Luke Shaefer: The Injustice of Place

October 4, 2023 1:10:15
Kaltura Video

The co-authors of The Injustice of Place alongside Community Foundation for Southeast Michigan COO Nicole Sherard-Freeman talk about their book and poverty in the U.S.


0:00:00.5 Mara Cecilia Ostfeld: Welcome. My name is Mara Cecilia Ostfeld, I am the associate director of research strategy and associate research scientist here at the Ford School, and I am delighted to welcome all of you here this afternoon for today's policy talk at the Ford School event hosted in partnership with Poverty Solutions at the University of Michigan. Tonight's conversation centers on the recently released book, Injustice of Place Uncovering the Legacy of Poverty in America, which links economic data, health outcomes and local history and traditions. The Ford School's Luke Shaefer, the Hermann and Amalie Kohn Professor of Social Justice and Social Policy and Director of Poverty Solutions, co-authored the book with Kathryn Edin, a sociology professor at Timothy Nelson, Director of Undergraduate Studies and Sociology at Princeton University. The book explores America's concentrated use of systemic violence, resource extraction and corruption among decision makers in certain communities to create conditions of virtually inescapable poverty and adversity. Today, these communities live with severe environmental degradation, a lack of basic services and a shortened life expectancy, and they are spread across a wide swath of the country from Appalachia to the tobacco belt of Virginia and the Carolinas, the Cotton Belt in the south, in South Texas.

0:01:23.5 MO: The unfolding argument in the justice and the injustice of place is about what these places share, a history of raw intensive resource extraction and human exploitation. This history and its reverberations demand a reckoning with an unrelenting commitment to investing in and supporting these places in which our country has committed so many harms. A bit on format today, our own Luke Shaefer will share some insights from the book, he will then be joined by his co-authors and COO of the Community Foundation for Southeast Michigan, Nicole Sherard-Freeman for our conversation. While the conversation originally included congressman Dan Kelly, changes to the house voting schedule due to events, and imagine you can all imagine prohibited him from joining tonight. There will be some time for questions at the end, so please scan the question card, QR code that you should have received in the front to submit your questions throughout tonight's event. Those tuning in virtually, you can treat your questions to #policytalks. We have two Ford School students here who will help us with facilitating the Q&A, Anna Pomper and Julia Adga... Adiecarie, I'm so sorry. With that, please join me and welcome Luke Shaefer to present briefly on the book tonight. Thank you.

0:02:47.1 Luke Shaefer: Okay, everyone, it's great to be with you and I really appreciate you coming out. So many people who have had an impact on this book are in this room from the great team at Poverty Solutions, and of course, my co-authors, Nicole, who read chapters early on, so many of the folks who are in the field or watching or online, and of course, I couldn't be more grateful for the Ford School community, which I've always felt so embraced and loved and encouraged by and challenged to do better work and to do important work that matters. So, Kathy Edin and I wrote a book called $2.00 A Day, that was about America's very poorest families, so these are families surviving on very low levels of cash income, so they might have access to food assistance, sometimes a housing subsidy, although that's pretty rare in Chicago where we did a lot of our field work.

0:03:41.0 LS: The wait list to get housing, housing subsidy was 85000 families long, and it was closed, so you couldn't be 85001, but there was also a charitable non-profit where WIC sort of other programs but it was really about what happens when you don't have any cash. What does it mean to not be able to pay the utility bill or buy toilet paper in 21st century America? In that book was a change in my own career, so before that I had sort of started out life as a case worker, and that's what drew me to the work, but then during much of the early part of my career, I was strictly a quantitative researcher.

0:04:22.0 LS: It's through graduate school I developed my love for charts and spreadsheets that make me feel really warm and cuddly inside. And so in meeting Kathy, she would do this thing which was different from what I did, which was when she wanted to learn about poverty in America she would go out and talk to people. And so this book, the first book really sort of helped us learn things that I think by going out and actually connecting and talking, we wouldn't have never known the questions that we didn't even know to ask, but very quickly after that, we started to wonder about sort of a different level of analysis of maybe wanting to go and see the poorest places in the United States, and we actually got an email from a program officer.

0:05:10.8 LS: It's like one of those wonderful things that you never actually imagine happening when a program officer actually writes you and says, "Hey, I wanna fund you to do this work that you wanted to do anyway." So I expect that's a once in a career-type situation, but this was a good one to spend it on. So she called and said, "Hey, what about a book that would not just look at America's poorest families, but would look at America's poorest places and try to understand what's going on with them."

0:05:40.5 LS: So we thought that was pretty interesting, and of course there was with Julius Wilson's similar work, The Truly Disadvantaged, that really made the argument that growing up poor in a poor community had compounded effects, but much of that work that sort of came out of that explosion of research was really focused on neighborhoods, mostly in urban areas, and in fact, pretty much all of our research except one field site in $2.00 A Day was in urban centers in the north. And then of course, Raj Chetty and Nathaniel Hendren had work that was coming out that showed how stratified the American dream is by place.

0:06:21.0 LS: So there are some places in the United States where if you grow up low income, you are just as likely as anyone else to rise to the middle class, and then there are other places where if you grow up low income, you are likely to be poor as an adult as well. We could see more and more research from Angus Deaton in case and others that showed the huge stratification in health. If you go from counties, even just small units of geography right here in Washington County, you can see differences in life expectancy that go beyond a decade. And very significant differences in infant mortality, and of course, poverty rates are quite different across place.

0:07:02.7 LS: So we wanted to bring together not just one source of data to think about how do we get to America's poorest places, and in fact, we really wanted to try to offer a new way to think about poorest. What does it mean to be poorest? The federal government has always used income to figure out who is the least. Who's the least likely to be able to meet their expenses, but we've had this huge explosion in our data infrastructure and we can put these different factors in the conversation with each other. So in our analysis we used income, was sort of the standard official poverty measure is what we can look at for small units of geography all across the country, and in fact, it's actually a bit more correlated with hardships like food and security than some of our other measures.

0:08:03.5 LS: We looked at health, and then we looked at social mobility right, that sort of question of whether or not in a place if you grow up with out a lot, are you likely to be poor as an adult too, and we use a principal component analysis. So post-doctoral scholar, Sylvia Robles, who is here at the Ford School, was the first one to suggest this or student, Jasmin Simington she was another and Sam Dubaid, one of my team members at the Poverty Solutions sort of came on the idea of using principal component analysis that can sort of weigh all of these factors and then sort of spit out continuum a disadvantage for every county in the United States.

0:08:36.4 LS: In our 500 largest cities, and when you look at the 500 largest cities, that gets you down to cities that are like 50000 or so type places, and this was the map that it gave us, so we could immediately see one thing that was very striking to us that at the beginning is on this map, you have both every county in the United States, about 3100 counties in every city, and what was striking was when we looked at that deepest disadvantage set, the bottom 100 on our index of deep disadvantage, they were really predominantly rural in fact, there are only nine cities, two of which happened to be in Michigan, in Detroit, in Flint, a couple of others here in the Rust Belt, but besides that, you had these clusters of a deep disadvantage that you can see of going across the Cotton Belt, the Mississippi Delta and through the South Appalachia, a little bit higher up, and then a cluster down in South Texas.

