H. Luke Shaefer: Lessons in using evidence to fight poverty

November 3, 2021 0:55:00
Kaltura Video

Luke Shaefer gives the The Hermann and Amalie Kohn Professorship in Social Policy and Social Justice Lecture. November, 2021.


0:00:02.4 Brown: Luke, Sherrif Brown here. Congratulations on being named the Kohn Professor of Social Policy and Social Justice at the Ford School of Public Policy. Your work, including your book, $2 a Day has shaped the way policy makers and the public think about poverty injustice in America. I quote you all the time.

0:00:20.7 Speaker 2: When I think of academics making a difference for social justice in Michigan, in our country and the world, Luke Shaefer is the first name that comes to mind.

0:00:31.8 Speaker 3: Luke, congratulations on behalf of the Mayor's Office, when we need thought partners in the work and friends in the fight and boots on the ground, we think of you.

0:00:42.6 Speaker 4: Luke, congratulations on becoming named the Kohn professor. I have so much admiration for you and your scholarship.

0:00:49.8 Speaker 5: Luke has a great career that embodies the name of that professorship.

0:00:54.4 Speaker 6: I have always been impressed by your ability to make connections that other people miss, whether between research and policy, across disciplines or methods, repeatedly making the whole more than the sum of its parts.

0:01:06.9 Speaker 7: We're proud of your scholarly productivity, your brilliant teaching and mentorship and how you've become a public intellectual.

0:01:14.7 Speaker 8: Those two things together, Social Policy and Social Justice, because it encapsulates exactly who you are. I always have your book close by, I refer to it often, I assign it to people to read.

0:01:27.6 Speaker 9: You are a scholar of the highest order with a deep commitment to rigor, and at the same time, a humble humanitarian heart-having lover of mercy and justice.

0:01:42.0 Speaker 10: Your passion and your dedication for research and teaching about social policy injustice has made the difference. We need more Luke Shaefers.

0:01:55.1 Speaker 11: You have done so much and you will do so much more, thank you for you.

0:02:01.6 Speaker 12: Luke is passionate about social justice, and that's in part because he's passionate about people, that's how Luke is.

0:02:10.5 Speaker 13: We see that from your work, poverty is not inevitable, and its root causes are non-intractable, Hal and I know that Hermann and Amalie would have embraced you and your efforts, and they would have been honored that your professorship bears their name.

0:02:32.1 Speaker 14: Congratulations Luke, on the well-deserved honor of being named the Hermann and Amalie Kohn Professor of Social Policy and Social Justice at the Ford School. We're so proud of you. Go bloom.


0:03:10.8 Michael Barr: Welcome, everybody. I hope you enjoyed that fitting tribute to Luke Shaefer, just a wonderful expression I think of all the love and admiration that everyone in this community has for Luke, so I'm just grateful that you were all able to join us here. I'm Michael Barr, I'm the Joan and Sanford Weill Dean at the Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy. It is my great honor to welcome you all here today to be able to enjoy the inaugural lecture for the Hermann and Amalie Kohn Professor of Social Policy and Social Justice here at the Ford School. In a few minutes, I'm gonna invite President Mark Schlissel, who's here up to introduce Luke, and so, in the meanwhile, I just wanna say a few words about the Kohn Collaborative for Social Policy here at the Ford School. The Kohn Collaborative is work that Hal and Carol Kohn and the Ford School worked on together to create. It's a collaborative that has three main pillars, the Kohns Hal and Carol have established five new professorships at the Gerald R Ford School of Public Policy, which is extraordinary. I don't know of any other... I don't know of any other school that's been honored in that way, and it's my fervent hope that the Ford School is a fitting place for the Kohn family to be honored and in some cases remembered for their own contributions to social justice.

0:05:03.9 MB: Hal and Carol are not graduates of the Ford School of Public Policy, they came to us because they saw the work that was being done here at the Ford School and the impact it could have in the world, and I'm just deeply grateful to them for their friendship, for their support, for their vision for this program, as I mentioned, the Kohn Collaborative have five new professors, the first of them we're about to honor, Luke Shaefer. The Kohn Collaborative also has two other key pillars to it, the second pillar is support for our wonderful students, so the Kohns, Hal and Carol are supporting two Kohn scholars here at the Ford School. Mark Ramirez is here, he's our first of the Kohn scholars. And the third component is support for having a policy impact, making sure that we have the resources we need for seed grants, for collaboration, for interdisciplinary work across our faculty, and for the translational work to take that research, as Luke has done, and turn that into real policy action. So it is an extraordinary moment for the school, I'm deeply grateful to Hal and Carol, I'm so glad that so many of Hal and Carol's family are here with us to celebrate today, and I'm also... Wonderful to see so many of Luke's friends and colleagues and family here to enjoy this moment with us today, so one last round of applause for Hal and Carol please.


0:06:53.3 MB: For the introduction of the Hermann and Amalie Kohn, professor of social policy and social justice, I am thrilled to be able to turn over the microphone to our President, Mark Schlissel. Mark has done extraordinary work advancing policy impact here and across the university community, including by having the vision to found and get off the ground Poverty Solutions, which Luke so ably has been spearheading for these last five years, so it is my delight and pleasure to introduce to you President Mark Schlissel.

0:07:35.8 Mark Schlissel: Thanks very much, Dean Barr for the kind introduction, and I also wanna add my appreciation to our special guests, Helen and Carol and the entire Kohn family, it's really wonderful to have you at this event and to have gotten to know you through the years, and hopefully we get to share many more joyous moments in the years ahead. The generosity of the Kohn Charitable Trust has allowed us to advance interdisciplinary research on policy that promote social equity and inclusion for all US residents. It's really a pleasure personally to be here, as the Dean mentioned, this was really Poverty Solutions in Luke are one of the first things I supported after I arrived here in 2014, an obvious no-brainer.

