobility Issue
- South Central: Investing in the Future Workforce
- Southeast: Wide Disparities in Median Income and Access to Health Care
- Southwest: Addressing Water Infrastructure and Affordability Needs
- Upper Peninsula: Aging Population and Health Care Challenges
- West: Burdened by Transportation Costs
ANN ARBOR—As National Hispanic Heritage Month, which celebrates the culture and contributions of Latinos in the U.S., comes to a close, Poverty Solutions at the University of Michigan highlights key data from its research that relates to Latinos living in Michigan.
The percentage of Latinos in Detroit who would feel more safe with an increased police presence in their neighborhood, according to a recent report by the Detroit Metro Area Communities Study on attitudes toward crime and policing. This is significantly lower than the percentage of Black (45%) and white (41%) Detroiters who would feel more safe with an increased police presence in the neighborhoods. Despite the report’s findings that Latinos report higher rates of criminal victimization and indirect exposure to criminal activity, Latinos in Detroit are much less likely to feel safe with police in their neighborhoods.
The estimated amount of money that undocumented workers in Michigan lose each year due to workplace injuries and a lack of access to workers’ compensation benefits. A majority of these workers immigrated from Latin America. According to an analysis prepared by Amanda Nothaft, senior data and evaluation manager for Poverty Solutions, about 1,400 undocumented workers are injured in Michigan each year at work. Yet despite their contributions to Michigan’ social and economic fabric and their concentration in relatively high-risk jobs (e.g., agriculture, construction, manufacturing), undocumented workers in Michigan do not have access to workers’ compensation available to other employees.
The number of other states (including the District of Columbia) that Michigan would join if it passed the DRIVE Safe Bills (House Bills 4835 and 4836) to expand access to state-issued IDs. Poverty Solutions faculty experts Paul Fleming and William Lopez, along with the University of California-Irvine’s Alana Lebron, recently authored an op-ed on the significance of driver’s licenses to the public health of undocumented immigrants and others who cannot prove legal presence. They offer evidence that a lack of “access to a valid driver’s license was preventing patients from receiving needed preventative health services.” As a result, they argue that expanding access to driver’s licenses would have significant public health benefits for communities across the state.
Contact: Jared Wadley, email@example.com
Lauren Slagter, firstname.lastname@example.org
Emergency federal dollars given to the unemployed during the COVID-19 pandemic bolstered health care spending as jobless rates skyrocketed, a new University of Michigan study found.
But the negative consequences of unemployment and moderating effects of federal income support were greatest in states that did not adopt Medicaid expansion. The study, published in the current issue of Health Services Research, contributes to previous findings that federal income support programs can mitigate hardship during economic crises.
Before the Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation of $600 weekly was implemented nationwide, health services spending declined by 1% for every percentage point increase in the unemployment insurance claims rate, as compared to pre-pandemic levels.
“Yet the reality that a temporary federal program bolstered health care spending during a public health and economic crisis underscores the perils of a fragmented and costly health care system that ties coverage to employment for working-age people and fails to provide universal coverage,” said study co-author Luke Shaefer, U-M’s Poverty Solutions faculty director.
The study targeted a brief period, spanning 31 weeks starting in mid-January 2020, when the pandemic was in its early stages. At that time, the federal government passed many unprecedented spending measures. Unfortunately for millions of workers, Congress allowed those federal unemployment insurance programs that were studied to expire last month, said lead author Michael Evangelist, a postdoctoral research scientist at Columbia University’s School of Social Work. He conducted the research with others as a U-M doctoral student of social work before going to New York this past summer.
Researchers used data on credit and debit card purchases nationwide to estimate the buffering effects of expanded unemployment insurance benefits on declines in health care services spending during the pandemic.
Specifically, the spending focused on regular visits to doctors and other health practitioners like dentists and optometrists, as well as ambulance services, visits to hospitals and nursing home costs. These data, however, do not capture insurance premiums or prescription drugs purchased at retail outlets.