0:09:48.3 LS: And if we look out West, you actually see very few places that are among the most disadvantaged, except for some examples, which are all native nations, as you go out West, for scholars who had spent almost our entire career studying poverty in Northern cities like Chicago or New York, this was a wake-up call for us right, sort of saying that we've sort of seen some maps that had looked like this before, but this was the first apples to Apples comparisons of all cities, all 500 largest cities in every county in the United States, and it was really pointing us to these rural places that we hadn't spent a lot of time, and most of our colleagues hadn't either.

0:10:28.7 LS: So here you can see exactly what these clusters are, right, so it's not just that you have small pockets of disadvantage, but they seem to be clustered together, and immediately we started looking for other maps and thinking about how the work of today connected with other things we'd seen map to poverty. There are some places that actually have a decent poverty rates, but terrible social mobility and shareable health, so we brought some new things to the table, but in another case, maybe we didn't bring new things to the table, so... One of the members of our research team brought this map that is on your right from 1860. So this is a map of the concentration of enslavement in 1860, and to the on your left is a comparison to our map today, and you can see there's not even a rough, Just rough correlation, but the very gradation of this is deeply tied to each other, so that made us to think about a third type of analysis that was gonna be critical to our work, right? 

0:11:41.5 LS: We have quantitative work, which is using all the data infrastructure we can to zero in on disadvantage, qualitative work of wanting to go to these places and actually talk to families, and then historical analysis and understanding that all of the problems that we face today as society did not appear out of thin air, and I think much of the time social science comes to the place of saying, Yeah, yeah, we understand history is important, and then we can just set that aside and go to basically do an analysis that assumes that our problems appeared out of thin air and obviously these deep relationships, not just a decade ago, not just half a century, but one and a half centuries ago, tell us that history plays a much bigger role than we thought, so we wanted to actually get to know these places, and so our research teams started to set out.

0:12:39.5 LS: My wife who was here, who's given all sort to support and had to live with me through the process of this book, said, your graduate students actually wanna go live in poor places and study them. This is like fun for them, so we have Nora, Nora Jones I'm sorry. No, Nora Johnson, of course, Nora Jones being a famous singer of my generation. I don't know, do you have a singing voice Nora? 

0:13:07.1 LS: We'll talk about that later. Yeah, Karen, who is now the Associate Director for Poverty Solutions, Jasmine up at the top. And so we've got Princeton researchers, U of M researchers going out in pairs, getting to know communities in our cluster. So we find ourselves in Clay County, Kentucky, Marion County, South Carolina, Leflore County in Mississippi, and then Zavala county in South Texas. And one of the nice things about our research team is that most of them had some direct connection, some tie to the community that they were studying, having either grown up in the region or having family in the region, and so we were able to... I think build on that familiarity.

0:13:58.5 LS: What the book really tries to do is offer some mechanisms, so the quantitative work and figuring out these are the most disadvantaged places, doesn't really tell us the why in any way, shape or form, and the history tells us that this is sort of tied to the past, but going to these places and interviewing a set of very low income residents as well as a set of community leaders, and then being deeply embedded in the ethnography and as investigators, we were coming down and getting to know each place over and over again, and then Kathy and Tim went on this epic road trip where they actually visited about 75% of the nation's poorest 200 places in the country, I think probably visited more poor places in the United States than any other human in history.

0:14:45.0 LS: We develop the sense of some of the mechanisms that were driving this perpetuation of deep disadvantage over time, and I'm just gonna talk about two, and these are two in particular that caught me by surprise, so I like to say that this project and this sort of iterative mixed methods inquiry often means that you come out thinking about and studying and writing about things that you never expected to going in, so it's a little bit different from when you go in with a research question and then you start to dig in, this is one where we sort of went in almost as a blank slate and maybe had some preconceptions, but found ourselves driven in directions we never would have imagined, so the first is social infrastructure.

0:15:34.7 LS: So think about Clay County, Manchester, Kentucky. It is a place where the opioid epidemic is still raging, and we're all searching for answers of what exactly should we do, what are some of the causes that help us understand why the opioid epidemic continues to be really as bad as it's ever been as a country and particularly concentrated in these places... Well, it turns out a lot of our respondents had some of these answers or at least had a hypothesis, so sweet piece says "there's really nothing around here to do for kids, that's why they go to drugs."

0:16:13.0 LS: Dolly says "I just want things to change. I mean, better for the kids, better for the teenagers. Stuff teenagers can do instead of getting into drugs, parks for the little kids," down with Crystal, "we have like... We had the movies a long time ago, and like I said, it turned into a church, and now there's nothing for folks to do." time and time again, we heard this, and quite frankly, the first couple of times we heard it, we didn't take it seriously, it kind of sounds like a non-serious answer, but with this type of inquiry, when you hear it over and over again, you're forced to say, Alright, can there be something to this, and it turns out there's a lot of circumstantial evidence to suggest that there is.

0:16:51.0 LS: So just to give you three quick examples, there is one study that finds the decline of civic organizations within the community is associated with the rise of opioid deaths. In our own analysis with Mike evangelist, who was also a postdoc here at the Ford School, we find that the decline of things like the arcade and barber shops, these are things that are associated with increases in opioid epidemic, and the associations are as strong as rises of unemployment, so it's a pretty strong association and we can't.

0:17:25.9 LS: There's some sort of causal direction that we still have to work out, but it looks pretty compelling, so what does an arcade do, what does the local movie theater do? These are places where people can gather and form bonds and have cheap fund and be together. There are things for people to do. One of my favorites is some research using laboratory rats, it turns out if there's a poor laboratory rat that's all by their lonesome and they're offered drugs, they will probably get addicted to drugs and die, and if the little rat has other little rat friends and fun stuff to do in the cage, almost none will get addicted and none will die, so there's all of these little things that sort of point of the fact that these social connections that we build by having these places where we can come together to have fun, can actually matter, volunteerism is another one of these maps that looks an awful like our map of deep disadvantage. Alright, so just one more and then I'm gonna stop the presentation and invite my colleagues to come up. Corruption, another theme that I never expected to write about going and I'd never written anything about corruption whatsoever, but it turns out, Greenwood Mississippi is the epicenter of the Brett Favre welfare crisis.

0:18:53.0 LS: So, as some of you may know, Brett Favre got himself into trouble because he took $1.1 million for speeches for underserved individuals in Mississippi, which came from funds from the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, TANF which was supposed to be the welfare program that replaced welfare in 1996. And we all, at the time thought it was a work-based time-limited program. But in fact, it's more just a flexible spending block grant that states can use as long as they can justify what they're doing under one of the core purposes. They just have to say that it helps promote marriage or reduce out of marriage births or help families and their children. And so states have really pulled away from providing any cash assistance and are doing a lot of other things, usually paying for things they were gonna pay for otherwise, like their child welfare system.

0:19:49.6 LS: In this case, Nancy New was a nonprofit leader in Greenwood, Mississippi, who worked in league with state officials to take $80 million from the TANF Block Grant and do things like pay herself to run schools that didn't exist. Pay Brett Favre to give speeches that there's no record that he gave at any point. And all sorts of other celebrities including one fellow who was a, I think he was a former wrestler who was paid to give speeches about staying away from drugs. And then he himself got addicted and TANF paid for him to go to rehab in California. So this is the biggest welfare sort of scandal in Mississippi history. And it all started in the community, like during the time that we were in, during the time that we were there.