0:08:20.0 MS: And for me, this is what a great research university is supposed to do, it's supposed to take scholars in scholarship and look for ways to make a difference in the world, and this is just a shining example. The greatest universities are both catalysts and crucibles for positive change, we're a place where top science and scholarship lead to great ideas and discovery, where ideas and discoveries get tested and lead to actions or products, new jobs from biomedical research or devices from engineering. And as you all know very well, in the Ford School, actions can result in new policies that transform society for the better. While our Poverty Solutions Initiative was formally launched in 2016, It began as an idea before that, a group of U of M faculty produced a report that found that while Research on Poverty was being conducted in many academic departments across this institution, the scholars were often working independently and unaware of each other, and not all of our work was having the impact that it deserved. Luke Shaefer and his colleagues have changed that dramatically. Thanks to many faculty, students and staff and an impressive array of partners, we're realizing the vision of the poverty... Vision of Poverty Solutions to inform, seek out and test new strategies for preventing and alleviating poverty.

0:09:43.6 MS: The work achieved an important milestone on March the 11th, 2021, when an expansion of the child tax credit was signed into law by President Biden, as part of the American rescue plan. The payments that went out under the expanded CTC have led to a 30% decline in food insufficiency for adults with children, and a 43% decline in food insufficiency for low-income households. Dr. Shaefer and his colleagues advocated for the expanded credit, providing analysis that demonstrated its benefits. And in July of 2020, Luke testified before Congress. And after it passed, Poverty Solutions joined Detroit Mayor, Mike Duggan and a broad Southeast Michigan coalition to connect families to the CTC and created a website with step-by-step guidance for parents to ensure they actually receive this benefit. The White House has called it one of the strongest outreach efforts in the nation, and Professor Shaefer was back at the House of Representatives in September to testify on the benefits of making the CTC permanent. In addition to serving as the Inaugural Director of Poverty Solutions, professors Shaefer is U of M's first Kohn professor. His primary appointment is in the Ford School, and he has additional appointments in our School of Social Work, the Law School, and our Institute for Social Research.

0:11:08.2 MS: Professor Shaefer is an award-winning author and scholar, a Carnegie Fellow and a policy advisor. In the book, we just saw shield shamelessly in the video.

0:11:20.1 MS: $2 a day living on almost nothing in America. The book, he co-wrote with Katherine Eden, we see a portrait of an America that many didn't want to acknowledge. An America where families are crushed by poverty and by the systems and policies that perpetuate their desperation. In a New York Times Book Review, William Julius Wilson wrote, $2 a day is a call to action, arousing both the nation's consciousness and conscience about the plight of a growing number of invisible citizens. Wilson further deconstructed the political discourse around poverty, noting that the rise of each... The rise of such absolute poverty since the passage of welfare reform, belies all the category talk... Categorical talk about opportunity and the American dream. I'm so grateful that professors Shaefer and his colleagues have answered that call to action with their monumental work. There are many people at this institution that are great scholars, and there are many people that are great at public engagement, I don't know of anybody that combines those two better than the inaugural chair holder of the Hermann and Amalie Kohn professorship of social justice and social policy. I introduce Professor Luke Shaefer.


0:13:00.7 Luke Shaefer: Oh man, a person should not have to talk after all that. Thank you, Michael. Thank you, Mark. Thank you, Helen, Carol, thanks to everyone for coming. It's a special thing to get to speak to your friends and your colleagues. My mom is here. She taught me the importance of stories and the importance of caring about people and the fun in the every day, I would say. And my partner in crime for 20 years, Susie Shaefer's here.


0:13:47.9 LS: I've gotten to raise two beautiful children with, and is always the last advisor in the room for me for all thorny problems and moral compass. It's great to have clergy in the family. And Michael, my eight-year-old son who has taught me a lot about making small talk. He's like, "You just go and talk to people about whatever is on your mind." So lots of really wonderful collaborators here. And I'm really grateful to you all. This is Hermann and Amalie. Hal and Carol Ray, while the family has little information about their early lives, they know their values through their children, Hal's father and aunt. Both were strong, independent individuals, courageous in their actions and true to the purpose and principles they drew from their parents. I also happen to think Hermann has a really great moustache. Sometimes I do wonder if Amalie had some of the troubles correcting the pronunciation of her name, that I run into. No, it's Amalie and Nosy and Shaffer, either. Is that we do a lot of... Hermann operated a hardware store, as did his son after him. And that's a special connection for me. My family had a hardware for four generations in Ypsilanti, Michigan. And I like to think that maybe that's some of the connection, the CS idea of a shared sensibility that problems are complicated. But with the right tools, they can be fixed. That's more in the abstract for Al and I, than in the actual hardware world. But that's the idea.

0:15:48.3 LS: Germany was their home. But with the rise of the Third Reich, Hermann and Amalie lost their voices and their rights, then their home, and finally saw their families destroyed. They got their children out of harm's way. And that's why we get to have Hal now, but not themselves. With justice denied, their aspirations were dashed and their values trampled. Hal and Carol honor them by endowing the Hermann-Amalie Kohn Professorship for Social Justice and Social Policy to address issues of social justice in this country, so others may not lose their voices and roles in society. And thereby, we may all benefit from their collective experience and wisdom. Voice for the voiceless. I really admire that. And I want to live into that call. And as I thought about what that means, we actually have a number of people in the room who I think of as having written books that really embody this. So Kathy Eden has written enough books to complete an entire syllabus that I think meets this criteria. And, of course, I'm really taken with Associate Dean Celeste Watkins-Hayes's book, Remaking a Life, which is all about the HIV safety net in the ways that bringing voices into the beginning of policy led to such a better outcome in the end. Kristin Seefeldt's Abandoned Families, is about the safety net and how it leaves people sort of alone, even when we provide support. We're not there with them.

