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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


Beyond Rhetoric: Confronting and Combating Racism in Genesee County, Michigan

On June 10, 2020, the Genesee County Board of Commissioners approved a resolution declaring racism a public health crisis. This research project aims to ensure this resolution has a meaningful impact on the health and well-being of residents of color, extending beyond mere rhetoric. To accomplish that, researchers will:

  • Develop a decision-making Community Action Council with about 20 members responsible for developing an evidence-based strategic plan to eliminate racist policies and practices impacting the health and well-being of Genesee County residents of color;
  • Develop and formalize a strategic plan for eliminating racist policies and practices that impact the health and well-being of residents of color in Genesee County, with the Community Action Council’s guidance and opportunity for public input at virtual townhall meetings and targeted correspondence with stakeholders; and
  • develop a website with anti-racist policies and practices resources to assist other local, state, and national organizations to assess their current policies and practices as well as adopt anti-racist policies and practices that impact the health and well-being of people of color.

Lisa M. Lapeyrouse, associate professor, Department of Public Health and Health Sciences, University of Michigan – Flint

Detroit River Story Lab

The Detroit River Story Lab will work with regional organizations to co-produce and disseminate historically nuanced, contextually aware, and culturally rooted stories recasting the role of the Detroit River in the lives of adjacent communities from an anti-racist perspective and documenting its history as part of the Underground Railroad. The Story Lab will do this through three channels:

  • Secondary education: In partnership with regional scholars from the Essex County Black Historical Research Society, researchers will work with curriculum development experts at the U-M School of Education and local teachers to develop new experiential curriculum on the history and enduring effects of the Detroit River’s role in the Underground Railroad for middle and high school students in Michigan and Ontario.
  • Public history: In partnership with the Detroit River Project, a public history organization spearheaded by local activist, historian, and Underground Railroad descendent Kimberley Simmons, researchers will help to advance the group’s ongoing bid to secure a UNESCO World Heritage Site designation for the Detroit River, in order to forge deep links to this history with the image of the city on the international stage.
  • Journalism: In partnership with the new community-based journalism nonprofit BridgeDetroit and its Pulitzer-winning director Stephen Henderson, researchers will work to promote public discussion of the place of Black history in recent efforts to redevelop the waterfront and claim it as a site of cultural heritage.

David Porter, professor, English Department, University of Michigan

Using Police Body Camera Footage to Experimentally Assess the Effects of Routine Police Encounters for Community Trust and Community Health

Racial inequities in American policing are at the forefront of public consciousness in 2020. This research project will evaluate the physiological stress Black and white people experience during routine traffic stops, offering insights on the relationship between policing and minority health. Study participants will listen to audio recordings of actual traffic stops, as recorded by police body cameras; half of the recordings will be randomly-selected traffic stops involving Black drivers and half will be randomly-selected traffic stops involving white drivers. Researchers will monitor study participants’ perceptions and physiological reactions to these encounters using galvanic skin conductance (GSR) and electrocardiography (EKG). The study will offer insights into disparate police treatment of white and Black drivers as well as disparate impact of these interactions on white and Black people. By understanding the role of officer communication and the divergent ways people experience these routine police encounters, we can better intervene on these institutional interactions and train officers in communicating during routine interactions.

Nicholas Camp, assistant professor, Organizational Studies, University of Michigan

Democracy’s Denominator: How Citizenship-based Redistricting Impacts Racial Minority Voters

For the past half century, congressional and state legislative districts in the U.S. have been drawn to equalize the total population of each district. But recently, legislators in several states with Republican-controlled legislatures have hinted at potentially changing the unit of apportionment to eligible citizen voters. This new approach has been empowered by the Trump administration’s recently-announced plans to report estimates of citizen and non-citizen population down to the census block level. Under this new approach, called citizen voting-age population (CVAP) equalization, legislative and congressional districts would be designed to equalize the number of adult citizens, rather than total population.

What would be the racial impact of these ongoing attempts to draw districts based on CVAP? In contemporary America, non-citizens consist mostly of racial and ethnic minorities. Conversely, adult citizens are a whiter and more Republican group than the American population as a whole. Therefore, if districts were drawn to equalize CVAP rather than total population, racial minorities could potentially be packed into a smaller number of legislative districts. This project aims to analyze the effects that such a shift would have on the electoral power of voters of color. By examining whether the electoral influence of racial minorities is reduced when districts are apportioned using CVAP, this project will provide insight into how this policy change could affect racial equality in legislative elections.

Jowei Chen, associate professor, Department of Political Science, University of Michigan

Virulent Hate: Anti-Asian Racism and Resistance during the COVID-19 Pandemic

In the U.S., the first half of 2020 saw a sharp rise in hate incidents targeting Asian Americans, who have been scapegoated for the novel coronavirus. This project, which is a collaboration with the Stop AAPI Hate Reporting Center and its community partners, aims to improve public understanding of contemporary anti-Asian racism and resistance. To study the surge in anti-Asian hate incidents during the Covid-19 pandemic, a team of student researchers at the University of Michigan and at universities across the country will work together to gather and analyze data about hate incidents reported in news media, with the goal of understanding what types of hate incidents have happened, where and when they have occurred, and who has been affected. In addition, the research team will study how Asian American community organizations and government institutions have responded to the rise in anti-Asian hate incidents. Researchers will document and analyze the forms of organizing, protest, and resistance undertaken by Asian Americans, as well as the policy changes for which Asian Americans have advocated at the local, state, and national levels. The research team will share its findings through a public-facing digital platform, which will feature an interactive map, analysis, and other resources that will inform public policy, guide the grassroots advocacy and activism of Asian American community organizations, and support anti-racism education projects.