0:20:45.1 LS: And it directly, it's taking money out of the hand the pockets of low income families with children. Some of the other cases are a little bit more indirect. So in Crystal City, Texas, where was a field site that we had in South Texas in 2016, the FBI descends onto City hall and arrests every member of the city council and the mayor and the city manager save one. And they actually took all of the public records all of the records that had been used to run the government of everything that had been going on, so that the next guy who comes in to try to run the town abs knows absolutely nothing about what had been happening in the town over the previous years. Of course Manchester, Kentucky is the place where the history of this... The history goes back of this sort of thing, and every community that we're in over long term but it's perhaps not, it is just unparalleled in Manchester where, finally in the early two thousands, Dol White, who's a direct descendant of one of the founders of the county from generations back is put in jail for racketeering.

0:22:01.2 LS: There's lots of like taking money for bribes, public officials that are in league with drug dealers over the period of time. And one of my favorite stories is that there was a group that of reformers who came in because they, they couldn't stand the corruption anymore. And they challenged Dol White and all of his his slate and they won, but then they themselves ended up in prison because they were buying votes, which turns out you can't do because that's what you had to do to win, right? And so it turns out Dol White who himself is facing charges, his people saw the other people buying votes while they were buying votes, and so they were able to testify against them. So if we imagine if we understand corruption as sort of something that appeared out of thin air, I think it's easier to blame communities for it and to say, look, there's nothing that can be done.

0:23:01.9 LS: But when we take the historical lens, and we understand every single one of these places for generations has been fighting a battle between the haves and the have-nots. And usually the haves in all of the cases in these places, the haves are a relatively small set of elite who run not just the industry that dominates the place, but social life as well and has been using every tool at their disposal to reinforce that social order, right? What became something that we might blame on the community themselves becomes sort of a long historical trend of a group of people who are controlling the towns, sort of maintaining that control and oppressing a much larger group of people, which is why in the book we come to term these places, internal colonies, their stories have been told but separately as individual places.

0:23:57.5 LS: And in this book, we don't say that there's equivalents at all across the places, but we do understand that these are places where the large majority of people have been not have full, had full rights of citizenship for much of their history because of this extreme control of usually one industry that dominates the entire place and all social aspects of life as well. So we are gonna talk about policy solutions because this is a policy school, but in be I'm gonna invite my colleagues up and sort of start the conversation there. And, and of course, this is not a book where there's a single solution. So our last book, it was great. Like the solution was give people a little bit of money. This is not one of those where one solution really fits the bill. So I'm gonna invite my dear friend Nicole Sherard-Freeman, who is now the COO of the Community Foundation of Southeast Michigan, but has spent many years as a cabinet official in the Mike Duggan administration running workforce development and economic development, and Kathy Edin my longtime collaborator and, and Tim now my collaborator both faculty at Princeton and I think well known here. So let's invite them all up.

0:25:28.3 LS: You guys are in the middle.

0:25:39.5 Nicole Sherard-freeman: Testing, testing. So first so I have to start with a big thank you and shout out to the Ford School of Public Policy and to the Poverty Solutions team, and to Luke and Kathy and Tim for inviting me to join you today it is a privilege and an honor to be before you this afternoon to help this conversation along. So I was a huge fan of $2 a day. I gave away no fewer than 35 copies of that book. And that I gotta, I gotta tell you, your approach to writing that book and this one has been life changing for me. So I am a big fan and am deeply grateful to you for the index of deep disadvantage. I wanna start here in the conversation. So, for anyone in our viewing audience who caress at all about the conditions under which far too many Americans are living, this book was a hard read. And so I wonder if we could just start with your talking about what it was like for you personally to write this book, Luke, why don't, why don't we start with you? 

0:26:57.3 LS: So, I think a number of things. The first was how surprising I found every aspect of the work that I thought I knew things about poverty, and I think I did, but there was so much that I didn't know and sort of grappling with how easy it is to get stuck in one's positionality and stuck at where one lives and what one sees every day, and sort of only know a certain set of problems. This completely blew that open for me in a different way. And then the field work really was like the housing stock, especially in south Texas. But across all of our field sites, it, it was, it's fundamentally different. We were in communities that had only gotten indoor plumbing in the last decade or so. And so that was, it's a set of conditions that was not familiar to me as someone who spent an awful lot of time in Chicago and Detroit and other places.

0:28:00.1 NS: Kathy, how about you? 

0:28:00.1 Kathryn J. Edin: So, I'm from rural America. I'm from a little town in the middle of Minnesota called Staples. There's nothing interesting about Staples, and I really thought I knew rural, right? I know what rural people like. I grew up rural and my rural was not this rural. And so when we think about rural, we often think about white communities, and our public discourse is all about white Republican communities. But the communities that we identified here outside of Appalachia were communities of color. And I had no clue how these places worked. You know, it was stunning to realize in Manchester that, the very first capitalist Hugh White who was mining salt using enslaved people for labor back in the 1820s, was the direct descendant of the guy who was still running the town. So these kinds of power structures really, were very, were very stunning. And then the social cleavages were so extreme I grew up in central Minnesota during the Garrison Keeler years. We know he is controversial, but he did famously say that everybody's just a little above average, and there were no people in the middle in many of these towns. There were elite people and people without land or resources.

0:29:30.1 NS: Very good, Tim.

0:29:34.1 Timothy Nelson: Yeah, I'd say that was so Kathy and I should say that we're married. That's why we get to go on these road trips together.

0:29:38.7 KE: We don't let him come.

0:29:43.5 TN: That's right, But, so we have for some of our prior work, we lived in places like Camden, New Jersey in the mid '90s and other places. So we've been exposed to a lot of poverty and and so on, but what's different about this was, as Kathy said, it wasn't just a uniform level of desolation. Every town in the south that we looked at had like a historic mansion had a nice store that was catering to some of the elites in the area. And it was that sort of juxtaposition and the inequality that was operating here and doing the historical work and looking how far back this goes which was really eyeopening for me.

0:30:31.3 NS: What you've shared today in this brief and but thorough executive summary and then Certainly what you Get when you read the Book uncovers a set of conditions and circumstances that are deeply, deeply troubling that goes without saying in $2 a day. And I'll bring this back to a point, Luke, that you made just a minute ago. You were able to conclude with it's not that, that the child tax credit or give people a little bit of money was simple, but it was an idea we could wrap our heads around pretty readily. Can you talk about how your policy recommendations have evolved at this point since $2 a day? 

0:31:16.7 LS: Well the child tax credit, I do think was a pretty good idea. And seems to have worked for the brief moment that we had it. And so out $2 a day, Kathy and I collaborated with like eight other scholars. So the only paper I'll ever write with eight co-authors but it was worth it. And that sort of rolled into the American Family Act, that rolled into the American Rescue Plan. And we saw a child poverty plummet. We saw a food hardship hit the lowest level that, that it ever had for families with kids. We saw the family... Number of families at the end of 2021 that said they could handle a $400 expense, hit an all time high and just many other metrics of financial health.