0:17:31.6 LS: And Reuben Miller's new book, Halfway Home, which is about the afterlife of mass incarceration. I've been thinking about those works. Oh, by the way, all of those books are really great stocking stuffers, if you're looking for gifts. I've been thinking about what it means to voice for the voiceless. And on walks with my dog, I was thinking about how I don't... I wouldn't presume to speak for folks who are marginalized, folks who don't have a voice in the process. But I think it can begin with listening. For a voice to have a voice, I think is to be heard, and to have what you say, your ideas, your principals acted upon. I've got this really wonderful team at Poverty Solutions where we try to do a lot of work and have a lot of fun at the same time. And I think about the model that we've tried to build. It sort of breaks down to listen, research and act. To listen is to really let our agendas be driven by the people who we're talking with. And that might be in focus groups, that might be walking around the communities that we're working in, that might be through incredible representative surveys, like in the City of Detroit, the DMACS survey.

0:19:07.0 LS: Then I have to think about the tools that we have to bring to bear. I'm a researcher. And so that's what I can do. And if I can bring the listening into a conversation with data, analysis, I believe I can learn more about those challenges, the little challenges that are lifted up. And then I believe we need to act on them, so that research turns into the possibility of change, that it can empower families to live healthy and productive lives. Then I think we have to evaluate that to see, did it in fact change? It's not enough to change legislation. It's not enough to change a system, so that it works better for families. I think we need to take the time to see how much change was there. What was the impact? So listen, research, change. And that has taken me in a lot of really surprising directions in my career. We formed a partnership with Mayor Duggan in the City of Detroit. And when I think about the 100 things on my list of action items for reducing poverty and enhancing economic mobility, in what was at the time, the nation's poorest large city. By the way, we're not the poorest large city anymore, Cleveland, if you were wondering. I think about those hundreds of things.

0:20:46.8 LS: One thing I can definitively say was not on that list was auto insurance, but as we started to talk to families, we sort of talked to the mayor who's actually pretty obsessed with this issue, community groups, we heard about auto insurance and so we wanted to see what does it mean that these auto insurance rates are far too high? So, our great team member at Poverty Solutions, working with Liz Phillips and Pat Kuni asked this national simulator of auto insurance rates to one of the zebra, one of the places you might go to figure out what something should cost you, "Please, oh please could we have data on auto insurance?" And they brought me this table that found that the same policy in 2018 that was costing nationally $1400 was $5400 in the City of Detroit. That's 17% of the annual income of a Detroit family. I put a little space between Detroit and the rest because one of these things is not like the other. So when I see this chart, I think about a single mom who has to make a decision about whether or not to go to work, and maybe she didn't get the auto insurance in, maybe she's uninsured that day, and I think about sort of the decision that she's put in, "Do I not drive uninsured?"

0:22:28.9 LS: In Detroit, her job is probably in the suburbs, there's this big mismatch, and it turns out we haven't really invested in the kind of public transportation that would have made it possible for her to get to the job she probably has, so I think it's a pretty rational decision for her to decide, "This one day, I'm gonna take care of the auto insurance, but it's gonna be okay, I need to get to the job 'cause I need to pay my rent." And I imagine getting pulled over for an out tail light, and in Michigan, we've been hiking up the rates of our tickets for many, many years, and so I think she gets a ticket and then she can't pay that ticket, so then she doesn't pay it, and then in Michigan for a long time, we had driver responsibility fees, which was like a ticket on top of the ticket, and a couple of years ago, actually, the state legislature and the Governor said, "You know what, this is a good policy. We've confiscated about 340,000 driver's licenses, 70,000 Detroiters had their driver's licenses confiscated." And they decided to act, but the final piece of the puzzle was the fact that the state was making about $90 million on these fines and fees, and that was a pretty big hole in the budget.

0:23:52.1 LS: So when I think about that, I think about a structural cycle of poverty, positions that we put people in, that lead them to have to make tough choices with a lot of risks in any direction. So we wrote a report and it sort of connected auto insurance to poverty and economic mobility, and I enjoyed the fact it was cited both by Governor Whitmer and Mackinac Center for Policy, which is a libertarian right of center think tank, and it was a part of driving a policy change that happened a couple of years ago, and now we're just about getting ready to release a second report where we'll show that so far, rates have gone down about 20%, which in Detroit is about $1000, a little bit more than $1000. Well, that's not nothing. On the other hand, there's been no change in the disparities between what we pay in Detroit and what we pay in other parts of the state, and some of the health insurance providers, the policies were a little bit crude, and so we think some of those policies providers are maybe getting driven out of the market, so we try to listen, research, act and then begin again.

0:25:20.8 LS: I had a great student, Mike Evangelist, he's gone on to Columbia on a post-doc who was a joint doctoral student in social work and sociology, and we had to get him a field placement, so we set Michael up with a field placement at a center of lawyers that helped folks with unemployment insurance problems, and so he would take the calls and he wasn't a lawyer, but he would take the calls and he would talk to people, they'd say, "I got this weird note, I'm not sure what to do about it. This thing's happening, I haven't been able to look at my benefits yet." And the lawyers did the work of helping them figure this stuff out, and Mike came into my office one day and he said, "You know, I'm taking all of these calls that they say they're being charged with unemployment insurance fraud, and the numbers were just like tons and tons of people calling, and the lawyers were saying they'd never seen anything like that before." So he and I had decided that, "Hey, let's actually... The number of cases you can see that the state establishing unemployment insurance fraud claims is all public information, so let's go take a look and see has there been an increase in the number of people being charged with fraud?" And Mike came back, I think this was in the days of when students would actually bring paper to your office, so I think he came back with this chart.

