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Work Related Transdiagnostic Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Unemployed Homeless Persons with Anxiety and Depression

This project will design, develop and pilot an intervention to assist unemployed, homeless individuals in Detroit who are experiencing anxiety and/or depression-related barriers to employment. Specifically, the researchers will test the effects of combining vocational services with work-related cognitive-behavioral therapy (e.g. psychoeducation, cognitive restructuring to counter negative thoughts, and controlled exposure to work-related situations that induce anxiety). This project has the potential to address the substantial challenge of engaging homeless individuals with anxiety and/or depression into an evidence-based psychosocial intervention, and thereby enhance their long-term economic options and support their financial well-being.

Joseph Himle, U-M School of Social Work and U-M School of Medicine

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

The project: 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 gathered 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 process: The researchers interviewed 36 frontline financial service employees in Southeast Michigan, focusing on a daily narrative of experience and decision-making. The in-depth interviews were recorded and transcribed for thematic analysis to reveal patterns. 

Results: The study revealed frontline financial service employees follow highly predictable, patterned narratives around banks’ sales culture, social biases and moral judgments, and exclusion and marginalization. Frontline financial service employees use these narratives to deem customers worthy of responsible banking in ways that advantage wealthier and White customers and exclude and marginalize Black, brown, and poor White customers. While most banks appear to offer standardized products and services, class- and race-based stratification in the delivery of these financial products and services enables customers’ ongoing exclusion, exploitation, and marginalization


Terri Friedline, U-M School of Social Work


Positive Organizational Work Experiences as an Antidote to Poverty and Exploitation

The project: 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. This project aimed to 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 process: Researchers performed a small-scale evaluation of positive organizations that balance the productivity and well-being of vulnerable employee populations. Building on positive organizational scholarship, the analysis assessed 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. Researchers continue to analyze qualitative data gathered through interviews with 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

The project: 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 aimed to analyze and address methods to alleviate the barriers to successful rural-to-urban migration for women.

The process: Partnered with one of the world’s largest garment manufacturers in India, researchers planned to run a randomized controlled trial that aimed to facilitate Indian women’s rural-urban migration and assess impacts on the well-being of workers and their families. In 2019, four vocational training centers were established at randomized locations across the Indian state of Karnataka. The centers provided vocational skills and a guaranteed employment match in urban Bangalore following training for more than 1,000 women. The COVID-19 pandemic disrupted operations in the training centers, women’s migration decisions, and researchers’ ability to conduct follow-up surveys with women who had completed the vocational training. As a result, researchers focused on analyzing data from a 2017 baseline survey, initial uptake of the vocational training, and a rapid response survey fielded in the summer of 2020.


  • Initial uptake of vocational training was low. Overall, among households with eligible women in 12 villages, the take-up or participation rate at the four vocational training centers is 8.2%.
  • Determinants of training uptake: Households with more prime-age women (18-35 years old), especially those with more unmarried women, are more inclined to participate. Households in urgent demand for money were more likely to participate. And households that face less competing demands for women’s time – for example, those who do not need women to fetch water – are more likely to participate.
  • COVID-19 economic impact: Researchers contacted 1,815 households in the rural areas of Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh in May-August 2020 to survey them about their experiences during the pandemic. The survey responses show that the pandemic, which began as a health crisis, has in time triggered an economic crisis for the poor and vulnerable. Furthermore, it has led to huge trend of reverse migration from urban to rural areas and negatively impacted the prospects of placement-linked skill development programs.

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

The project: 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 provided data analysis toward understanding trauma’s impact on high school graduation and youth’s economic well-being and labor market participation.

The process: Researchers analyzed data for Detroit Jobs for Michigan Graduates programs that track intake and graduating statistics like testing scores, employment, post-secondary education and earnings. Researchers reviewed data for more than 1,900 young people (ages 13 to 20+) who were involved in 13 Detroit Jobs for Michigan Graduates program in 2014 to 2019. They assessed the number and types of barriers the young people faced ranging from academic to family, employment, criminal justice, basic needs, and various types of trauma in order to determine the impact of trauma on later-life successes.

Results: Youth who had barriers aligned with trauma were more likely to experience challenges with remaining connected to school and greater barriers to achieving their educational and employment goals. Youth with exposure to trauma or toxic stress were significantly less likely to achieve graduation or employment following their participation in the Jobs for Michigan Graduates program. Notably, youth with larger families, in general, were less likely to experience trauma exposure when compared to youth with smaller support groups.

Although all youth enrolled in Jobs for Michigan Graduates have barriers to graduation or employment and most live in poverty, youth with trauma / toxic stress barriers were significantly less likely to achieve their work and school goals. This highlights the importance of understanding how trauma creates disconnection, especially for youth, and demonstrates that interventions for poverty and inequality require an understanding and awareness of trauma. 

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

The project: 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. Since then, a variety of reforms reduced the duration of benefit eligibility by six 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 was decreasing before the COVID-19 pandemic. 

