Improved understanding of the causes and consequences of poverty and inequality requires a focused, multidisciplinary, and multi-method research effort. Since its founding in 1966, IRP has been building a cadre of distinguished social scientists to contribute to this important work.

IRP's group of Faculty Affiliates and Research Staff is truly multidisciplinary, composed of leading scholars in Economics, Sociology, Public Affairs, Social Work, Demography, Human Ecology, Developmental Psychology, Educational Policy Studies, Rural Sociology, Political Science, Population Health, Business, and Law. Visit our People pages to see their profiles.

Some of the work of these distinguished scholars is arranged categorically by research area and highlighted below. Click on each subheading for more detailed descriptions and links to related resources. (Please note that we are in the process of updating these pages.)

Promising Programs to Reduce Intergenerational Transmission of Poverty

IRP will launch a major research initiative in late 2013 designed to enhance understanding of programs and policies that seem most effective at reducing the intergenerational transmission of disadvantage. It is one of three such integrated research projects that extend over three-year periods with a range of activities that are focused on topics related to the three themes identified by IRP as key trends in poverty and policy: Economic Self-Sufficiency, Family Change and Poverty, and the Intergenerational Transmission of Poverty.

Building Human Capital & Economic Potential

In late 2012 IRP launched a major research initiative designed to enhance understanding of how policies and programs can build economic self-sufficiency by increasing employment, wages, labor market skills, and earnings. It is one of three such integrated research projects that extend over three-year periods with a range of activities that are focused on topics related to the three themes identified by IRP as key trends in poverty and policy: Economic Self-Sufficiency, Family Change and Poverty, and the Intergenerational Transmission of Poverty.

Family Complexity, Poverty, & Public Policy

IRP launched a major research project in fall 2011 designed to enhance understanding of the relationship of family complexity to poverty and public policy. The project extends over a three-year period and encompasses a seminar series, webinar, extramural small grants program for emerging scholars, mentoring workshop, national research and policy conference and volume, and policy and practice briefs.

Poverty Measurement

As part of IRP’s work on "Building More Accurate Measures of Poverty," this Web site is serving as a centralized Internet resource for research on poverty measurement. The areas of research include the history of poverty measurement, the development of the new federal Supplemental Poverty Measure (SPM), and the recent explosion of work on poverty measurement and modeling at the state and local levels.

Wisconsin Poverty

Since IRP’s establishment in 1966, IRP researchers have worked with State of Wisconsin officials and analysts to examine poverty and antipoverty efforts in the state. In 2009, for example, IRP Director Timothy Smeeding and Associate Director Jennifer Noyes were actively involved in a partnership with the state, nongovernmental agencies, and service providers to improve the well-being of children and families statewide through a major antipoverty initiative. In a related project, IRP researchers are creating a Wisconsin Poverty Measure that provides an alternative, broader view of poverty across the state, and allows policymakers to gauge the effectiveness of social safety net programs.

Reorganization of Social Policy

Since the early 1990s, social policy practice related to low-income Americans has been reorganized in fundamental ways. Policy authority has shifted from the federal government to the state and local levels. There has been an increase in the diversity of and relationships between organizations providing assistance. Performance management has led to an emphasis on program outputs and new systems of performance feedback and reward.

Midwest Resources

As an Area Poverty Center funded by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, IRP has a particular interest in poverty, public policy, and social welfare in the upper Midwest. In this section of the IRP Web site we offer a guide to basic demographic and socioeconomic data and other statistical resources, and to governmental and nongovernmental agencies for the region as a whole and for each state in particular; we also provide a selection of links to data, reports, and other materials particularly relevant to social welfare policies and programs in the region.

Understanding Poverty

American understanding of the complex problems of poverty and inequality has changed substantially over the past quarter-century. IRP affiliates have taken a prominent role in exploring the nature and persistence of poverty, its contributory factors, and its intergenerational consequences. The Institute has recorded and reflected upon these changes in a series of conferences held over the years.

Methodological Issues

IRP affiliates have revealed the close connections between methodological problems in sociology and economics, have enriched econometrics as applied to poverty-related research, and have developed tools permitting better use of longitudinal data sets. Two areas central to IRP research have been the development of better methods for measuring poverty, and survey techniques.

Welfare Reform

The federal welfare reform legislation enacted in 1996 transferred substantial responsibility over welfare policy to the states, which now have very much greater flexibility in designing and managing their support programs for poor families with children. Greater flexibility has brought with it new challenges for state agencies, and has also profoundly affected how we evaluate policy and program implementation.

IRP researchers are studying the consequences of the reforms for low-income families in Wisconsin and nationally.

Child Support

The payment of child support by nonresident parents is one means of improving the economic well-being of poor single-parent families. But what are the best policies to ensure that absent parents will pay and will remain connected with their children, what economic resources and other commitments do these parents have, and how great a difference do support payments make in the lives of children? Since the mid-1970s, researchers affiliated with IRP have played a primary role in data collection, research, and evaluation studies on these and related issues.

Child and Family Well-Being

Interdisciplinary research of IRP affiliates in this crucial area has focused on changing family and marriage patterns, the intergenerational transmission of poverty, and the development of indicators of well-being.

Low-Wage Labor Markets

Economists and sociologists at IRP have conducted many studies of the workings of low-wage labor markets, including issues of race, ethnicity, and employment; employment and poverty of workers with limited skills; the effects of education and training on earnings; and the impact of immigrants on the low-wage labor market.

Group Memberships and Poverty

Interdisciplinary research in this area covers the role that peers, neighborhoods, and communities play in shaping individual development and socioeconomic achievement.

Health and Poverty

IRP studies in this area include the accessibility and adequacy of health insurance and health care for low-income families, the health status of particular populations such as the elderly, the disabled, and immigrants, the links among health, poverty, and achievement, and programs and policies to improve the provision of health care.

Nutrition, Food Assistance, and Poverty

Both public food programs (Food Stamps) and private food networks have been studied by IRP researchers. With support from the Economic Research Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture, IRP has conducted annual Small Grants competitions for studies of the effects of food assistance programs on food security, income security, and other indicators of well-being among low-income individuals and families.

Education and Poverty

IRP research has focused on early intervention programs for preschoolers, the uses of testing and tracking in schools, and the relationship between school quality and adult economic achievement.


Four linked projects that focus on major aspects of economic inequality poorly reflected in measures of earnings and income inequality-health, education, wealth, and the resources available to children.

Negative Income Tax

The negative income tax (NIT), essentially a basic income guarantee designed to "make work pay," is one of the fundamental ideas of welfare programs. Proposed by Milton Friedman in 1962 and championed by Robert Lampman and other leading economists, a version of the NIT, the groundbreaking New Jersey Income Maintenance Experiment, was designed, conducted, and analyzed by IRP in the 1960s.