0:27:00.4 LS: So when I saw this chart, I must say, I said a few words that I cannot say in front of my mother or Carol Kohn. But as we dug into this, we found out that somewhere around 2012, the State of Michigan had gotten a new computer system that had an algorithm that was looking back through all of the cases and looking for technical discrepancies. And then the computer would actually send a letter, with no human oversight, it would generate a letter that would go to the claimant saying, "We think you've been fraudulent, please explain yourself," and then if it didn't hear back in 10 days, they just presumed that people agreed that they had been fraudulent. And in Michigan, if you're charged with fraud, then you would owe back all the dollars and benefits that you had gotten. So let's imagine that's $3000 over some period of time plus a penalty, which was that amount times four, and then I would compound at 15% interest just to 'let's drive the stake in there'.

0:28:17.6 LS: And so it turned out this computer was just sort of going back in time and we kind of wondered, "Is this right? Was it just like a whole lot of fraudulent people not getting charged earlier on"? And the lawyers would take cases to the state and they would say, "Oh actually, that was a mistake. We're gonna clean that up. But there's no structural problem." And so we thought there was a structural problem. So the Department of Labor, the Federal Department of Labor has oversight over the state unemployment insurance program, so after many conversations with Cynthia Wilbanks, I sent a letter to the Department of Labor saying, "We think there might be something wrong happening in Michigan," with Mike Evangelist, he really was a driver of a lot of this, and Steve Gray. And we sent it to Sandy Levin, actually, and Sandy also said to the Department of Labor, "Hey, you should check into this." And the Department of Labor came and decided to do an audit, sort of based on that letter and they took a bunch of cases and they said, "These were deemed fraudulent. Were these actually fraudulent?" And it came back that they had gotten it wrong at least 20,000 times, and the rate of getting it wrong was 93%, which...

0:29:49.9 LS: I mean, that's an impressively high rate, don't you think? You could almost say, "If it says that you're fraudulent, you're not fraudulent," and you would have gotten it right. And so it was this audit coming in from the federal government that said, "Actually, it's not a problem with the people, it's a problem with the system." And this led to a bi-partisan change that meant they could no longer use the computer on its own, and then we started over a little bit of time fighting over, "Should people get the money back that they were wrongly charged?" I think that hasn't totally been resolved over time. But sometimes when we're talking about what government should do to prevent and alleviate poverty, we're talking about the things that we should do. We're talking about programs, really important programs, whether they be teachers or mentors, lawyers. Sometimes we're talking about things government shouldn't do, and that includes charging people 17% of their income for auto insurance and falsely accusing them of fraud. I have a lot of my mentors in the room, so Harold Pollack is here from the University of Chicago, who... Yeah, hello. Harold gets a clap. Yeah. John Troutman, who was the guy who said, "Hey, you should go get a PhD," many years ago. And Sandy Danziger, both of them helped get me a job here.

0:31:37.1 LS: I don't know that it would have happened. And then there's Sheldon Danziger who is here. You know, sometimes I get into conversations with other people about their mentors, and my mentors, and who gives more feedback? And I would say, "Well, your person might have given some feedback, but I don't think it's in the same category." And they would say, "No, no. My person really pushed me." So I went to the video replay on this and I pulled out the last paper of mine that Sheldon commented on, and there it is.


0:32:30.2 LS: I actually, as I was looking at this again, I kind of felt like it might be a piece of art, so I titled it 'Composition 17'. And the other thing I really love is this was accepted two months later in the Journal of Policy and Analysis of Management, which happens to be one of the best journals in our field. So I really don't know how it quite got to this. There's actually writing on the back of one of these pieces of the paper that I just, I gave up on. So Harold and Sheldon, and Julie Henley and Susan Lambert, they sort of, I like to say, taught me to do it both ways. Sort of not trying to put your eggs into any one basket, methodologically, and to look at all the evidence. So years ago, I got...

0:33:28.9 LS: I was actually in a meeting with Gary Freed, who's here, he was wearing a bow tie that day as well, and Tom Buckmiller. And Gary, who's a pediatrician, said, "If I could fix one thing about the healthcare system, it would be access to oral health care for children." And I was like, "Oh, that's pretty interesting." And I started to look into it, actually turns out oral health problems is a maybe the number one reason that kids miss school, it's a big reason why grownups miss work, we think there's all this psychosocial challenge of having teeth that maybe you're embarrassed about, let alone that hurt. And so I was walking home one day and I thought I had this epiphany of the thing that no one had ever thought about, we should have a mid-level dental provider who can do a lot of the restorative stuff that nobody but a dentist can do. It'd be like a nurse practitioner or a physician assistant.

0:34:37.1 LS: And so I started to look into it, and of course, it wasn't a new idea at all, I was pretty sure this was gonna get me tenure, but it turned out New Zealand actually had these types of providers and have for decades, and they have eradicated untreated tooth decay in schools, 'cause they house one of these mid-level dental providers in every school. I did a very academic thing, which is to say, write a letter that I thought could go to Governor Snyder to say, we should have a commission to see if we should do something like this, and... Now, how's... To tell you now? Some of my best friends are dentists, but there are dentists who really don't like this idea, actually. My first hate mail, I'm proud to say was from some dentist. Who really, really didn't like the idea of a mid-level dental provider, and Susie's friends used to joke that they were gonna send me like broken toothbrushes in the mail. One of the concerns was, "Oh, if you have a provider like this, they won't... The care won't be as good. It'll be second rate care." So I thought that was pretty interesting.

