ND Lab for Economic Opportunities provides assistance to those struggling financially
Dane Sherman | Thursday, November 5, 2020
Notre Dame’s Wilson Sheehan Lab for Economic Opportunities (LEO) is a preeminent research body on campus focused on taking on the wide-ranging and complex challenge of poverty. The lab is run by and co-founded by Professor William Evans.
According to Evans, there are many reasons why one might be experiencing economic hardship.
“[Some people] dropped out of high school, so they’ll not have the credentials to get a high-paying job,” he said. “You could have a person who has been out of the workforce because they’ve been raising children and then they need to enter the workforce because they find themselves divorced. They overuse payday lending or write up their credit cards and find themselves heavily in debt.”
Evans explained the importance of securing housing as the first step out of poverty.
“You can’t start working on how to figure out your job situation,” he said. “You’ve got to stabilize the housing situation first, so what I’m finding big improvements for the homeless right away but for people that are coming to the program in a stable housing situation. That may be a bad job situation or a bad skill situation.”
Noting the program’s individualized approach to intervention, Evans is pleased with the work the lab has done.
“The program seems to work incredibly well,” he said. “And so that, I think that intensive nature of the intervention, and the fact that it’s tailored to the individual needs of the family has been proven to be successful and we’re trying to replicate that in different situations or different populations in different cities, so that that’s been one very encouraging program that we’ve seen actually, in some of the work that we’ve been doing.”
Evans described the negative impact that the pandemic has had on individuals with a lower socioeconomic status.
“There’s a tremendous amount of economic dislocation that’s been generated by the pandemic,” Evans said. “And if you take a look at the national data that that dislocation is heavily correlated with socioeconomic status, so low wage workers have lost a lot of work because they can’t typically work from home.”
Due to this new housing crisis, the LEO lab is working to by provide emergency cash assistance that allows people to stay in their homes. However, according to Evans, this brings up the question if the program should pay the landlords or renters.
“One city is asking … why we write a check to the landlord,” Evans said. “Why don’t we write a direct check to the person, and let them figure out how to spend the resources? So we’re actually sort of testing whether it makes a difference — whether you write the check to the landlord or whether you write the check to the person themselves.”
Evans emphasized that the pandemic is also affecting some of the LEO’s work, giving an example of a financial assistance program for single parents trying to finish college degrees in South Dakota.
“College degree completion rates are very low in certain populations, and they’re incredibly low for single parents,” Evans said. “[T]he mentoring is there to help them deal with shocks that occur might prevent them from finishing, and the financial assistance is to help them with things like paying for babysitting so they can work and go to school and study, so they can complete their degree. This program we started two and a half years ago, and then COVID-19 hit. And a lot of the people have watched deployments.”
Even though it is more difficult to measure this initiative’s effectiveness when colleges are going online and these families are struggling with issues surrounding COVID-19, the LEO continues to provide financial support.