Poverty Solutions report highlights systems change to alleviate poverty


In the past year, Poverty Solutions has contributed to concrete policy changes that aim to lower the cost of auto insurance in Michigan, improve efforts to identify and support children who don’t have a stable place to live, and promote access to affordable and safe housing for more Detroiters.

Reforming large systems to better respond to the needs of people living in poverty can be a daunting task. Poverty Solutions’ annual report, released Feb. 26, describes how the initiative launched by University of Michigan President Mark Schlissel in 2016 has refined its approach to preventing and alleviating poverty through action-based research.

In the past three years, Poverty Solutions has secured more than $14 million in external funding to support research by faculty across campus and their community partners. In 2019 alone, the initiative raised more than $6 million and supported 44 projects across three U-M’s campuses, partnering with 14 of U-M’s schools and colleges and engaging more than 70 external partners.

“As we’ve grown with our partners, we’ve come to view poverty as the result of interlinked systems — housing, education, criminal justice, labor markets — that fail to function as they should for people with low incomes, inhibiting their ability to live healthy and productive lives,” said H. Luke Shaefer, faculty director of Poverty Solutions and a professor of social work and public policy. “Such a systems approach can be overwhelming, but it also allows for many entry points to intervene.”

The initiative’s approach emphasizes uniting with partners in the community and policymakers to help “bend the arc of systems change.” As highlighted in the report, that process begins by listening to input from community partners to set the research agenda.

The next step is to analyze data and research to identify policy gaps, and then identify possible solutions and propose evidence-based interventions. The final step in the arc of change is to support implementation of the recommended policies and evaluate the outcomes.

“The initiative has become a central component of how we fulfill our mission as a public university to produce the very best in research, education and service of value to society,” Schlissel said. “I am proud that Poverty Solutions is fostering broad engagement in our public mission, as we continue to work alongside leaders, experts and policymakers in communities in Michigan and beyond.”

“Our progress this year is only possible because of the partnerships we’ve formed. Uniting knowledge in this way helps us find new and better solutions to old problems,” Shaefer said.

Here are some of the ways Poverty Solutions advanced efforts to prevent and alleviate poverty at the federal level, regionally, statewide, in Detroit, and on campus in 2019:


Supported by research from Shaefer and colleagues, a universal child allowance policy proposal called the American Family Act gained traction with both progressive and libertarian scholars and lawmakers.


Poverty Solutions led the formation of the Midwest Mobility from Poverty Network, which is made up of the Midwest’s leading poverty research universities with the goal of developing a roadmap for promoting public engagement with research findings.


Recommendations from Poverty Solutions’ research on the cost of auto insurance as a barrier to economic mobility were included in the reform Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signed into law in May.

Poverty Solutions helped identify a statewide undercount of young children who experience homelessness, which prompted the Michigan Department of Education to explore ways to improve the systems used by schools and shelters to identify families in need of stable housing.


The Detroit Partnership on Economic Mobility between Poverty Solutions and the City of Detroit continues to grow. The partnership team launched 27 projects in 2019 and engaged with more than 70 community organizations and neighborhood groups in Detroit to guide research aimed at promoting economic mobility.

On campus

Sixty-six students from eight U-M schools and colleges enrolled in the Poverty Solutions certificate program offered through the Community Action and Social Change minor at the School of Social Work.

Kristin Seefelt, associate professor of social work and public policy, joined Poverty Solutions as the new associate faculty director of educational programs. The new position expands Poverty Solutions’ efforts to engage more faculty and students in meaningful research opportunities.


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