This project assesses Michigan’s UI system compared to the rest of the nation. It concludes that Michigan’s UI responded to the COVID-19 crisis well compared to many other places, but that this response was hampered by long-term structural weaknesses in the state’s system. Many of the changes that helped Michigan weather the worst of the crisis were temporary and highlight a missed opportunity to provide lasting improvements to a flawed system.

The process: This project scores jurisdictions across four broad categories of unemployment insurance performance: 1) Essential Factors; 2) Workforce Coverage; 3) Claimant Benefits and Protections; 4) COVID-19 Response and Administration. These factors are chosen to measure various mechanisms through which UI systems can succeed or fail in providing qualified applicants benefits in a timely and fair manner. Higher scores across these measures indicate that a state’s UI system is relatively more claimant-centered, meaning that the system provides meaningful support to the largest possible range of workers who are out of work through no fault of their own.

Results: Michigan’s UI system consistently ranks as one of the weakest UI programs in the country. In reviewing the first three categories above about the state’s programmatic variables, Michigan was in the bottom five jurisdictions. However, Michigan did very well in response to COVID-19. Because Michigan was a leader to respond and to give out benefits at the beginning of the pandemic, Michigan’s “overall” score was near that of the average state’s score. However, this masks the fact that Michigan was in the top three states in the more temporary policy measure (COVID-19 response) but was second to last in the nation in the longer-term policy measure of essential factors and the bottom one-third in terms of workforce coverage and claimant benefits & protections.

  • Michigan has serious long-term structural issues in terms of its essential factors. These factors include the weekly benefit amount available to claimants, the number of regular weeks of compensation available, the taxable wage base, and rework requirements after a separation.
    Michigan was the second-worst jurisdiction across these dimensions.
  • Michigan was in the bottom one-third in the structural issue of how much of the workforce is covered. While Michigan performed well in terms of having a robust workshare program, the UI system is the second-worst jurisdiction in terms of covering low-earning workers. Michigan also performed poorly in terms of covering part-time workers and having a well-functioning employer chargeability system.
  • Michigan performed poorly in terms of other claimant benefits and protections. This factor includes medical leave availability, dependent allowances, how the state handles potential fraud, and how modernized the UI system is.
  • Michigan’s UI system responded well (in the top three), but with temporary policies, to the COVID-19 crisis. Michigan was among the first states to implement Pandemic Unemployment Assistance and the state’s governor was proactive in broadening worker protections. For instance, the governor temporarily expanded benefit weeks from 20 to 26 weeks, waived the work-search requirement, and broadened the reasons for refusing work in light of COVID-19. While infrastructure issues prevented the state from scoring higher, Michigan made the most out of its structurally-weakened system.

Rachael Kohl, 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

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

The project: 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 research partnership between Community Health and Social Services Center (CHASS) in Detroit, 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 collaboratively developed and piloted a new cooking skills intervention. The project aimed 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 class.

The process: The research team held four focus groups with CHASS patients before the cooking class pilot, and those findings helped determine the content and structure of the cooking skills intervention. The team hosted six cooking classes at CHASS, with a total of 45 participants, and they conducted 12 follow-up interviews with participants a few months after the cooking class to gather feedback on the experience.

Results: Focus group results described challenges that CHASS patients face when it comes to food procurement and preparation, clear differences in food practices based on different demographics CHASS serves, and strong interest from participants in cooking classes and food-related support groups offered by CHASS. Initial results from the pre/post surveys of the cooking class show participants had significant improvement in cooking confidence, cooking with new ingredients, and managing food waste. Initial findings from the follow-up interviews indicate that participants enjoyed the classes, particularly the hands-on participation; felt that they learned new skills that would help them both eat healthfully and better utilize food resources; and that they were cooking the recipes and using the incentives at home.

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

The project: Over-criminalization and reliance on retributive punishment have resulted in a criminal justice system 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. In 2017, Street Democracy, a nonprofit organization located in Detroit, implemented a pilot Functional Sentencing program in the 31st District Court in Hamtramck. In contrast to traditional sentencing, where the focus is on punitive mechanisms such as fines and fees, the Functional Sentencing program 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). Through collaboration with the University of Michigan-Dearborn, this project expanded the Functional Sentence program to four misdemeanor courtrooms in Detroit’s 36th District Court.

The process: Thanks to the strength of Street Democracy’s relationships in 36th District Court, three judges agreed to pilot Functional Sentencing in their misdemeanor courtrooms. Members of the research team spent more than 60 hours on courtroom observations while accompanying Street Democracy attorneys to hearings. The researchers then met with Street Democracy and the judges to offer preliminary observations about what’s working and what could be improved in the implementation of the pilot Functional Sentencing program. They also offered advice as to how data could be better collected by the judges, which would allow for better analysis of the impact of the program.

Results: Through their courtroom observations, the researchers learned that judges have relatively broad discretion in how they conduct hearings, how they identify potential participants for the Functional Sentencing program, how they describe the program to potential participants, and whether a functional sentence is given alone or in connection with a court-supervised sentence. This diversity in approaches made it difficult to assess which processes produce the most successful and positive outcomes. Other challenges the pilot encountered were implementing consistent record keeping of functional sentences and getting institutional buy-in, beyond the interest of individual judges in implementing the Functional Sentencing program.

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