The Rural Resilience Project

With funding from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, a team of researchers from the University of Michigan and Princeton are identifying deeply disadvantaged communities across the United States in two ways.

Our first is numbers-focused. Using data from multiple sources – the Census Bureau, the Center for Disease Control, and more – we have a set of communities that we believe represent the most distressed communities on measures beyond just income poverty.

But we know numbers don’t tell the whole story. From the communities that show up as most disadvantaged on our index, we will work to identify 6 communities for further qualitative study. These communities will be from different geographies, represent different people and different needs.

Communities will have a preliminary visit from a set of key team members, to begin early discussions about what an in-depth partnership in their community might look like. Our graduate students will seek collaboration from the community, and to create mutually beneficial partnerships.

Before COVID-19, our graduate students would live and work in these communities for a period of three months. During the pandemic, our team will work instead to build a deep ethnographic story through phone or video interviews. We seek to tell stories both of the challenges these communities face, but also the positive qualities that we know exist everywhere. The goal is to capture what life is like from the perspective of the residents.

A key part of this project is the policy briefs that stem from the qualitative research. What do these communities say would improve their lives, the lives of their children, and their communities as a whole? We seek to find commonalities and differences across the six sites, and share with funders and policymakers.

Overview of Questions

We hope to spend time in each community with community leaders and service providers to hear their thoughts on the community, and get a sense of the place. Some key questions:

  • What does poverty look like in your community, and how does place play a role in the community’s history of disadvantage?
  • What would policy solutions that bring hope and dignity look like?
  • What could a mutually beneficial partnership look like? How do we share value, rather than extracting information?

We will also hear from individuals who are struggling day-to-day, engaging in a respectful opportunity for them to share their successes and challenges.

Team Members:
Kathy Edin, co-author of $2-A-Day and Doing the Best I Can and Professor of Sociology at Princeton
Luke Shaefer, co-author of $2-A-Day and director of Poverty Solutions at the University of Michigan
Tim Nelson, co-author of Doing the Best I Can and faculty member in Sociology at Princeton

Contact for more information:
Karen Otzen, Strategic Projects Manager at Poverty Solutions,