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Poverty Solutions at the University of Michigan

Joan and Sanford Weill hall
Suite 5100
735 South State Street
Ann Arbor, MI 48109-3091


Identifying the recipe for success: can a new cooking class program in a community health center increase participation in existing center programs and build core skills to decrease food insecurity among low-income patients?

Many area households do not have enough access to healthy, affordable food. This food insecurity is associated with poverty and numerous health problems in both children and adults. Evidence suggests that teaching cooking skills can help people better manage food insecurity by teaching them how to better reduce food waste, budget and plan meals, and cook healthy meals with inexpensive ingredients.

In this new research partnership between Community Health and Social Services Center (CHASS), the University of Michigan Medical School and the Department of Health Management and Policy at the University of Michigan School of Public Health, team members will collaboratively develop and pilot a new cooking skills intervention. The project aims to:

  • Understand financial barriers, skill deficits, and preferences associated with cooking meals at home among CHASS patients living in poverty.
  • Develop a new cooking skills intervention to address food insecurity.
  • Implement and evaluate the pilot cooking skills intervention.

The findings of this study will help guide future CHASS programs and research, and the project itself may help pave the way for future collaborations with the University of Michigan in this important area of research.

Julia A. Wolfson, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health
Caroline Richardson, Dept. of Family Medicine, U-M Medical School
Richard Bryce, Community Health and Social Services Center (CHASS)
Denise Pike, Community Health and Social Services Center (CHASS)

Engaging Low-Income and Minority Communities in Prioritizing Community Health Benefits

There are a variety of competing health needs in communities, particularly in minority and low-income communities, which often have worse health outcomes than other communities. This project, a collaboration between the University of Michigan and Friends of Parkside, a non-profit on Detroit’s eastside, proposes a new approach to address health disparities by meaningfully engaging communities in decision-making to prioritize community health needs.
The literature shows that community engagement, improved health, and poverty reduction are all interconnected. This project will evaluate the use of a simulation exercise, CHAT (CHoosing All Together), to engage underserved, minority community members in setting priorities for community health benefit (CHB). Using CHAT, participants prioritize competing needs for limited resources. Specifically, this project will:

  • Build on and strengthen existing academic-community partnerships with non-profit healthcare organizations (HCO) and community leaders in three geographic areas in Michigan.
  • With partners, engage community members in determining CHB priorities.
  • Assess the impact of community engagement on participants, on HCO decision-making, and on motivating community entities to improve community health.

CHAT has been used in multiple other research projects, including the largest one in scope called Deliberative Engagement of Communities in Decisions about Resources (DECIDERS). Through this project, a longstanding Steering Committee was established including public health and community leaders representing minority and underserved communities throughout the state of Michigan. This committee is committed to providing ongoing guidance, advice, and support for this new project focused on community health benefit.

Although the US health system is evolving to focus more on community health and social determinants of health, there is little incentive for healthcare organizations (HCOs) to have ongoing collaborations with communities in order to prioritize and address community needs or to improve health equity. Engaging underserved and minority communities in setting health priorities could influence decisions made by HCOs and other entities, encourage HCOs to prioritize work on community identified needs, and encourage HCOs to be more inclusive and transparent in their decision-making and required investments in their communities.

Susan Dorr Goold, U-M Medical School
Zachary Rowe, Friends of Parkside
Karen Calhoun, Michigan Institute for Clinical and Health Research (MICHR)
Jen Skillicorn, Center for Bioethics and Social Sciences in Medicine (CBSSM)
Maryn Lewallen, Center for Bioethics and Social Sciences in Medicine (CBSSM)

Providing Opportunity, Not Punishment: Implementing A Pilot Functional Sentencing Program in Southeast Michigan

This project is grounded in the perspective that the criminal justice system is broken. Over-criminalization and reliance on retributive punishment have resulted in a system of oppression that entrenches poverty and harms those on the margins. By shifting the focus to healing, rather than punishment, the criminal justice system can simultaneously address the root causes of offending behavior and improve lives while enhancing public safety.
Street Democracy, a non-profit organization located in Detroit, Michigan, will implement a pilot Functional Sentencing program in Southeast Michigan. Street Democracy, founded in 2006, is comprised of a small group of attorneys and legal researchers whose mission is to reform the systems that create and perpetuate poverty in Detroit. In contrast to traditional sentencing, where the focus is on punitive mechanisms such as fines and fees, the Functional Sentencing program proposed by Street Democracy attempts to “help an individual permanently exit the criminal justice system by replacing fines and costs with targeted interventions (e.g. job placement and medical services) that address the root causes of an individual’s offense” (Street Democracy, 2018). In 2017, Street Democracy successfully launched an initial pilot of a similar Functional Sentencing program in the 31st District Court in Hamtramck, Michigan.

