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Lab for Economic Opportunities receives Grant

| Thursday, September 4, 2014

The Wilson Sheehan Foundation has made a $15-million gift to the Wilson Sheehan Lab for Economic Opportunities (LEO), a new University initiative aimed at reducing poverty in the United States.

“The Wilson Sheehan Foundation is interested in empowering women, children, and families to permanently improve their quality of life, which is exactly what [LEO] hope[s] to do for families most in need,” William Evans, Keough-Hesburgh Professor of Economics and co-founder of LEO, said. “[LEO] could not ask for a better partner in this endeavor.”

LEO evaluates the effectiveness of programs focused on alleviating poverty, improves the ways that such services are provided and their respective policies, associate professor of economics and co-founder of LEO, James Sullivan, said.

“What we do is work directly with service providers to set up a rigorous evaluation of the programs and use that evidence to identify effective programs,” Sullivan said. “Once we’ve identified effective programs, we disseminate that information broadly across the network of service providers so that it has a broad national impact.”

LEO started out of a partnership with Catholic Charities USA, the largest private provider of anti-poverty programs in the United States, Sullivan said.

“Most local social service organizations that assist the poor spend most of their time and energy providing basic services, like rental assistance, which are really programs that treat the symptoms of poverty and not the root cause … LEO was started with economists partnering with Catholic Charities to provide the evaluation of their innovative local anti-poverty programs,” Evans said.

Both undergraduate and graduate students conduct research, write grants, manage projects and analyze data for LEO, Evans said. Evans said the Wilson Sheehan Foundation gift will increase the number of undergraduate students currently employed by LEO, which is currently eight.

“Most of the money initially will be used to expand our staff,” Evans said. “We hope to add some PhD economists, a managing director, and some recent graduates as research associates.”

The money will also go toward tackling more projects, Sullivan said.

“With the support of the Wilson Sheehan Foundation, we will be able to considerably scale up the size of our staff, which will allow us to implement a lot more projects at the same time,” Sullivan said. “We will be able to scale up our operations, have a much broader impact, in terms of the size and diversity of our projects, and also do a much better job of disseminating this information to the research community and organizations.”

The endowment by the Wilson Sheehan Foundation will help LEO become a serious force in poverty reduction, Sullivan said.

“This gift will allow us to establish LEO as a nationwide leader in poverty research,” John McGreevy, I.A. O’Shaughnessy dean of the College of Arts and Letters, said, according to a press release. “LEO exemplifies the University’s commitment to use research and scholarship to make real changes in the lives of the disadvantaged by improving the effectiveness of the programs that serve them.”

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About Kayla Mullen

Kayla is a senior political science major and the Managing Editor of The Observer. She hails from Philadelphia, PA and was previously a resident of Howard Hall.

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