0:35:57.4 LS: Let's see if that's true. Of course, some of the other things were, wow, people don't show up for appointments, and actually, I was sure that wasn't true, because if you went over on the free clinic day that we have here at U of M, you would find, basically, the day they announce there's free dental care, it fills up. Like in an hour. Seriously, like in an hour. So Liz Phillips, who was a collaborator of mine, took the lead in looking at every study that had ever been written on the quality of care of these mid-level dental providers who've been practicing in other countries for decades. So I consider this table a beat you into submission type table. So this reviews every study, it's about two dozen. And two things I like about this, so like 20... There's 23 studies on the quality of care of mid-level dental providers and all but to conclude that these providers are above the bar. And all of the studies that compare the quality of care of a dental therapist, so we're talking about fillings and extracting baby teeth to dentists actually could find that they perform at least as well. In some cases, the dental therapist performed better.

0:37:16.2 LS: So this example to me was always the importance of a counterfactual, right. If you're assessing the quality of care it needs to be against whatever the other possible provider was. Right, so if you're assessing a new dental therapist, you should compare it to a new dentist who like coming right out of school, and some of these studies actually found dental therapists were a better quality of care, because you can imagine sort of the theory behind this, if you're doing fewer things you've got a tighter scope of practice, maybe it will be... You'll be better at it, you'll just use the same things over and over again. In this story, we... I have... We found some partners who... Actually the University of Detroit Mercy dental school, decided they wanted to do a pilot.

0:38:08.0 LS: And Steph White actually was here, she started doing search at all across the state, just introducing people to the idea, asking what would you think about this mid-level dental provider? Would you be comfortable? How would it work with people outside of the oral health care field who might have a different perspective than the inside. And it was a funny circumstance where over a couple of years, I was working towards a pilot where we were gonna train some people within a dental school they have basically, there's no scope of practice restrictions, as long as they're students, they can do anything, so we could up-train folks, have them work all across the state, see if they provide quality care, and then they would be there and then we could implement the program.

0:38:56.8 LS: And the last time I ever spoke publicly about this, there was... Because of a lot of different people, there was enough interest that I always remember I was speaking at the Michigan Oral Health Care Coalition, and at the end, the hygienist who had really, really liked me before, we were like, "We don't need any more studies, we can just do this." And the dentist who would really not like me before, they were like, "We should really do this study, there's no need to race into a change," and that's when I was like, "Okay, well, maybe it's... Maybe the time for study has actually passed here and some other people took up the mantle", and interestingly, the champion of this was Mike Shirkey in the state legislature, and I had this really funny period where I was really cheering him on as Michigan became only the fifth state in the nation to have a dental therapy law while also writing up at after Op Ed about what a bad idea of Medicaid work requirements were, which was also his idea. COVID sort of hit, and we're still waiting to have dental therapists in the state of Michigan. There's questions about who's gonna train them, and do they need to be trained here or elsewhere, so the policy's in place, but we still have to see if it's gonna have the effect that we hope.

0:40:26.1 LS: It was a decade ago that Kathy Eden took a chance on me as an assistant professor, she invited me up to that school in Cambridge, the Public Policy School in Cambridge, Massachusetts, I can't remember its name at the moment.

0:40:48.6 LS: It was like two or three schools ago for Kathy, so she can't remember it either. I don't know if any of you have a friend or a colleague that you think, "Wow, this person is so much cooler than me, and I'm just gonna be glad for however long they hang out with me", and there, well, Kathy's been that for me, and just the chance to work with her has been really a huge thing in my career, and it's been 10 years, so I think we're good going forward, she's not gonna move on to other people, but it was in her office that she had been doing these other studies on other stuff, neither of us were really looking at welfare reform or extreme poverty in any way, I was writing a lot of papers about the working... About folks who were working and could they get unemployment insurance? What was the EITC like for them? And she said, "I'm sort of seeing all of these families who, they don't have any money, they might have food assistance and they might have a housing subsidy, but it's just striking that there's no cash in the household," and so I got interested in that, I was like, "Oh, that's... "

0:42:12.7 LS: I was working with this data and I could very quickly look... Now, Harvard didn't give me an office 'cause they're kinda cheap, but I went to the library and I ran these models and it was the predecessor to this chart where we could see... Now, we've looked in households corrected for under-reporting, and then a number of families reporting periods without cash income above $2 a day, depending on the data set, it doubles, it quadruples. We've looked at administrative data from the SNAP Program, families reporting under penalty of law, they don't have any money. And we started looking at things like extreme measures of hardship, school homelessness counts, once we got 90% of the schools in, in 2007.

0:43:03.0 LS: These are kids that are homeless or doubled up, we see this striking increase and actually we can chart the decline of TANF cash welfare, in a state with an increase in the school homelessness numbers, so much so that for every 100 cases we lose in a state, you see about 14 more homeless kids. So we decided that we were gonna do this project that both tried to look at large scale data like this and tried to do it both ways, try to look at all the data, right, to get the most cohesive picture and go out and meet families and my daughter Bridget came with me the first time I got to meet families for what became our Book '$2 A Day', and I remember sort of early on getting to know families, my daughter playing with Caitlin and Cole who where Jennifer Hernandez's kids in the book...