This new collaboration with University of Michigan-Dearborn will research and implement a more permanent, larger-scale version of this program in order to lay the foundation for expanding the availability of Functional Sentencing throughout Michigan, as well as improve methods of collecting data on clients who have gone through the process. More broadly, this research project will contribute to understanding about problem-solving courts, identifying the factors that may be most effective in reducing recidivism, as well as help illustrate the ways in which alternative sentencing structures may contribute to improving trust in the judicial system.

Francine Banner, Sociology, UM-Dearborn, Sociology
Jayesh Patel, Street Democracy
Lara Rusch, Political Science, UM-Dearborn
Jessica Camp, Social Work, UM-Dearborn
Rachel Buzzeo, Behavioral Sciences, UM-Dearborn

“It Depends”: How Discretion in the Financial System Contributes to Exclusion and Marginalization

Access to banking and credit are important tools in overcoming poverty. But studies have shown that bias plays a role in the banking system, which may impact consumers most in need of financial services. This project will gather in-depth, qualitative information about the impact of decision-making among front-line financial service employees. Employees that regularly interact with consumers in financial service institutions make many discretionary decisions, such as charging overdraft fees, which have been shown to be biased. In turn, biased decisions can further marginalize low income consumers and consumers of color and mitigate the benefits of anti-poverty programs. Ensuring that consumers can continue to engage with and trust their financial institutions is paramount in preventing and alleviating poverty.

The researchers will interview dozens of financial service employees in Southeast Michigan, focusing on a daily narrative of experience and decision-making. Afterward, the interviews will be used to design a study to test the impact of discretionary decisions on the consumer. The aim of the study is to provide policymakers, consumer advocates, and financial service professionals with the information they need to revise consumer protections and ensure equal banking access.

Terri Friedline, U-M School of Social Work

Positive Organizational Work Experiences as an Antidote to Poverty and Exploitation

Work can be a vehicle for dehumanization of workers–think human trafficking, or even legitimate opportunities that use workers as commodities. Moreover, in vulnerable populations in particular, the realities of housing, transportation, or childcare may serve as critical barriers to employment. The aim of this project is to study how positive organizations instill work with dignity and empowerment, and nurture thriving individuals with better access to resources that help alleviate poverty.

The project will perform a small-scale evaluation of positive organizations that balance the productivity and well-being of vulnerable employee populations. Employment in such organizations could illuminate one pathway out of poverty. In particular, the findings will be used to direct organizational interventions to promote human trafficking survivor reintegration and rehumanization.

Building on Positive Organizational Scholarship, the analysis will assess positive organizational practices such as a purpose-driven mission, openness to failure, and authenticity, as well as the experienced thriving and relationship quality of vulnerable employees. In exploring the role of positive organizational practices in poverty reduction, this research may illuminate both long- and short-term effects for employees in positive workplaces, from psychological healing to the growth of a sustainable career path.

Mari Kira, U-M Department of Psychology, Center for Positive Organizations
Bridgette Carr, U-M Law School, Center for Positive Organizations
Christina Carmichael, Project Director, The Rehumanizing Workplace Project

Impacts of Skilling and Employment Opportunities on Female Rural-to-Urban Migrant Workers and their Families: A Randomized Controlled Trial

Labor-intensive manufacturing is growing rapidly in developing countries. Yet significant wage gaps exist both across geographic and gender boundaries: the urban-rural wage gap is as high as 45% in some areas of India. Industries that specifically carry disproportionate amounts of female employees, such as garment production, could provide a way to enhance successful migration and provide important job skills, and thus begin to narrow gender and wage gaps in labor participation. This project will analyze and address methods to alleviate the barriers to successful rural-to-urban migration for women.

