Poverty Solutions creates an interactive map to display poverty levels by county across Michigan

Tuesday, January 2, 2018 - 8:28pm

Four University researchers have recently developed an online data map displaying poverty statistics throughout the state of Michigan. The University’s Poverty Solutions Initiative in the Ford School of Public Policy collaborated with Michigan Creative in efforts to display poverty and health data in a more reader-friendly format.

The online interactive map displays statistics on median income, percent of the population below the poverty line, percent of single-parent households and other statistics by county. Data comes from the U.S. census, United Way, CDC Community Health Indicators and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

Strategic Projects Manager Kate Naranjo felt public data was not available in an easily adjustable format and was instead more catered to researchers. This inspired a collaboration with H. Luke Shaefer, associate professor of social work and public policy, along with three undergraduate research assistants to develop an online map displaying poverty data. Michigan Creative assisted in putting the data into map form.

“Poverty is really widespread across the state,” Naranjo said. “It’s not necessarily concentrated in just Detroit like I think the narrative goes. There’s a lot of rural poverty in this state and a rising amount of suburban poverty.”

LSA junior Zachary Tingley, a research assistant for the project, said he noticed his own attitude shift about poverty as a result.

“I realized that we talk about poverty ... as a (very) urban issue but it’s important to know there’s a lot impoverished rural neighborhoods as well and a lot of action that can be taken in those areas,” Tingley said.

According to the database, Washtenaw County has a median income of $66,040, 14.6 percent of the population is under the poverty line and 8.5 percent of the population receives food stamps/SNAP benefits. The state’s averages were a median income of $47,944, 15.1 percent of the population below the poverty, and 14.7 percent of the population receiving food stamps/SNAP benefits.

Public Policy junior Lauren Schandevel has worked with LSA to develop a new major on the study of socioeconomic status, which should be implemented in 2018 or 2019.

In an email to The Daily, she said she thinks the map could use some adjustments, but believes it will help Congress and other communities understand county needs.

“It would help to have data from individual cities as well to better interpret the information,” Schandevel said. “I think, especially in the coming year as Congress moves to slash benefits for low income individuals, this map will help us determine which counties will be most affected.”

In a statement to The Daily, Shaefer said he hopes to show University students they can assist communities in improving their residents’ lives.

“Any one statistic really only shows a piece of the puzzle,” Shaefer said. “We hope that this map streamlines things for Michigan communities so they can look at a range of things and learn more about the strengths and opportunities for improving the lives of residents. This is the type of service that great U-M students can offer.” 

Naranjo said she also hopes this project betters the University’s relations with the general public. The team aims to add more, as well as updated, statistics to the map.

“I think it’s just really important to think about how we as a research institution can better communicate to the general public,” Naranjo said. “I think this is an example of one way to do that, to translate really wonky stuff into something the average person could look at and understand.”

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