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UM, Detroit partner for four-year economic mobility project

Lucas Fare

The University of Michigan is teaming up with the city of Detroit to fight poverty and promote economic mobility.

The university’s Poverty Solutions program announced it will put up to $2 million into an effort to understand and promote the sources of upward mobility in the city.

The project will support a variety of existing anti-poverty efforts, examine the need for ones, and evaluate what works and what doesn’t, says U of M Associate Professor and Poverty Solutions Director Luke Shaefer.

“That’s what a research institution like the U of M brings to the fore. Thinking of this as a type of evaluation that can really see what’s bringing value,” Shaefer said.

Current joint projects involving U of M faculty members and Detroit city departments include efforts to help residents avoid property tax foreclosure, developing a better method for conducting neighborhood community need surveys, and piloting a community health worker program in one Detroit neighborhood.

Shaefer says there will be a big focus on collecting and analyzing data about what people in poverty really need to get ahead. “We really believe that data can be a helpful component for communities to figure out what they might want to focus on, what their priorities are,” he said.

The program will also fund a new city staff position, the assistant director of economic mobility, to support collaboration between U of M and the city.

"This partnership between the University of Michigan and the city will be a great help in our efforts to provide pathways out of poverty to our residents who are still struggling,” Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan said in a statement from the university.

35.7% of Detroiters lived in poverty in 2016, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. That’s down from prior years, but still the highest rate among the nation’s big cities.

Sarah Cwiek joined Michigan Radio in October 2009. As our Detroit reporter, she is helping us expand our coverage of the economy, politics, and culture in and around the city of Detroit.
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