0:32:29.8 LS: But that doesn't get at these place-based differences. Now, it does in one, in one way which Kathy was saying earlier, which is we can actually get that money to everyone across place when we do a federal policy that treats everyone the same across the nation. We can actually get that money to everyone. And it's actually much more difficult than a lot of what we do with programs and grants, and you have to have grant writers to get that money. But I think more is needed to figure out how do we, how do we help places where that have these huge disparities? And it doesn't really lend itself to one solution. So money and government policies that can treat people equally, I think is one piece of the puzzle. It goes all the way down to things like local journalism. So we wouldn't know about the Mississippi welfare scandal if it weren't for Anna Wolfe who was at Mississippi today, now has won the Pulitzer Prize, was writing about it for years before anyone noticed. So thinking about how do we actually support local journalism to follow their nose and not die as so many are is sort of one policy solution that I think can help.

0:33:28.6 KE: So there are both, these are huge problems and they require sort of a marshal plan type solution on the one hand, but on the other hand, there's a lot of low hanging fruit. So for example the federal government is actually prohibited in investing in social infrastructure, keeping these third places that where people build social bonds. But there's nothing to say that our 130,000 nonprofits can't come alongside of local government and begin to really think about ways to restore the kind of social infrastructure in a community that builds a net that can catch people when they fall. We saw powerfully with that when that net was rent. People were, were overdosing from opioids at very high rates. And so I think that's a little insight that a lot of our nonprofit partners have been very excited about a way to really invest.

0:34:27.6 KE: We also write about separate and highly unequal schools. So something you could advocate for you, if, especially if you're from one of these states, is that universal vouchers which are being implemented in more and more states where everyone can use a voucher to go to any school are show very little if anything in the way of educational gains but can act further southern school segregation and in fact are being used right now across the south to support kids who are going to the very segregation academies that were stood up in the aftermath of Brown to basically undo integration in the south. So that's sort of another puzzle. How do you really think about ways to prevent your state legislature from, and your governor, from taking voucher programs that are targeted and have been showed to, to work well and transforming 'em into universal voucher programs, which allow white parents to take their kids out of integrated schools.

0:35:40.5 KE: We learned a lot about violence in this book, and Tim and I both study violence along with this work but nowhere in the violence conversation do we really talk about the fact that one of the strongest prediction predictors of violence, in fact we do this empirical work in this book, is the rate of social mobility. Now, think about that for a minute. The whole reason social mobility is very low in the south is because everything about the economies and the social situations in the south was orchestrated to keep the working folk down, right? And so we asked the question in this book to the extent to which that... And of course, violence was the tool. Violence was ultimately the tool used to keep the laboring class down. So we ask in this book, to the extent that a community is successful in pushing the working folk down and keeping them in their place, does that then lead to further violence? And we find very strong evidence that indeed it is. So if you're trying to fight violence in a community and you're not paying attention to opportunities for real meaningful social mobility, you're probably putting a bandaid on the problem.

0:37:05.9 TN: Sometimes. I say that this is the only book we've written that actually has villains in it, and the, the villains are really, unfortunately the local elites as you've probably been able to capture. So I think sometimes there's this idea of, well, we're outside this community. They're all homogenous there. And that's definitely what what we found was not the case. And it makes me understand and actually appreciate the, when Johnson launched the War on Poverty, one of the more controversial things was the stipulation for maximum feasible participation among the poor, which was not always followed and actually quite violently resisted in some of these places. But you do need some kind of mechanism to give aid to these places without it going into the pockets of local elites.

0:37:55.1 NS: Yeah. I want to if I might just take a moment to talk about your point about a Marshall Plan kind of approach and being able to get resources to places. I mean, I think we saw that play out with the American Rescue Plan Act. So I had the distinct privilege and heavy burden of managing about 200 million in American Rescue Plan Act dollars in the city of Detroit for a combination of small business development and workforce development and economic development.

0:38:33.0 NS: And blight Remediation both at the not at the residential level, but commercial and industrial blight. So really making these places, places where investment is possible. And part of what we did with that funding in Detroit was spend a little bit of time talking with community-based organizations and making investments where possible to help rebuild the social infrastructure that you're talking about. We felt very intensely the impact of not having that in the community. You can see how it starts to fray the edges and then really, you know, decays the very center.

0:39:08.0 LS: Yeah, one of the programs that you stood up that I like the most and maybe as a model here, it's a community health corps. So a group of Detroiters who were paid to help other Detroiters navigate systems. And so through doing that, there was this building of human capital of a set of longtime residents who are working in the program. So not social workers, but longtime residents, building a lot of actually research about community health workers that was done here at University of Michigan and providing a direct benefit to other Detroiters. So I think that's the type of model that maybe can help us avoid the elite capture of not seeing any of those dollars actually go down to the residents on a large scale.

0:39:55.0 KE: So one thing you'll notice about these places is, and I love the fact that Luke has these phenomenal local examples that you two know so well. But one thing that we saw in all of these places was that after these internal colonies that had really ruled these places began to fall apart in the 1960s, many of these places did begin to industrialize. You had the Russell Stover plant in Marion County. You had just all the Baldwin Piano in Leflore County. There's all of this nascent industrialization. It was almost like, you know, being in Philadelphia in 1900. All these little businesses just springing up all over, providing a variety of places for folk to work. And if you talk to poor people in these communities today, many of them worked in those places. And losing those businesses in the face of NAFTA and other trade policy changes, which literally wiped them out after 1990, is like a psychic wound.

0:41:02.8 KE: They really took their identity from a form of work that at least in relative terms was much more dignified than the sharecropping and cotton chopping that they had been doing for generations. So, you know, we talk about the fact that if we're gonna help these programs rebuild, we really need to realize that these trade policies really had losers. And when you have losers, it could be that the country benefited. I don't know that we know that that's true. But when you have a region that is lost so deeply and that has still so many of our country's most vulnerable people in it, there has to be some reparation. There has to be some compensation. And so in some ways, we pull the rug out from under the feet.

0:42:01.0 NS: Yes, the local elites are a problem. Absolutely. But, you know, you have to have something to build on. So one big idea is to really rethink trade policy in the United States. Yes, perhaps we've reduced policy in the rest of the world. But still, 60% of African-Americans live in the South. 44% percent of Hispanics live in the four border states. Very large swaths of white poor people live in the South and they need to be compensated. And these economies need a chance to grow. Just one thing I will say is oftentimes through an RFP process, it is either no one in the community who writes the grant to get the goods or a local elite. And we have many examples in the book of utter boondoggles of economic development that get funded as a result. We need to bring experts together. And I think local universities, extensions, local federal reserve, regional federal reserve banks really need to put their shoulders to the wheel and think deeply.

0:43:10.2 NS: Like, what is the scope of this problem? We're kind of picking around the edges at the moment. We're making ourselves feel good through these little programs. But this is a big problem that needs a muscular. I've just been in Chicago, so I'm thinking of the city of big shoulders, you know, a muscular response.

