Deepening our Understanding of America’s Most Vulnerable Communities

With funding from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, a team of researchers from the University of Michigan and Princeton University are developing two ways of looking at deep disadvantage across the United States.

The first is numbers-focused. Using data from multiple sources we will identify a set of communities that we believe represent some of the most distressed communities on measures beyond just income poverty.

But we know numbers don’t tell the whole story. Graduate students will be embedded in a small subset of communities — including parts of South Carolina and Kentucky — to do deep qualitative case studies. These communities will be from different geographies, represent different people and different needs. These case studies will tell stories both of the challenges these communities face, but also the positive qualities that help families get by in those communities. The goal is to capture what life is like from the perspective of the residents.

A key part of this project is that we will then create policy briefs from the qualitative research. What do members of these communities say would improve their lives, the lives of their children, and their communities as a whole? We will seek to find commonalities and differences across the sites.

H. Luke Shaefer, University of Michigan
Kathryn Edin, Princeton University