For each percentage point increase in the unemployment insurance claims rate, health care spending declined by 1% in Medicaid expansion states and by 2% in nonexpansion states. Overall, FPUC payments mitigated half of this negative association, the research indicated.
Researchers also noted that other studies have found that unemployment insurance mitigates the negative health effects of job loss. When benefits are generous, it can lower suicide rates, improve physical activity among the unemployed, and increase health insurance coverage and utilization.
Shaefer, the Hermann and Amalie Kohn Professor of Social Justice and Social Policy and associate dean for research and policy engagement at U-M’s Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy, and Evangelist also co-authored the study with Pinghui Wu, who works at the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston. She was a postdoctoral research fellow at Poverty Solutions when she did this work.
ANN ARBOR—While most eligible families received the Child Tax Credit and used it to cover the costs of essential household expenses, a new survey indicates that more than 1 in 10 CTC-eligible families have not received the credit and were either uncertain about how to claim it or did not know why they did not receive it.
In March, Congress expanded the Child Tax Credit (CTC) to provide low- and middle-income families with monthly payments of $300 per child under 6 and $250 per child ages 6-17. The expanded CTC is already estimated to have reduced child poverty by about 30%.
Poverty Solutions at the University of Michigan, in partnership with Propel, surveyed low-income parents who use the Providers application—a free mobile app that helps more than 5 million families manage their Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits—and found that more than three-quarters of CTC-eligible users either received the Child Tax Credit payment (68%), were still expecting their first payment (4%), or understood why they did not receive an initial payment (11%).
However, about 13% of CTC-eligible users reported they didn’t get the credit and were either unfamiliar with the CTC or the process by which they would receive it.
Among users of the Providers application, parents who took the survey in Spanish stood out as notably less likely to say they received the initial CTC payment, compared to those who took the survey in English. Just over half of parents who took the survey in Spanish indicated they had received their first payment, compared to more than two-thirds of parents who took the survey in English. Spanish-dominant parents were also less likely to have heard of the CTC. Five percent of parents who took the survey in Spanish reported not having heard of the CTC, compared with only 2% of those who took the survey in English.
Additionally, parents with fewer years of formal education are less likely to have received the August CTC payment. Parents who did not have a high school diploma were 13 percentage points less likely to have received the credit in August than those who had an associate degree or more education.
“The expanded Child Tax Credit clearly provides essential support to families. This support will almost certainly produce long-term benefits to children and in particular children in lower-income households,” said Natasha Pilkauskas, co-author of the policy brief “Receipt and Usage of Child Tax Credit Payments among Low-Income Families: What we know” and associate professor of public policy at U-M’s Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy.
“Yet it is important that we take additional steps to ensure the CTC is reaching and supporting all eligible children and families who can benefit from this important investment.”
Among those users of the Providers application who did receive the CTC, almost everyone reported that it was useful in helping them make ends meet (94%) and that it is important to continue the CTC in the future (92%). The vast majority of respondents who received the CTC reported using the money for basic living expenses like paying bills (75%), paying rent/mortgage (9%), paying off debt (4%) and buying food (7%).
A large share of respondents (42%) also reported using the money for child-related expenses, like school supplies, children’s clothing and child care. Importantly, however, 16% of respondents reported the initial CTC payment did not provide enough help.
Data from the U.S. Census Bureau’s Household Pulse Survey, which polls a nationally representative sample of U.S. households, showed a 30% decline in food insufficiency among adults with children following the initial monthly payments and a 43% decline in food insufficiency among low-income households that received the initial payment.
“We can see in the data the ways in which these payments are impacting families across the country: helping them pay for food, bills, and other household expenses,” said Patrick Cooney, assistant director of policy impact at Poverty Solutions and co-author of the policy brief. “But we can also see that there’s more work to do to ensure all eligible families receive this critical benefit.”