0:43:36.5 TN: Yeah. So each of the policy suggestions in the book really focus on the different mechanisms that Luke laid out in the slide. So we really go through the violence and the corruption, the education and so on. And sort of as a proof of concept that these are actually, you know, the mechanisms that are achieving these things. We went part of our road trip was to go to the most advantaged county. So on that list, if you look at the other end of the list and we looked at the 200 most advantaged places, which includes Kathy's home county of Minnesota, and we also looked at the numbers for these. And so these are the least corrupt places. These are the places with great social infrastructure and so on. And if you trace back the history, it often it seems to go back to the to the very like the Homestead Act of 1862, which actually laid out a very even set of parcels for different family farms and so on.

0:44:35.0 TN: Of course, those were all taken from, you know, the native people who lived there. But establishing this kind of equality seemed to have really echoed across the generations in creating these very healthy, sustainable types of communities.

0:44:52.0 NS: So I'd love to press into that point because there came a point for me personally in reading the book where I had to like, I don't know, maybe it was in the middle of a couple of chapters just before we start talking about what do we do. And it was just too painful to keep reading it. I eventually went back and finished the book. But there came a point where when I had to fast forward past some of the discussion of the impact of history and current context on violence in a place because it was just too much. And I moved forward to the chapter on healing internal, healing America's internal colonies. And it builds on the point, Tim, that you just raised. And there is a passage there that Luke, I wonder if we could get you to read for us that sort of lays out, I think, puts some structure around, Kathy, what you and Tim were just describing.

0:45:57.1 LS: With important caveats about the most advantaged places in mind, the key lesson we have taken from our exploration of these places is that people seem to thrive, maybe not in wealth, but in health and life chances. When inequality is low, when land ownership is widespread, when social connection is high, and when corruption of the kind seen in some of our field sites is virtually unknown, and violence is rare. The social leveling that is characteristic of these communities in the upper Midwest is more than just a quaint cultural feature. It is the engine that drives the social and economic processes from which its citizens derive benefits.

0:46:40.5 NS: I wonder if you could, thank you, Luke. I wonder if you could each talk a little bit about what our risks are, and what there is to be gained from caring about building places of advantage, or, I don't know, dismantling some of the disadvantage. I don't even have the language for what you've uncovered. But I wonder if you might each talk a little bit about that.

0:47:12.0 KE: I was thinking about the political context, and the political costs of doing nothing. So, right when we were writing this book, a visiting speaker came to Michigan and presented this amazing paper. Am I right? 

0:47:31.5 TN: About the camps? 

0:47:31.6 KE: Oh not the camps.

0:47:33.2 TN: Which one are you thinking of? 

0:47:34.4 KE: Anyway, we discovered a body of research. David Autor is one of several scholars writing in this vein, really showing the political consequences of NAFTA. And prior to NAFTA, many of these southern places voted blue in presidential elections, trusting the Democrats to deliver the jobs and to care about labor. After NAFTA, what you can see is for those counties that were most affected by trade policy, and they were our very counties, I mean, literally, Zavala County, Texas, the list is astonishing, and really marking which places they were. These are the places that you saw the shift from Democratic to Republican voting patterns in presidential elections. So one answer I would give is these processes are changing our politics in dramatic ways. So this leads to feelings of alienation, feelings of being left behind, resentment of the kind that our great ethnographer Kathy Kramer at the University of Wisconsin has written about.

0:48:53.3 KE: It really leads to the sense that politicians don't care. We know that Americans are more disengaged and more distrustful of politicians than maybe any time since we've started measuring these kinds of attitudes. So some of these policies may be really deriving some of the political dislocation and change that we're seeing today. And so that, to me, is a pretty big cost for doing nothing.

0:49:20.2 LS: I would go back to what Tim was mentioning in the historical legacy when we look at the places of greatest advantage, which we were a bit surprised to see, according to our index, up in the upper Midwest, in Minnesota, in North Dakota, in Wisconsin, this deep concentration of places that were affected by the Homestead Act of 1862. The Homestead Act of 1862 actually couldn't get passed before 1862 because Southern lawmakers blocked it before that. And so they were able to pass it in 1862.

0:49:51.9 KE: They didn't want the common person to have land.

0:49:55.6 LS: So it causes this explosion of widespread property ownership. You can think of it as widespread asset, inclusive sort of asset ownership across an entire region where we can trace the legacy of that ever since. And in the South, after the Civil War, we started down that path. Actually, Sherman and I think Sam and Chase go down to Savannah and talk to a group of black leaders and say, what do you want? Like, what should, you know, what they were talking about was reparations. And it was black leaders who said, we want land and some assets to get going. And that's what they did. They started to confiscate a set of land from, they took it from the plantations and started building 40 acres and a mule. The mule being the asset. And then Lincoln gets shot.

0:50:49.2 LS: And then Andrew Johnson comes in. And all of that gets reversed. And even so, actually, black Americans in the South build property ownership at an astonishing rate over the next few decades. And then in the early 1900s, like forces across, you know, from during the Great Depression, who's available to get, you know, agricultural loans from banks, you know, from local, the federal regulations. A lot of that land is again stripped.

0:51:25.3 KE: About 94%.

0:51:27.1 LS: So this is, I mean, to me, I think there's like two lessons in that. And the first is that I'm generally an income guy, right? I like to give people money and let them decide what to do with it. But wealth and assets, right, seems to have this role in providing sort of the leverage point for people to build and think about, you know, a better life. And the United States has sort of systemically, you know, supported some people in that and systemically worked against other people, particularly black Americans, over a long period of time. So I like to think of one of the contributions of this book as being a book about the nuts and bolts of structural racism, as well as like structural classism in Appalachia, of how government has been used in very specific ways. One of my favorite passages is on the segregationist academies after Brown and how all the assets of the public schools were, you know, literally converted overnight in a lot of these places to private schools that were all white.

0:52:32.7 LS: And so they were able to sort of replicate the system that they already had. So I think understanding how government can be used in that way and then understanding the opposite, which is to endow citizens with assets so that they can thrive in the other direction.

0:52:50.1 TN: So we had some of this book was excerpted in the Atlantic and then in USA Today. And I was the only one brave enough to go and see the reader's comments. But it was interesting that a lot of people said, well, if these places are so terrible, why don't they just leave? Like, why don't they just move? And of course, they did move, right? This little thing called the Great Migration happened in, you know, for most of the 20th century. Also, actually, a larger number of Appalachian whites moved to northern cities, which there's a new book out called The Hillbilly Highway, which really kind of looks at that. But a lot of people then returned back because of the reception that they were given in a lot of northern cities, but also just because of a deep attachment to the home place.

0:53:43.7 TN: So when we give the sort of longer presentation here, we often end with slides just showing the children in some of these places and saying, you know, these kids that are growing up in these areas who have deep roots here, they deserve our attention. They deserve our coming together to think about solutions that will allow them to stay where their families have been and have really great roots.

0:54:11.9 NS: And Tim, to that point, and this question is for all three of you, but what gives you hope? What did you see or what do you know through some other way? Or what do you believe that gives you hope that our electeds and/or our civic leaders and our other community leaders or that just residents in the places where you were like, what gives you hope that we care enough about justice in a place to actually do something about it? 