0:44:05.8 LS: Down to visit Lauren on the deep Southside of Chicago, Lawrence actually, Bridget's middle name, so that's where the student name came from. And starting to ask families, what do you do when you don't have any money? What does it look like? And noticing actually a little like divot on the inside crease of some of the elbows of some of the moms, and we started to learn that selling blood plasma was a major economic coping strategy. And we saw it in Chicago, we saw it at Cleveland, we saw it in Appalachia, on the Mississippi Delta. It turns out there wasn't enough in the rural places, there just weren't enough people. So I got really interested in this. Had we seen an increase in blood plasma sales over some period of time? It turns out the plasma trade associations actually proud of the fact that we've seen this by 2019, so my great student, Anna Lidis Otrova, who's working on this for her dissertation, updates this chart every year and sends it to me, and it always goes up. Actually, it'll probably go down in 2020 'cause there are some challenges with COVID. But we're talking about when we look at 10 million plasma sales up through about 2004-2005, and then up to 50 million as of 2019, just a really big increase, and it actually turns out the United States accounts for 70% of the world's plasma supply, and only 40% of the demand.

0:45:40.0 LS: So we export the blood plasma... Mostly poor Americans, 'cause we can see that these centers are sort of concentrated in very poor communities and communities of color. So when '$2 A Day' came out and we wrote about this, we got a very sternly worded letter and... From the plasma trade associations, saying it's fine to talk about poverty, but could you please mention that plasma is an important component, in a lot of life saving treatment. So plasma is an important component in a lot of life-saving treatment, and some people... We got into this weird stuff where people are like, "Look, Eden and Shaefer, we should... Shouldn't we stop allowing people to sell their plasma", and I've actually always been against that because I know what the other options are. And they're not good. And it is true that selling your plasma can save lives, and a lot of people take some meaning out of that.

0:46:44.0 LS: But to me, the most important thing was, I've been sort of noted as a poverty expert in the press, and I knew nothing about plasma sales, among poor families at all, and so wanting to understand, to really understanding what I'm studying, right, that just brought home the importance that I needed to be in interaction with families, I can't get too close off because then you don't...

0:47:17.2 LS: You're just never gonna totally understand what you're studying. So Kathy and Tim and I, we... Tim our collaborator and Kathy's husband, who's also here, we started it at... We've been really thinking about poverty as a community level issue, not just... Even when you think about structural explanation for poverty, even in the structural, we're still sort of problematizing the individual, right, and saying poverty is the problem of this person, and society impacts that. I've been trying to think a little bit about, should we think about poverty more as a community level problem, are we all impacted by poverty? Does it impact communities, and that got us really interested in just looking at the distribution of poverty across the nation and doing some community level studies, we've also been thinking a lot about income data are imperfect, and maybe we should be looking at other measures, so we've been thinking about health, income health and social mobility. And Nathaniel Hendren and that other guy, oh, Raj Chetty, they have this incredible data where we can follow a cohort of people who were low income as kids and see, did they climb the economic ladder as an adult from tax records, so it's like everybody in one cohort, but it's everybody.

0:48:46.5 LS: It's pretty incredible. And the amazing thing is, you can see in some parts of the United States, the American dream of rising to the middle class or above that, it's alive and well, a low income family, it's just as likely to be at the middle. In other communities is very much not, so we decided to take income data, we're taking health data, we're taking social mobility and put 'em all in some models, and it created this map of deep disadvantage for us. The thing that sort of attracts me to this map, right... The thing that draws my attention is you can see the clustering of deep disadvantage, so the darkest blue are the places that score highest on this index, they have high poverty, poor health outcomes and low social mobility.

0:49:42.2 LS: And this region, sort of this crescent that comes down towards through Mississippi and then down to Louisiana, and then across, that's the Cotton Belt, that had the longest history of enslavement, there's Appalachia in Eastern Kentucky, and then some clusters down in South Texas, and then out in the West, those are mostly tribal lands, and we've been looking at this map for a really long time and thinking like, This map actually, it really hasn't changed for a long time, these are the same communities that spurred the War on Poverty, Sheldon and others have showed, had a lot of impact, the same communities that were the poorest then are the poorest now, and so that's been leading us to think a lot about history and a set of maps that really sort of taken us...

0:50:46.0 LS: We had a student who's been working on the project, Brian Pearson, who brought in a second map that he had seen of the rate of enslavement in 1860. So this is the south, a proportion of enslavement, so the proportion of people who look like me, putting into bondage, people... This sort of suggests to me that history isn't... It's not something that we can put in a footnote when we're thinking about this, right, this is really... This is the whole ball game. And we've seen that if we bring in segregation, rates of segregation in 1900, the rate of enslavement in 1860, and a couple of other factors from 100 to 200 years ago that are deeply structurally... This is like structural racism at its core, we can predict with quite a bit of precision, communities poverty rates today. And we've been thinking about Rucker Johnson's book, Rucker Johnson, an economist trained here at the University of Michigan, found in that blip of a moment when we started to integrate schools in the 1950s and '60s after Brown, we can see these huge improvements across the board, and then we stepped away from that again, and now schools are as segregated as they were, and it hurts all of our communities, it hurts places, especially hurts black and brown people.

0:52:42.0 LS: So history has to be front and center, we have to deal with this and figure out how to deal with it, and it does some time sort of leave me with a sense that these are big things and I don't know if we can... What's gonna push the needle? Right. What's really gonna make change happen? 

0:53:06.6 LS: I do think sometimes change can happen, that we can do things that matter, that really impact families for the better in the day-to-day, right? And then sometimes we have these watershed moments where we don't... We haven't addressed all of it, we haven't addressed our history, we haven't addressed stratification of well-being, but we can have an impact and... After '$2 A Day', we... Kathy and I sort of joined with eight other co-authors... Don't ever try to write a paper with 10 people, at least if they're an interdisciplinary group, saying, "Hey, we should transform the child tax credit into basically a child allowance, something that most other countries have." And these were our simulations at the time, we were looking at a poverty rate of 16% without a child allowance, and in the paper, we found if you just did $250 a month, we could cut that down by 43%.