Partnered with one of the world’s largest garment manufacturers in India, researchers will run a randomized controlled trial that aims to facilitate Indian women’s rural-urban migration and assess impacts on the wellbeing of workers and their families. Ten vocational training centers will be established at randomized locations across the Indian states of Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh, covering women living in more than 1,200 villages. The centers will provide vocational skills and a guaranteed employment match in urban Bangalore following training. Extensive panel data will be collected on women from nearly 3,000 households, and impacts on women’s experiences of increased bargaining power, well-being, and annual income will be assessed.

Achyuta Adhvaryu, U-M Ross School of Business
Anant Nyshadham, Boston College Department of Economics
Huayu Xu, U-M Department of Economics

Exploration of Jobs for Michigan Graduates: Trauma as a Barrier to Economic and Labor Market Opportunity

Within the Midwest, Michigan has the highest rate of youth disconnected from the educational and work opportunities necessary for adult well-being. Trauma may well be a crucial player in this disconnect, contributing to later experiences of poverty. New research has shed light on the potential of trauma-informed care (TIC) and Restorative Practices (RP) to improve opportunities not only in mental health, but in youth economic development programs as well.

This study will provide data analysis toward understanding trauma’s impact on high school graduation and youth’s economic well-being and labor market participation. The analysis will be applied to data from Jobs for America’s Graduates in Detroit that tracks intake and graduating statistics like testing scores, employment, post-secondary education and earnings. Researchers will compare the barriers to high school graduation with the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Service Administration’s seventeen areas of trauma in order to determine the impact of trauma on later-life successes. These findings will be used to provide better, trauma-informed pathways for disadvantaged youth across Detroit and the state at large.

Jessica K. Camp, U-M Dearborn Department of Health and Human Services
Tracy S. Hall, U-M Dearborn Office of Metropolitan Impact

The Performance of Michigan’s Unemployment Insurance System: Using Individual Claims and Adjudication Data to Test and Strengthen the Unemployment Insurance (UI) Safety-net

Unemployment Insurance (UI) has historically provided stability to families through periods of economic hardship, keeping 3.2 million individuals out of poverty nationally in 2010. Over the past eight years, a variety of reforms have reduced the duration of benefit eligibility by 6 weeks and restricted eligibility for UI, spiking the rate of claims denials to 41% by 2016. These changes have denied benefits to thousands of unemployment insurance claimants. The number of unemployed workers who are applying for UI is also decreasing.

This project will acquire newly available claims and adjudication data for people across Michigan who have claimed benefits during the period from 2012-2018 in order to evaluate the performance of Michigan’s UI system following the legislative changes. Before analysis and accessible publication, the data will be privatized to protect claimants’ identities. Among other things the data will be analyzed for how often and what reasons late appeals adjudication were granted. The results will provide quantitative support for the UI Policy Clinic’s ongoing projects as well as ongoing research into the impact of recent legislative reforms.

Steve Gray, U-M Law School

Michigan Evictions: Assessing Data Sources and Exploring Determinants

The project: Each year, tens of thousands of Michigan households lose their homes as a result of court-ordered evictions, and Michigan cities have some of the highest eviction rates in the nation. The goal of this project is to analyze available data to better understand the prevalence, patterns, and causes of evictions in Michigan, and inform decisions by social services, legal services, and policymakers to address the problem, while also contributing to the growing national research literature on the topic.

The process: Researchers collected statewide case filing data and data from a random sample of eviction case records in Washtenaw and Lenawee counties to understand the prevalence, patterns, and causes of evictions in Michigan, and provide policy recommendations for local courts, municipalities, funders, and state government. Researchers also used a community-based participatory research approach to engage legal aid and housing stakeholders in the research process.

Results: This project found in 2018, the statewide eviction filing rate—that is, the number of filings per rental household—was 17%. This means there was about one eviction case filed for every 6 rental housing units in the state. Only 4.8% of tenants were represented by an attorney in eviction cases filed in 2014-2018, compared to 83.2% of landlords.

A statewide multivariate analysis showed the number of eviction cases filed within a census tract is related to the percent of single mother households, number of mortgage foreclosures, and percent of population living in mobile homes. In urban areas, the number of cases is positively related to additional factors, including the percent African American, percent of the population under 18, and percent of housing units vacant in the census tract

More information: Learn more about the key findings and see the eviction filing rate by county and census tract in Michigan

Robert Goodspeed, U-M Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning
Margaret Dewar, U-M Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning University of Michigan
Elizabeth Benton, Michigan Advocacy Program