0:54:48.9 KE: Yeah. So we talk about the local elites, many of whom have been problematic for decades and have operated as extractors, not investors. You know, in the Midwest, you invest in the soil so you can pass it on to your children and grandchildren. But this is really an extractive way of thinking. So the local elites are a problem, but they're also hometown heroes, like Pastor Ken Bolin, who led the opposition against the white clan and all of the corruption and organized a march against all of this corruption that a quarter of the county's population showed up at on a rainy day in May. We also see people from the laboring folk who managed to get out. They go and they get advanced educations. They get incredible experience and expertise in the big cities in the north where so many migrants went.

0:55:49.4 KE: But then they decide to come home. So Tamala Boyd Shaw, as one example, she comes back to Greenwood, Mississippi, to start a charter school, the Leflore Legacy Academy. There's another couple, Deborah Adams, and I'm forgetting her husband's name. He's Ernest. They've been running programs for youth very successfully in a large city, but they come home and they resuscitate the very community center, the Catholic community center, where the priest, Pastor Mikulski, actually, during the civil rights movement, bails Stokely Carmichael out of jail after the Black Power speech. And so everywhere we looked, we saw folk with expertise. I mean, Mike Espy was an early example of this, where people are coming back to these hometowns, and they're saying, this is my place.

0:56:48.3 KE: And, you know, so Tamala Boyd Shaw and Deborah Adams went to the Cotton Bowl, the all-white event where the Cotton King and the Cotton Queen are crowned every year. And the next year, they brought a whole table of their associates and friends. And so all across these places, you're seeing sort of a new cadre of leaders. If we can get rid of gerrymandering in some of these states, we could see more of these leaders at the national level. And they've got something to say. The other thing I'd say is there's an air of desperation among the white elite. There's a sense that if we don't change.

0:57:26.0 KE: We die. And so we did see some real openness in several of our sites among longtime local leaders who are saying why did we say we wouldn't go to school with these people way back when? What if we had gone to each other's weddings and been in each other's weddings and been friends? Wouldn't our town be better off? So that's what gives me hope, is I think there's a... Changes are coming in these places and people know it.

0:58:00.7 LS: I think we've got our students who might have some questions, so maybe you'll introduce yourselves as you talk.

0:58:07.1 Speaker 6: Hi everyone, my name is Julie Vicarri and I am a dual master's of public policy and a master's of business administration student here and super excited to have the opportunity to ask some questions.

0:58:22.2 Speaker 7: Yeah, I'm Anna Pomper. I'm an MPP here, do a little bit of work with Poverty Solutions and got to read some of this book exclusive PDF offered via Professor Shaefer's social welfare class last semester, so really excited to ask questions as well.

0:58:38.0 S6: Awesome do you wanna? 

0:58:41.5 S7: You fo first.

0:58:43.7 S6: Okay. All right, so I think our first question is the pandemic laid bare in striking terms, the inequities faced by people based on where they live and how race and other identities are related to place-based depression. What is our way forward? 

0:59:03.6 NS: Take it away.


0:59:08.2 LS: Yeah, I mean, I do still think we're at a little bit of a fork in the roads in this country, so in my own professional life, I was utterly panicked at the start of the COVID crisis about the economic crisis. I totally underestimated the public health crisis, but I knew what happened to folks without a lot of money. And a divided government actually responded with a safety net that I think we can argue around the edges could that have been better, but like fundamentally was different from anything we'd ever done before in expanding, like understanding that our unemployment insurance system was broken and making benefits available through economic impact payments and of course through the expanded child tax credit, through other programs that took a bit longer to roll out like housing assistance, but also did a lot of good.

1:00:05.7 LS: So that was just an incredible moment, like to lose 20 million jobs and actually see poverty decline and see all of these sort of indicators of economic hardship improve, just was something I never imagined would happen. And now we seem to be sort of turning around and going the other direction again and just saying, okay, well, maybe some people didn't work because of the benefits. We actually have more Americans working now than we ever have before and after you, turns out the retirees, new retirees, you're our problem as you're all retiring. I don't know if I have any new retirees in the building, but that's what's driving down our labor force participation rate.

1:00:49.6 LS: But there is just this sense, partly 'cause the economy was so strong, there were so many jobs around that like it was impossible to find any one. And my social demographer colleagues like Natasha sort of mentioned the decline in more recent populations workers like the numbers are just not there. We seem to be just going back in that direction. And I think in similarly with like an understanding of it's like the deep inequalities that we have, we seem to be moving in the other direction. So it seems like this is a moment for us to try to say, let's not go back to where we were before. And I do think we see this in every single one of the communities that we're in is that there are people who are willing to look and think differently about what kind of policies we should have. And so it's really, I think, a matter of building that and just continuing sort of the drumbeat of saying, let's use this to go in a different direction as a country. And we already saw some of the benefits of that.

1:01:55.7 LS: In Michigan, we had this incredible other policy success of like very early on because Nicole's former colleague, Joneigh Khaldun, became the chief sort of medical officer for the state of Michigan. And she put up data on sort of rates of COVID cases and COVID deaths by race. And so Michigan was actually one of the very first places where we saw this incredible disparity by race and by zip code. And the state government responded and they put together a group that was led by Lieutenant Governor Garlin Gilchrist that actually put together, put some policies into place. And we erased that disparity in not so long a time. And there's been some analyses that tell us how many lives were saved by that. So even in this moment of incredible hopelessness where it's like they can't even, Congress can't even figure out who the speaker is. Like how can anything good be done? Remembering that actually good things are possible and holding on to those, figuring out how to lift those up at the local level and at the federal level is the only answer.

1:03:15.4 KE: Yeah. I'll just add that I want to hear from you that I'm always reminding my students that most policy is local policy. And so yes, absolutely.

1:03:29.1 S7: Great. I also want to thank the audience for the thoughtful questions that we're getting in. So we talked about... Well you talked a little bit about the most disadvantaged communities and the most advantaged communities. You say that the most advantaged communities have the least corruption, great social infrastructure, et cetera. Are those places that are most advantaged also the most homogeneous in both race and class? Are there places that are advantaged but don't rely on either exclusion or homogeneity to achieve less corruption, greater social infrastructure or other markers of wellness? 

1:04:13.2 KE: Yeah. So there are few communities among the very most disadvantaged that are in places like Alaska that are majority Native Alaskan.

1:04:23.1 TN: You mean advantaged.

1:04:26.9 KE: Most advantaged. Yeah. So there are some real surprises in the data that we have yet to fully explore. People in my MPA classes at Princeton have been like tackling these places and trying to figure out what's going on in these areas that lease leaves... And there's often a story of good government, of good tribal government in the case of, in the Alaskan case that has really taken advantage of a natural resource in a way that has created a diverse economy. So there's all kinds of goodies in the data and you can go online and look at the data yourself. It's all publicly available and begin to uncover some of these stories yourselves. And if you do, please let us know. We'll put you up on our website and begin to build this story together. I will say though that there are a lot of very homogenous white places that are not advantaged at all. You saw parts of Michigan, Maine, where you see very deep disadvantage. Of course we've got Appalachia, parts of Pennsylvania. So there are many, being majority white is not sufficient. But of course we shouldn't be shocked to see that white places are more advantaged because of all of the advantages historically that white people have gotten by virtue of their race.