0:54:16.4 LS: That's pretty dramatic, and more to my heart, this bar of people reporting these cash incomes below $2 per person per day at 1.7%, that goes down to zero. So if we can get this to everyone, we can eliminate... We can make that book a historical artifact. So Russell Sage, where Sheldon went on, was kind enough to publish this paper, publish this idea. And at some point, I don't know if I went... I was going up, I think, for full professor, and I'll always remember the comment from one of the reviewers was like, "Well, I guess it's fine for Professor Shaefer's colleagues to talk about things that could never possibly be true in the United States," but of course, we had written a paper, Marianne Bitler and her colleagues have written a paper, Sam Hammond who's a Libertarian, who had written a paper talking about this type of proposal, and it turns out it's not a hare-brained idea, like tons of other countries have already done it, right, so we can see what happened to those other countries and... Anyways, it became sort of the basis of a bill called the American family Act, which had two senators attached to it at the start, and over time got all democratic senators.

0:55:46.7 LS: And then during COVID, when President Biden was looking for something to do for families with kids who were hit especially hard, he popped it into the American Rescue Plan. So my professorial response to that reviewer, whoever it may be, is, suck it. We did some things based on these principles in the... During COVID, and I gotta say, I never would have imagined we would do what we did during COVID, between economic impact payments and the child tax credit, expanded unemployment insurance. This chart looks a lot like the one when we take the impact of these EIPs, and this doesn't even count the Child Tax Credit, we saw these big reductions in poverty, we didn't see proportionally larger productions of poverty among black and brown children, and so we need to do extra policies to get there, but we can reduce poverty, we've shown it, right, it is... Now it doesn't have to be theoretical, and my team at poverty solutions has been following this data that comes every few weeks, that shows it's a nationally representative survey, the fraction of people with adults with kids is that top line who are reporting they don't have enough food to eat. Again, the measure actually isn't perfect, but if we look across the number of measures, we see a pretty similar thing where last Fall of 2020, we were seeing hardship rise, and then we got some cash transfers at the end of December, boom.

0:57:41.0 LS: Hardship goes down, ARPA happens, again, it goes down, and then the child tax credit happens, then we've seen Food insufficiency among adults with children drop another 30%, and now we're at about 20% from the start, but also look at where we are September of this year, to September 20... 2020. These things are just amazing to me, we reduced poverty during the greatest economic crisis of modern times, and somehow I sort of feel like we've moved on to talk about how there's a little bit of... There's some inflation, I shouldn't be too pejorative, and nobody can find workers. I just want us to take a minute and say like, This is incredible to think, food and security, it didn't go up in 2020, with tens of thousands of jobs loss, that's just incredible.

0:58:41.0 LS: One last slide, we've been doing this thing with the Mayor and in the state of Michigan, where we've been... We tried to reach out to families to say, you should make sure you're getting the child tax credit, 'cause we do know it's the most comprehensive thing we've ever gotten but the most vulnerable and most likely to be left out, and we were on TV, we were on the radio, community based organizations were talking, and then the state of Michigan, led by Steph White, sent out two text messages to all of their families on SNAP who had given them permission to do that, hundreds of thousands, We saw a 14,000% increase, in people going to the website, and I think an 80 time increase in people making appointments with tax advisors.

0:59:32.4 LS: So this just speaks to me, like when we do figure out how to reach out families and we reach out about something that they care about, they respond.

0:59:42.2 LS: So voice for the voiceless. I'm honored to play a role in honoring Hermann and Amalie, and the charge laid out by Hal and Carol is one that I accept with all my heart. Over the course of my career so far, I've tried to begin with listening, to use tools at my disposal to translate listening into action, to have my research shaped by the experiences and values of those who often don't have a voice at the policy making table. Listen, then research then act, trying to be a part of concrete actions that hold the possibility of empowering families to live healthy and productive lives, then we evaluate to see if those changes did in fact make a difference. In trying to translate research into action I situate myself in an understanding, and much of what we seek to address in a confrontation with poverty is centuries old and change will not come easily, but change is also possible both in the day-to-day moments that can help empower families and in the big moments when new systems overtake the old ones in surprising ways. In subscribing to this method, I have found the world to be a much more complicated, richer, infuriating, fascinating, inspiring and beautiful place. Listen, research, act, begin again. Thank you.


1:01:42.4 LS: I think I blew through all the Q&A time, Michael so...

1:01:45.0 MB: Well, you should... You can still do a Q&A.

1:01:46.9 LS: Okay, well, thank you for coming and feel free to leave, but I'm happy to talk a little bit if people have...

1:01:53.1 MB: If you have questions you can just raise your hand and a mic will come around to you. Mark.

1:02:07.3 MS: So really inspiring Luke, thanks very much, it was just a wonderful talk. Not being a social scientist, this will sound like a simplistic question, is transferring money to impoverished people, taking them out of poverty seems mathematical, you give someone money, they're out of poverty. The money goes away, do they go back into poverty and is there any thinking around which whether this kind of transfer can be catalytic. You raise people out of poverty, the subsidy goes away, but by raising them out of poverty, you put them in a position to keep themselves out of poverty; this in the long run, it's not likely there's gonna be political support in our country to continuously raise people out of poverty, and it's happened in the past, it's had support, it's lost support, it cycles, but if you could look for ways to demonstrate a self-catalytic or self-perpetuating nature of that support, I think you solve poverty.

1:03:06.2 LS: Well, it's not me. So I think, we don't fully know the answer to this question, we know that from a lot of work from Natasha and Kathy that lumpsum transfers can have a really big impact. So we do have this earned income tax credit that people get on their taxes and we see it helps people be forward-thinking, to have a chunk of money, it also helps with some of their crises, they're less likely to be in housing hardship, but I do think that there is an importance of a stable base, so interestingly, if you ask a set of Americans, "Would you prefer policies that help enhance mobility or increased financial stability?" 90% say financial stability, and so I do think there's something important about a base stability of knowing that I have something I can count on no matter how much my job is unstable or my family life is unstable.