Melissa Borja, assistant professor in the Department of American Culture and core faculty in the Asian/Pacific Islander American Studies Program, University of Michigan

Washtenaw County Prosecutor’s Office: Racial Equity Study and Criminal Justice Dashboard

Poverty Solutions is partnering with the Washtenaw County Prosecutor’s Office and others on a data-driven project focused on uncovering potential inequities within the prosecutorial system and increasing the transparency and accountability of the system generally. The “Prosecutor Transparency Project” in partnership with the ACLU of Michigan and the University of Michigan Law School has two components: a racial equity study and a criminal justice dashboard. The study aims 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 this project — the first of its kind to be conducted in Michigan — will be shared with the public. Poverty Solutions will take the lead in building a dashboard, which will report metrics from the Prosecutor’s Office as well as other participating agencies.

JJ Prescott, University of Michigan Law School
Trevor Bechtel, Poverty Solutions at the University of Michigan
Grady Bridges, University of Michigan Law School
Eli Savit, Washtenaw County Prosecutor

Valuing the Costs and Benefits of Free Mobile Care for Pregnant Mothers and Infants

Access to prenatal and newborn care are critical components to improve birth outcomes and reduce infant deaths. Despite Medicaid expansion, many families in Michigan lack health insurance and access to care. Such families often face overwhelming barriers to care including limited or no transportation, poverty, childcare, competing demands, and work
schedules. Since 2016, the Luke Clinic in Detroit has provided twice-monthly free care for prenatal and postpartum mothers and their infants through one year of life.

In 2020 the Luke Clinic piloted the Mobile Antenatal Testing Unit (MATU), providing community/home-based care to families with high-risk pregnancies and social barriers to care. When the COVID-19 pandemic hit the MATU became a bridge to care for many families for whom it is unsafe to attend clinic appointments or who need hands-on testing in combination with virtual medical care. This project supports the evaluation of the MATU project to provide the basis for future improvements and quality care.

Katherine Gold, U-M Departments of Family Medicine and Obstetrics & Gynecology

MIHP for All: Exploring the Impact of Universal Maternal and Infant Home Visiting on Health Outcomes

This project supports the Youth Policy Lab, along with researchers at Michigan Medicine (MM) and staff from Michigan Medicine’s Maternal Infant Health Program (MIHP), to jointly explore a set of research and policy questions designed to help understand ways to improve maternal and infant health outcomes in Michigan. The research investigates the impact of offering home visiting universally to all women, regardless of insurance status, on participation rates and the health outcomes of mothers and babies. Prior research suggests that offering social services universally can reduce stigma, increase program awareness and have a substantial impact on participation rates. This study will provide policymakers and program administrators useful information in their collective quest to improve the health of mothers and babies in Michigan.

Robin Jacob, Institute for Social Research

Benefit Coach Pilot

There are two interrelated challenges facing health and human services professionals. First, a relatively large percentage of poor families do not receive the public benefits for which they qualify. Second, young children associated with substantiated allegations of neglect are at a high risk for experiencing a subsequent substantiated incident of neglect. These problems are interrelated in that family poverty (or economic instability) and child neglect are highly correlated.

To help address these two problems, we are developing and rigorously evaluating the use of a benefits coach to simultaneously (1) increase the take-up rate of public benefits and (2) decrease the risk of repeat neglect. The benefits coaches will work directly with child welfare-involved families and focus specifically on getting families through the eligibility process – and helping them secure the benefits that will improve their family’s economic well-being. The current project represents a collaboration between Michigan’s Children’s Services Agency, Poverty Solutions, and the Child and Adolescent Data Lab. The benefit coach model is located in Detroit’s south central field office and the project will run for two years.

Joseph Ryan, University of Michigan School of Social Work

The Study Of Black Families’ Response To COVID In The Support Of Mathematics Learning

COVID-19 has further exposed the racial inequalities within the U.S., notably in the disproportionate mortality rates of Black people. Black families must adapt to a new racialized landscape that includes the precarious intersections of public health, economic, and racial crises. This project uses a mixed methods case study design to amplify how Black families make decisions and leverage resources in support of their children’s mathematics education during COVID-19. This project will examine:

  • how Black families navigate decision-making related to educational offerings during the pandemic;
  • everyday forms of school participation;
  • whether and how parents and children may refuse to participate in everyday school activities; and
  • resources families may access to support their children’s educational success.

Findings from this project will be used to build and improve communication channels to district officials, develop reparative solutions for schools and communities in the post-COVID academic year, and devise policy proposals to support Black homeschooling movements.

Maisie L. Gholson, assistant professor, School of Education, University of Michigan
Danny Martin, professor, College of Education, University of Illinois at Chicago
Erika Bullock, assistant professor, School of Education, University of Wisconsin-Madison