1:05:48.8 S6: Great. Thank you so much. Another question from the audience. In these disadvantaged places, did you see impacts of environmental hazards or climate change, for example increased health risks due to heat or extreme weather events, as well as impacts on infrastructure.

1:06:11.4 LS: So we have a chapter on Marion County, South Carolina. And that when we went to Marion County, what we weren't expecting to write about there was that they had been hit by three severe weather events in a small number of years. So two hurricanes that had come up the eastern seaborne in and one severe flood. It's a community that sits at sort of the meeting point of two rivers. And so flooding is a major issue. And so in that chapter that's called the Invisible Hand, we learned all about what happens when a community gets hit by these severe weather events, which are coming with increasing frequency on the eastern seaborne. It looks like floods. In the west, it's fires. But a lot of the eastern seaborne also has floods and a lot of wetness and then severe dry spells as well. So the extreme nature is growing.

1:07:12.3 LS: So I think a lot of times in our analysis, we think of something like homeownership as a binary, a dichotomous thing. You own a home or you don't. But so many of the residents in these communities actually have clouded title or properties that have been passed through from generation to generation referred to as heirs property. And when you have that for the long sort of course of history, it's very difficult to actually then to get help for a home that's been flooded out because you can't prove that you own the home. And also if your home is monetarily essentially worthless before, if it's sort of deemed monetarily worthless, they're not going to give you any help to build it back. And so our policies that actually help families after a severe flood, they have the effect of higher income communities where people have clear title, they have homes that are you know in reasonably good shape, they're able to navigate complicated bureaucratic systems and these tend to be predominantly white communities.

1:08:26.8 LS: They actually end up financially better off in the long term for having been hit by a flood because they get things fixed up in their house and maybe things weren't perfect before the flood a lot of the time, right? And communities of color and low-income communities actually end up poorer after because they're not able to access the help. So we have a policy that's actually meant to help people with a crisis that's coming with more frequency that doesn't just like keep inequality where it was but actually makes inequality worse, right? It stratifies communities. And you know there is this connection to the history that I was just talking about of sort of land ownership among black Americans going back for centuries and sort of white authorities that were using many different means to sort of strip that land that I think sort of plays into why like a huge fraction of black Americans in the south have... They own the land they own through heirs property. So again you can't divorce it from history but that gives us sort of a very clear policy window of what can we do to make those systems work better and the Biden administration to their credit after hearing from us and others now have a process in place where heirs property isn't gonna keep you from getting help. It still remains to be seen if that's gonna actually work or not if that's gonna... If it you know just as another bureaucratic layer that has its own impact or not.

1:10:00.1 NS: I would add one other point and I want to build on your earlier point Cathy of all policy is at some point it becomes local policy because the other thing that gives me hope and is a point of like what can we do which I think is the sort of at the core of the question there is in local systems when you are sure that local government isn't corrupt and when local government is competent and focused and eager to make not just practical solutions but also affect policy where that's possible you end up with policy opportunities at the local level that can happen irrespective of what happens at the federal level. So in Detroit for example Mayor Duggan is working on a policy called tangle title which will untangle the conditions that Luke and Cathy and Tim have named in the book right is there a way that locally a city government can address that issue so that no matter what happens more broadly or federally you get some relief at the local level and you know I'm just really grateful to Poverty Solutions for all the ways you've helped us uncover where those possibilities are so that we can build on them.

1:11:19.7 LS: Yeah and they can do that whether or not we have a speaker. Yeah.


1:11:26.3 TN: That's right.

1:11:27.0 S7: Yeah. So building off that you mentioned land ownership and assets as a way to combat racial inequality you also referenced the omnishambles of Congress right now. I'm wondering given and the audience is wondering I should say given the current political climate in the United States how realistic do you think implementing a national reparations program would be? What responsibility or role does the US government, the federal government have in implementing this? 

1:12:04.6 KE: You know there are certain lessons to be learned from other places doing reparations we spend part of our time in Northwest Ontario and of course their reparations have been made to people who were as children stolen from their families and forced to attend residential schools there is a reservation just north of where where our little cabin is and it is astonishing how many people locally there had been forced to attend these schools and the impacts on families there are terrible but also of course they found evidence even in this tiny little town the school these children attended of more than 170 human remains from children living in these underfunded and horrific places. So we should be learning from these places there you have your own expert I think right here at the University of Michigan.

1:13:10.0 TN: Earl Lewis.

1:13:12.3 KE: Earl Lewis who is doing some really creative work on how to actually build maybe on the expertise of local people but also local universities and building programs of reparation there it's early days I think you know we've got the example of maybe places who have done it and not done it not so well I'm thinking of Georgetown and Evanston Illinois that both have instituted reparations but this is something you all should be looking at really, really carefully, and again the Canadian example is one of maybe short-term but quite meaningful reparations. The politics of these little towns around these reparations as you can imagine is interesting and something we should be learning more about too.

1:14:03.8 LS: I think the local drives on reparations are the most interesting thing going on in the space given where the federal government is and the Center for Social Solutions here at Michigan it's been a part of efforts in many different places all across the country and the Detroit metropolitan area community survey and Mara have some really interesting publications on like Detroiters views of reparations there's now a task force an official task force for the city of Detroit that I know Trina has been working with that are looking at this and there's lots of other policy stories where local initiatives actually end up with federal policy change right? They sort of change the conversation so I think to me that's that's where the momentum is.

1:14:57.4 S7: Great actually going off of that in your research did you find any other inspiring examples where local programs or community-based efforts were helping correct the structural inequities embodied in the space? 

1:15:16.0 S6: Just quickly this is a question people often ask, I had an economist friend say to me, "Why didn't you find places that were identical in 1950 and made different decisions."


1:15:30.4 KE: The world doesn't actually offer those cells because they're empty ones.


1:15:35.2 KE: So I think I teach in a policy school and one of the things I tell my students is this is your work, this is your work and we will do everything we can to inspire you but you are the doers the implementers, and the visionaries. That's the only way to answer that question.


1:16:02.3 S7: So yeah I have like three questions I want to ask off of that. You mentioned at the end of the book public libraries and funding public libraries and I'm thinking about Julie's question about local organizations that are sort of doing the work and I wonder if you could talk a little bit about what public libraries do for this issue.

1:16:31.0 TN: Well, we actually got the term social infrastructure from a sociologist named Eric Klinenberg who wrote a book called Palaces For The People, and it's actually a phrase taken from, I think Carnegie who funded a lot of public libraries. And so what he really writes about that book and we saw it in the communities that we looked at is the libraries, to the extent that they have programming and they have other things going on though, they become really central places of social infrastructure. And one of the key things about social infrastructure is it brings people of all kinds together. There's no price of admission that people are not... That people are excluded from or in the case, I often get the question about well, churches, what's going on with the churches? [chuckle] Well, it's complicated.

1:17:20.0 TN: So in Kentucky, for example, a lot of the poorer folk really felt like they were looked down upon by the church folk, and if they had any kind of... If they've been divorced or they just didn't have the right kind of clothes or whatever. So if you have a place of potential infrastructure that really sets a lot of boundaries around it, either moral or financial or otherwise, it will never really get its potential. Libraries, and I used to be a librarian so I'm really happy about this, but libraries are designed to be really welcoming to people and... So yeah, libraries are key. And we've talked to, I guess it was the FDA folk about one thing that...