1:04:20.6 LS: I do think that we have some evidence that cash transfers from some amount of time, and that's why I've been a child allowance person this whole time, I'm not actually ready to get on the bandwagon for universal UBI, haven't figured out how to do the math, but we've seen from a lot of studies that are from other countries, for example, that with a child allowance you actually see alcohol and tobacco expenditures go down, that's something a lot of people are sometimes worried about, but actually it turns out sometimes substance use is a response to stress, and so if you reduce that stress, you reduce that. And we have these great studies from tribal lands that have had per capita casino payments that have come, and we can see transfers over a period of time reduces criminal injustice involvement later on, increases engagement in school, it can actually improve parent-child relationships. So Mark, I'm not sure... We don't yet know the answer of exactly how long does it have to go on, and how much does it have to be too? That's another I think, big question that we have yet to figure out, but the scaffolding is there. Yeah.

1:05:44.6 Speaker 18: Can you speak to what impact a universal pre-K will have on poverty? 

1:05:53.1 LS: So I can speak. I think a lot depends on how it rolls out, but what I'll speak to, in that is that often the universal program works better than the targeted program. And this is a debate that we continue to have in the United States, of should we do things just for families who are low income, or should we do things for everybody? Of course, doing things for everybody is a lot more expensive. But it also, I have come to believe that there's a stigmatizing effect to having something that's targeted, specifically in the frame of "You don't have enough to do right by your kids. And so we're going to help you in particular." And I think there's also an effect of raising animosity among people who are just above whatever the threshold of that means test is, that means you anger people. So the nice thing about the universal pre-K is we know that there's a real positive impact to getting that more curricular-enriching type environment. And by making it available to everyone, we take away that stigma.

1:07:15.8 LS: And Robin Jacob, who is affiliated here with the Ford School, she's actually shown among nurse home visits, that when you say everybody's eligible for a nurse home visit when you have a new baby. That turns out, the things don't come with instructions, and you could probably use a little help. And the single biggest impact of saying everybody is eligible is that low-income families who are already eligible are more likely to get the benefit in the work that she's done. So I'm not as much of an expert on exactly how pre-K programs should look. But it sits on a set of principles of early childhood intervention, some of it done here in Michigan, with Perry Preschool, we can see the long-term effects. And this idea of trying to universalize our programs. Great questions? Oh, we got one in the back.


1:08:27.0 Speaker 19: What can you tell us about the families who were case studies in $2 a day and where they are today? 

1:08:35.1 LS: Yeah. So we have been in contact with some, and others we've lost contact with. Some are actually doing really well. Some we're able to get in a foothold and just really find a stable place. And we do think there's a lot more... There's just a lot more fluidity between categories than we often think. Where going into that project, we think, oh, there's a working bar, there's extreme bar, there's some group in the middle that I'll be sure where to call. And there's more fluidity to that, if we think about Ray McCormack she was working, and then the crisis came. So yeah, some of them are doing better and have gotten to a better place. Some actually things got worse after the book. And it followed a lot of the same patterns. Economic hardship, also, family hardships. New cases, new moments of abuse. And I learned a lot about adverse childhood experiences, and how common those are among Americans as a whole. We don't really talk about that. But the families in our book were particularly vulnerable to those types of circumstances. And that didn't end afterward. And one, in particular, I have not been able to get a register for the Child Tax Credit yet. So I'm going through that process with her to try to make sure she actually gets it since she was a part of it. Maybe that could be our last one. I've kept you 15 extra minutes.

1:10:27.4 Speaker 20: So a big part of your research focuses on listening to communities and things like that. So I was wondering whether in your personal journey or when you work with organizations, how do you get them to shift from knowing what's best or kind of researching what they feel is best versus actually listening to a community, whether that be through focus groups or community engagement, especially in these elite circles and where people think they know what the answer is when it may actually be something different? 

1:11:00.7 LS: Yeah, I think some of it is trying to bring the approach. And so some of it might be, if you work with me, you've probably heard this spiel before and so just trying to say it and use very concrete examples is part of that for me. Another part, it's just, there is just... There's something very profound in curiosity, and energy, positive energy. So Kathy taught me very early on, the greatest question was, tell me more about that. And so really showing that you're interested in something, that you're learning about something, I think it can be... It can have ripple effects with other folks, and then they get interested. And then they wanna tell you that they saw this interesting thing that they didn't know about.

1:12:03.6 LS: So really, trying to change the frame. And I think there's also a bit of a frame of trying to understand expertise. So understanding that professors, or folks who work at agencies, just generally trying to change the frame to say, "We don't have all the answers, but also, sometimes I think we go a little too far with that. And we say, "We don't have all the answers and we have nothing to offer, but I'm gonna come listen." And so I tried to say we don't have all the answers, and we're gonna figure this out together. And also, the academy has a set of tools that can be really useful in this pursuit that you might not have, and that maybe can help you sort of deepen an understanding of an issue. So yeah, I think it can be a process, but I find the the curiosity is just really... It's infectious. That was the word I was looking for. Okay, thank you, everybody.


1:13:19.7 MB: Thank you all for coming. Thank you again to Hal and Carol for making this event possible for all you've done to support Luke's work, the work of the Ford School, and the Kohn family that will be part of our community for many, many, many years to come. So thank you all for coming. And hope you enjoy the rest of your evening. Thank you, those of you who are wearing your wonderful Kohn collaborative T-shirts; you're amazing out this great event. And enjoy your evening. Take care.