This survey was conducted in collaboration with Propel, the creators of Providers (formerly Fresh EBT), between Sept. 1 and 15, 2021. The analyses in this report reflect the views of over 3,000 U.S. parents living with children under 18 that use the Providers application.
By Lauren Slagter
Poverty Solutions Director H. Luke Shaefer testified about the impact of pandemic relief programs at a Sept. 22 hearing before the U.S. House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis.
“Recent Census Bureau data shows that the pandemic relief legislation, particularly the American Rescue Plan, helped millions of Americans pay their basic expenses and reduced the poverty rate even as the pandemic continued to wreak havoc on our economy,” said Rep. James E. Clyburn, D-South Carolina and chair of the select subcommittee, at the hearing. “The American Rescue Plan was designed as a temporary stopgap measure to rescue our economy from an unprecedented crisis. We must now extend many of its provisions and build on them to create a strong, sustainable and inclusive post-pandemic economy.”
Shaefer discussed the impact of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, the December 2020 COVID-19 relief measures, and the American Rescue Plan. He is the Hermann and Amalie Kohn Professor of Social Justice and Social Policy, professor of social work, and associate dean for research and policy engagement at the Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy at U-M.
“The social safety net response ushered in by the bi-partisan CARES Act and continued in the December COVID relief bill and American Rescue Plan is truly historic. A wealth of evidence now shows it has proven incredibly effective,” Shaefer said during his testimony. “I believe the success is due in large part to the speed and flexibility of a broad-based approach that prioritized putting money in people’s pockets.”
Other witnesses at the hearing included: Diane Whitmore Schanzenbach, economist and director of the Northwestern University Institute for Policy Research; the Rev. Dr. Starsky Wilson, president of the Children’s Defense Fund; Indivar Dutta-Gupta, co-director of the Georgetown Center on Poverty & Inequality; and Douglas Holtz-Eakin, president of the American Action Forum.
DETROIT—Competing concerns about police brutality and high crime rates are reflected in Detroiters’ attitudes toward the police, according to University of Michigan research.
A recent U-M survey finds that about 6 in 10 adult Detroit residents believe police killings of both Black and Latino people are part of a broader pattern of mistreatment of people of color by the police, and would like to see significant police reforms. At the same time, Black, Latino and white Detroit residents were each about three times as likely to say a greater police presence in their neighborhood would make them feel more safe than they were to say a greater police presence would make them feel less safe.
According to the representative survey of Detroit households conducted by U-M’s Detroit Metro Area Communities Study, a significant majority of Detroiters favor police reforms, including requiring police to be trained in nonviolent policing methods (79%), giving the civilian oversight board the power to investigate and discipline officers for misconduct (68%), and using unarmed first responders for mental health calls (66%).
Yet crime also remains a prominent concern among Detroiters. Nearly 3 in 10 Detroit residents said they have been the victim of a crime in the past year (28%), and just under half (46%) of respondents who moved in the past 12 months cited crime and safety as a reason. Among the most likely to report direct experiences with crime were Latino residents (40%), residents between 18 and 40 years old (33%) and lower-income residents (32%).
Indirect exposure to criminal activity follows a similarly uneven pattern. Those living outside of the city’s core were significantly more likely to hear gunshots and witness drug activity in their neighborhoods, relative to those living in the Downtown, Midtown, and The Villages neighborhoods.
These concerns about both crime and police brutality are evident in the mixed evaluations of the police. Nearly half (45%) of residents agree that police in their neighborhood can be trusted. Similarly, 46% of residents somewhat or strongly agree that the police are doing a good job protecting their neighborhood, including a majority of white residents (57%), residents 65 and older (59%) and residents with college degrees (53%). At the same time, about one-quarter of Detroiters do not feel that police are trustworthy or are doing a good job protecting their neighborhood. Latino residents (38%) and residents under 40 (34%) are especially unlikely to say they feel good about the role of police in their neighborhood.