1:18:07.0 KE: USDA.

1:18:07.1 TN: The government...

1:18:08.3 KE: Oh yeah, the USDA can fund our libraries, and so we really were cheerleading that with that group.

1:18:18.0 LS: Nicole, did you end up working on libraries in your time in the city or other social infrastructure? 

1:18:25.5 NS: Yeah, that's a great question. So libraries are actually not controlled by the city in Detroit so there's little... We leveraged CARES funding, which some of you may remember was the funding before ARPA to ensure some programming where possible, and certainly libraries are an active part of discussion around the district of Detroit, which is the Steven Ross, Mike Ilitch... I shouldn't say that, the Ilitch Companies [laughter] investment in Midtown so certainly, we believe as you saw and said, Tim, that libraries are central to rebuilding community fabric. We have good relationships with Boys & Girls Clubs, and our Summer Youth Employment programs are all designed around community and so we're thinking about infrastructure, but often in city government what ends up happening is because you are firefighting and you are addressing dumpster fire after dumpster fire after dumpster fire, there's little opportunity to pull up and think about how do we rebuild... How do we thoughtfully and proactively rebuild infrastructure.

1:19:45.7 S6: Thank you. I'm gonna take a little moderator's privilege and ask a question I've been wanting to know the answer to. I think about social impact a lot, and I was wondering is there a role for social impact-minded investors to fill gaps left by government policies and programs? For example, I'm thinking about the expiration of the Child Care Stabilization grant and the large gap in funding left by expiration and the political kind of upheaval that happened. So my question is, is it ethical for social investors to garner profit while also addressing these gaps or is government always the answer? 


1:20:31.7 KE: I know that Jeff Levein, for example, at the Kennedy school is really with them.

1:20:36.8 LS: Coming in two weeks.

1:20:38.0 KE: Yeah, he's done a lot of work around this so you better put that question to him.


1:20:41.9 KE: But I will say that... I'll make the controversial statement that in areas of child support and other social services even TANF, for-profit players have increasingly played a role, and of course if you talk to people at the state levels, don't shoot me [laughter], they hate the contractors. The vendors, they call them the vendors. But if you talk to people who are heading the national office, they'll say the vendors are the vectors. Ricky Tarrasque used to say this and what does that mean? There's innovation that can come from non-governmental actors. So rather than paint, I was converted by some of the stories I heard from for-profit actors, at least in the child support and TANF spaces.

1:21:42.8 KE: It's kind of amazing when... So one program I observed in Oklahoma takes TANF recipients and actually puts them in a beautiful building with lovely chairs and pictures, and there are lovely things to eat, and so this is a contract, right? DHS gives to this for-profit organization and so they have to send state workers to supervise. And the state workers over and over again say, "This is my favorite thing to do." Because it just... Somehow there's something about these degraded government bureaucracies for poor people. We did this, we made them the way they are. We write about a God awful welfare office in Chicago, they're mostly all that way. So we made them that way, but then it's really demoralizing for people to access these programs, and so sometimes the for-profits have come in and done some real innovation. I think especially around producing or trying to create a sense of dignity around the receipt of services.

1:22:53.7 LS: Yeah, just to take that to the logical, Kathy next step I would just mention tax prep. So many families go to for-profit tax prep, and most of our discussion about that is how do they don't know they can go to Vita... They can do non-profit and save money, and they need financial budgeting classes. They need help learning what to do. It's not like I'm poor, which was Kathy's book, was her helper, Mika and [1:23:24.4] ____ I think makes the argument that people go to tax prep because, what was the word? You've got people, alright.

1:23:34.3 KE: You've got people. I'm...

1:23:36.0 LS: Each in our blocks.

1:23:37.5 KE: I'm a real American.

1:23:38.8 LS: Yeah. It provided a sense of dignity that some of the other services don't. I actually think the same is true for payday lenders too. Like that it's not just that people are desperate for the money that they go to payday lenders, but of all the institutions in my experience poor families distrust banks is right, right up there and payday lenders treat people with dignity, and they treat them like customers so I do think there are lessons there. A lot of times when services become privately funded I'm thinking of child welfare, I think the outcomes are pretty poor in the aggregate, but we can learn things about the messages we're sending the families. I think we can do one more question.

1:24:23.7 S6: Last one.

1:24:25.5 S7: So, Professor Edin, you mentioned that this is our work so our question, the audience's question and my question is, how do we do that work? What can students at Michigan due to combat this form of injustice? I'm thinking about the opportunity index that Poverty Solutions has and how that illuminates injustice of place. What are the concrete things that we should be doing, what are the organizations we should be looking for, what's the kind of work that we should be identifying? 

1:25:00.3 LS: Nicole, you can weigh-in on this question too, but she started with you, Kathy so you should start.

1:25:03.9 KE: So I teach a course like Luke does in poverty and social policy, and we spend one week discussing the problem and the next week discussing the solutions, and what you generally see is if the problem is like this, the problem is like this and the solutions are like this [laughter] And so then we look at all the RTCs and the evidence on these little programs, and my charge to them is the whole point of this course is that our efforts are ridiculously small and your job is to keep that big picture in mind. And even if you're doing something incremental, it doesn't mean that's bad, but to keep in mind that that's not the goal. When I've worked with people who have gone back and forth to Washington as many of my colleagues are, it can be easy, and I don't know what you would have to say about this, Nicole, to focus on a win. Like, okay, I'm in this is God-awful job where I'm working too much and I'm getting paid too little and I wanna win. And so sometimes what I see is... And we do this too, right? If we have a policy when we try to exaggerate its importance, I don't think that's true with the child tax credit but.


1:26:19.4 LS: Because you wanna reward yourself psychologically for all of the work you're putting in. And so to keep those wins in perspective and to keep the big picture in line, to read history, think deeply about... I would say reading history and doing ethnography are two of the most important things anyone can do, and if you can't do it, read it. Get a sense of... David Ellwood, who used to be the dean of the Kennedy School, he ran a lot of government agencies, and the first thing he would do with his staff is he'd send them out into the field to talk to people. I was a part of this big initiative he led funded by the Gates Foundation called the US partnership for mobility from poverty. We went on field trips to community after community after community all over the United States just to listen to people. So keeping your ear to the ground, keeping your eyes focused on history and maybe a little comfort from big data, I think that's just a good tripod to keep at the back of your work.

1:27:36.0 NS: Yeah. I would add to that, Kathy, get in the trenches. Find government that works well, near you, somewhere near you, and get in the trenches. Your understanding of the problem, the scale and scope of current solutions and what's possible will only be enhanced. You think you understand it by reading it, you have got to get to the front line and bring your ideas and your energy and your enthusiasm and another pair of pants, get into the work in a public-private partnership to understand what's really happening. Come alongside a unit of city government that works well or find a philanthropic partner. Community Foundation for Southeast Michigan, we're gonna start really leaning into this notion of where can we form more public-private partnerships and get policy students and universities involved so that we are hacking away at these wicked problems together.

1:28:38.6 KE: That's well said.