Message from IRP Director Lawrence (Lonnie) Berger

Lawrence (Lonnie) Berger

December 16, 2016

Dear Friends and Colleagues:

I hope my message finds you well. This has been an exciting and eventful 50th year for IRP and we have much to share. Our biggest news is that IRP was awarded a five-year $9.5 million cooperative agreement with ASPE to serve as the sole federally funded Poverty Research Center. We are grateful to ASPE for the opportunity and to the University of Wisconsin and all of you for the support that made it possible. Before summarizing our plans under the award, allow me to provide some quick highlights from the past year. In 2016, IRP:

  • Hosted a conference of researchers, policymakers, and practitioners who examined the intergenerational transmission of poverty as it affects children's early years of life, select presentations from which will be summarized in a future issue of Focus.
  • Convened a group of social science and neuroscience scholars to discuss human neurobiology, poverty, and public policy, with the goal of promoting dynamic interactions among leaders in relevant fields about this emerging area of inquiry. (Fast Focus No. 23-2016 summarizes the discussion.)
  • Prepared a special issue of the journal Children and Youth Services Review, which features cutting-edge research on the economic causes and consequences of child maltreatment, and offers some of the best causal evidence on these relations to date.
  • Cosponsored with the University of Kentucky Center for Poverty Research, University of California, Davis, Center for Poverty Research, and Stanford Center on Poverty and Inequality a daylong event at the Brookings Institution, at which experts reflected on what we have learned from welfare reform on its 20th anniversary. (Watch the presentations.)
  • Sponsored roundtables on Family and Work Support Innovations for the U.S.: Supporting Self-Sufficiency and Access to Basic Material Needs and Anti-Poverty Policy Innovations for the U.S.: Cash Transfers, and cosponsored the symposium Welfare Policy in the 21st Century: The Role of Research in Breaking New Ground to Reduce Poverty at the 2016 Association for Public Policy Analysis and Management Fall Research Conference.

We have also continued to build our ongoing initiatives, including:

  • Administering the National Poverty Fellows Program in tandem with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation and the Office of Planning, Research & Evaluation.
  • Conducting a highly regarded training program for a multidisciplinary group of advanced PhD students who share an interest in poverty, awarding full fellowships to two of them, which enabled them to complete their dissertations and secure their desired positions in academia post-graduation.
  • Publishing a series of research and policy briefs that summarize the latest research findings on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP); continuing to publish Focus, our flagship online newsletter; and producing semi-monthly webinars (on topics such as the decentralization of the U.S. safety net, health and economic mobility, and rural development after the Great Recession) and monthly podcasts (including Steven Durlauf on understanding poverty and inequality in the 21st Century, Scott Allard on the suburbanization of poverty, and Alexes Harris on the cost of monetary legal sanctions for the poor).
  • Holding seminars (40 this year!) featuring cutting-edge and emerging poverty research.
  • Hosting 60 emerging and prominent social scientists at our annual Summer Research Workshop which highlights cutting-edge research on the low-income population.
  • Promoting diversity at all levels of poverty scholarship and leadership—women and scholars from underrepresented populations now make up half or more of IRP's affiliates, executive committee members, graduate student trainees, emerging scholars, and small grant recipients.

IRP Highlights by the numbers:

The crux of our new ASPE Poverty Research Center award focuses on facilitating widespread collaboration among poverty research centers, scholars, policymakers, and practitioners throughout the nation to maximize efforts to understand poverty and inequality and counter them through evidence-informed policy and programs. IRP is committed to building an enduring infrastructure that facilitates exchange among researchers, policymakers, and practitioners to enable the development of policies that improve the self-sufficiency, health, and life chances of all Americans. In the coming years, we will build on our current efforts and continue to emphasize the translation and dissemination of the latest research findings to policymakers, practitioners, and the public, and to provide on-call technical assistance and social policy analysis in direct response to HHS priorities.

To facilitate this effort, IRP has convened and will lead a new and innovative formal collaboration of poverty-research centers in the United States, known as the U.S. Collaborative of Poverty Centers (CPC). In addition to IRP, the Collaborative currently comprises eight leading university-based poverty research centers: the Center on Poverty and Social Policy, Columbia University; Center on Race and Wealth, Howard University; Economic Self-Sufficiency Policy Research Institute, University of California, Irvine; Poverty Solutions, University of Michigan; Stanford Center on Poverty and Inequality, Stanford University; University of California, Davis, Center for Poverty Research; University of Kentucky Center for Poverty Research; and West Coast Poverty Center, University of Washington. The purpose of the Collaborative is to marshal the partner centers' joint resources to support the development and exchange of applied poverty-policy research ideas and findings among the nation's top scholars, policymakers, and policy practitioners. Given that no single center has the capacity to address the full range of U.S. poverty- and inequality-related policy research needs, the Collaborative will serve a critical role in the formation of a sustained, nationwide infrastructure focused on tackling a range of poverty and inequality related issues. Specifically, CPC partners will collaborate with IRP, ASPE, and the National Poverty Research Center Advisory Committee to:

  1. shape the national poverty research agenda, improving the fit between key policy questions and the evidence being produced today;
  2. disseminate new research findings and render existing evidence more accessible and actionable; and
  3. train a broad and diverse cadre of researchers to improve the research community's capacity to address cutting-edge policy questions.

Together, the CPC institutions will establish and facilitate several networks of scholars, policymakers, and practitioners to design, promote, guide, and implement poverty-policy research activities.

Here are a few additional highlights from our work plan. We will:

  • Partner with Howard University to conduct a summer training program for advanced PhD students focusing on poverty-related topics, who are members of underrepresented groups.
  • Continue to sponsor our "Teaching Poverty 101" summer training program for college faculty who want to teach a course on poverty at their home institution, as well as our flagship annual Summer Research Workshop featuring interdisciplinary research on low-income populations.
  • Continue to administer the federal government-university partnership to train and mentor policy-minded poverty researchers through the National Poverty Fellows postdoctoral training program.
  • Publish a double-issue of RSF: The Russell Sage Foundation Journal of the Social Sciences on Anti-Poverty Policy Initiatives for the United States, which will feature top scholars' detailed, real-world responses to poverty-related issues with the aim of setting the antipoverty policy agenda for the next decade.
  • Expand our dissemination efforts to include quick-response technical assistance to HHS, Learning Exchanges between researchers and government stakeholders at the federal level, and an Annual Poverty Research and Policy Forum in D.C. that highlights the latest research in the field and its implications for policy.

In closing, thank you for your support. I value your connection to IRP and welcome your feedback. Please feel free to stop by my office if you're on campus or drop me a line.

On behalf of everyone at IRP, here's wishing you and yours happy holidays and a productive new year.


Lawrence (Lonnie) Berger
Director, Institute for Research on Poverty
Professor of Social Work
Chair, School of Social Work Doctoral Program
(608) 262-6379

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