“These findings highlight the complexity of public safety policy in Detroit and in cities across the country. The pressure for reform and for protection, as well as attitudes toward the police, are far more nuanced and complicated than is often depicted,” said Jeffrey Morenoff, one of the faculty research leads for DMACS, professor of public policy and sociology, and research professor at U-M’s Institute for Social Research.
When it comes to the effect of a greater police presence in their neighborhood, 42% of residents said that it would make them feel more safe. Ten percent of Detroit residents say more police in their neighborhood would make them feel less safe. While white residents and college-educated residents were among the most likely to indicate feeling good about police presence in their neighborhoods, they were also among the most likely to indicate feeling less safe with an increased police presence in their neighborhood.
In addition, newer residents—those who have lived in the city for fewer than five years—were more likely to oppose increased police presence than long-term residents. A quarter (24%) of newer residents say that increased police presence would make them feel less safe, compared to 8% of longer term residents.
DMACS has been surveying representative samples of Detroiters since 2016. This latest wave of the survey was open from June 2 to July 9, 2021, and captures the views of 1,898 residents. To represent the views of the city as a whole, survey responses are weighted to match Detroit’s population demographics.
An interdisciplinary team from the University of Michigan was awarded $300,000 from the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation to train local residents and U-M students to provide one-on-one technology support to Detroit entrepreneurs. The project aims to better understand the types and complexity of technology support that small businesses need, along with preferences around timing and delivery.
The researchers will work with U-M alum Lutalo Sanifu (MURP ‘18) and his colleagues at Jefferson East, Inc, a nonprofit community organization committed to developing work for Detroiters and reducing barriers to small business growth and expansion.
The university project team includes Kristin Seefeldt, associate director of Poverty Solutions and associate professor of social work; Tawanna Dillahunt, associate professor at the School of Information; Julie Hui, assistant professor at the School of Information; Christie Baer, assistant director for the Center on Finance, Law & Policy at the Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy and program director for the center’s Detroit Neighborhood Entrepreneurs Project; and Aaron Jackson, program manager of the Detroit Neighborhood Entrepreneurs Project.
“Small businesses are a key driver of economic mobility and employment in Detroit, but the digital divide prevents some businesses from reaching their full potential. This research will give us a better understanding of the technology needs of small business owners, so workforce development efforts can provide the tech support that local entrepreneurs need to thrive. We’re excited to be partnering with Jefferson East in this endeavor,” said Seefeldt, primary investigator for the research project.
The project builds on Dillahunt and Hui’s partnership with the Friends of Parkside to pilot a “community tech worker” program to assist seniors requiring technology-related support. Tech workers will be embedded at Jefferson East to develop a sustainable, useful model that will help bridge the digital divide for small businesses.
“I’m excited that we’re able to extend our Community Tech Workers pilot to provide support for local businesses,” said Dillahunt. “I hope to see Community Tech Workers embedded in every community!”
U-M’s Detroit Neighborhood Entrepreneurs Project has observed that older and lower-income business owners generally find tools like scheduling software or excel-based cash flow calculators to be difficult to use without training. Baer says assistance with using technological tools could make a big difference for small businesses.
“This pilot project fills a large gap in Detroit’s entrepreneurial landscape. When it comes to teaching tech skills, there is no substitute for one-on-one support,” Baer said. “Our hope is that this pilot will provide information that is needed for some of our Detroit partners to be able to offer individual tech support to business owners in the future.”
The U-M project was one of six in the Kauffman Foundation’s community-engaged research portfolio.
“We’re excited to support community engagement in the research process through this grant portfolio. These six projects aim to build equitable, collaborative, solution-driven initiatives between communities and researchers with the potential to advance inclusive prosperity through entrepreneurship,” said Chhaya Kolavalli, senior program officer, Knowledge Creation & Research, Entrepreneurship for the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation.
The Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation is a private, nonpartisan foundation based in Kansas City, Mo., that seeks to build inclusive prosperity through a prepared workforce and entrepreneur-focused economic development.
Release courtesy of Rebecca Cohen, Ford School of Public Policy