Understanding Communities of Deep Disadvantage

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


Stories from the Field

emily miller profile photoHometown heroes hold up social safety net in rural Kentucky
By Emily Miller
Barreling up a hill on dusty, dirt road, the gravel crunches and a rainbow of green flanks the narrow roads. It is a muggy Monday mid-afternoon just outside Manchester, Kentucky. I am in a van stacked with freshly cooked and packaged meals for seniors. The lead…


Disinvestment in rural Kentucky leaves ‘nothing to do’ but drugs
By Liv Mann
Clay County is tucked away among the rolling mountains of eastern Kentucky. It’s home to just over 20,000 people, but less than 1,400 live in the county seat, Manchester. The rest of the population is strewn throughout the county in towns like Oneida or tucked…


Murky homeownership status derails flood relief in South Carolina
By Jasmine Simington
Jerry Testle is tucked into the arm of his living room couch watching television when a local community leader escorts us into his home. He can barely adjust his body to greet us, and he smiles only with his lips when we introduce ourselves…


Moving the needle on syringe exchanges in Appalachian Kentucky
By Lanora Johnson
There are no sidewalks on either side of the narrow road that leads toward Angel’s house, tucked away in a shallow holler in Clay County, Kentucky. The faded asphalt gives way to Angel’s yard — large and hilly, home to a bleating goat, chickens and at least three dogs…


Flood Recovery out of Reach in Rural South Carolina
By Meg Duffy
Water seeped under the doors of old homes and trailers in Nichols as the flooding from Hurricane Matthew began. Nichols is situated just north of the confluence of the Lumber and Little Pee Dee rivers, so as 18 inches of rain pelted the Carolinas, water came flooding into Nichols, bringing…