Poverty in Detroit, Michigan

Poverty in Detroit, Michigan

Name of the student

Institution affiliation

Table of Contents

Introduction. 3

The Family Independence Program.. 3

The quantitative perspective of poverty in Detroit 6

Policy implementation. 7

Recommendations and additional research. 13

Recommendations. 13

Future research areas. 15

Conclusion. 16

References. 17



Poverty in Detroit, Michigan


The need to counter urban challenges in major cities has been the endeavor of both the federal and state governments in the United States. On this note, various issues and phenomena have been identified and committees selected to advance proposals that would help with such problem. It is evident that the involvement of all stakeholders is vital and hence the need for policies that drive change in that direction. This has led to the increasing role for urban managers, who are tasked to provide direction and possible solution to the issues. Contextually, this paper identifies the issue of poverty in Detroit, Michigan. It seeks to explicate the subject and discusses a prominent policy that has been used in the city. In the evaluation of the policy, academic literature is alluded to and plausible recommendations offered on making the policy more effective within the city.

The Family Independence Program

The state of Michigan’s policy towards poverty is referred to as the Family Independence Program (FIP) (State Of Michigan, 2015). The policy was derived from the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act formulated in 1996, the federal Social Security Act as well as the amended Michigan Welfare Act of 1939, Act 280 (State Of Michigan, 2015). The enactment was made possible through the Michigan’s Administrative Rules on social welfare and has been repealed over the years to make it inclusive of all eligible parties in order to meet its objectives (State Of Michigan, 2015). The policy has since then been enacted in Detroit, with many families being beneficiaries of the fund.

The policy was formed as a temporary assistance to needy families in Michigan which have children and pregnant women but cannot afford basic necessities such as rent, food, personal utilities as well as heat (State Of Michigan, 2015). Such motives were aimed at ensuring that poor children’s needs are taken care of and that such children grow within the abodes of their families. Further, the program was aimed at reducing the dependence of  many needy families on the government through the promotion of job preparation, employment and marriage. In addition the policy aimed at prevention and reduction of out-of-wedlock pregnancies by offering assistance to such families through temporary funding (Eisinger, 2013). Through a proper eligibility testing criteria and accountability, the policy was meant to cater for the poor and vulnerable and provide them with means to improve their quality of life and welfare.

The program fits well with earlier efforts to deal with poverty in the United States and the state of Michigan. Indeed, there had been rising concerns on the state of poverty within Detroit, with concerted efforts to provide poor families with means to cater for their needs (Zenk, et.al., 2005). Prior to its establishment there were genuine public concerns on the state of poor individuals, especially from the evident need to offer poor children and adults equal opportunities for success. There have been sentiments postulating that Detroit had the highest rates of poverty within the United States, necessitating the federal government to institute measures and policies that would increase equitable distribution of resources within the United States (Eisinger, 2013). Such endeavors were evidenced by the government expenditure in providing social services to poor families, food, housing and affordable health care. However, this program took a more precise approach by focusing on the Detroit’s most vulnerable families. Therefore, it complemented previous efforts to deal with the pertinent urban concern within the county.

The program was created by the Michigan county government and is run under the Department of Health and Human Services (DHS) (State Of Michigan, 2015). With the enactment of the policy by the county government, the department is charged with the responsibility of receiving applications by individuals who desire to get the benefits and vetting the applicants on their eligibility for the program. However, there are other similar programs in other states tailored for the same purpose (Zenk, et.al., 2005). In Detroit, the policy is actualized by the DHS where applications are received, processed and disbursement of cash done to the eligible persons.

The theory behind the policy is that poverty is rampant in Detroit because sections of the community are not given adequate assistance to support their livelihoods (Zenk, et.al., 2005). Recognizing the burden that many families with minor children have, the program is tailored to offer cash assistance and ensure that the living standards are raised. It is expected that children who grow up in such families will be self-reliant and able to cut the cycle of poverty within their families. Further, it is clear that provision of cash to such families gives essential foundations for self-reliance and responsibility. The program also incorporates an initiative called PATH (Partnership. Accountability. Training. Hope) (State Of Michigan, 2015).  This is an initiative that qualifies individuals for the program, by empowering the participants to commit themselves to a work participation program. Using the PATH as a precursor, it is expected that individuals will be endowed with crucial competencies required in order to overcome employment barriers and therefore obtain jobs (State Of Michigan, 2015). The program’s overall goals are achieved when poor individuals are transformed and are empowered to tackle poverty within their families and get jobs to sustain better livelihoods.

The quantitative perspective of poverty in Detroit

Detroit urban poverty has been the subject of various quantitative research endeavors to estimate the extent of the problem. In related studies, the mean household incomes in the city have reduced from $ 55, 836 in 2008 to about $ 49, 923 reported in 2011 (Binelli, 2012). In the same period, the poverty levels increased from 14.1% to 17.4%, with a peak increase in 2011 of 18%. In addition, the median household incomes reduced from $28,730 in 2008 to $23, 600 in 2012 (Borden, 2013). These decreasing metrics in incomes and consequently lower levels of social welfare are compounded by findings on children poverty within Detroit. In a report given on the state of poverty in Detroit, 60% of the children live in poverty as per the report (Espejo, 2012). Such figures postulate a 64.7% rise in children poverty from 1999. These findings were substantial because the number of children is 27% of the Detroit population, which is approximately 194,347 of the residents within Detroit (Binelli, 2012). This therefore indicates that the statistics could be used to explicate the state of poverty within Detroit. However, the findings indicated improved prenatal care an raised levels of education, which elevate the status of the society.

Studies have also been carried to estimate the comparative rates of poverty in Michigan compared to the whole state. It is given that 44% of Detroit residents had incomes below the poverty line, compared to the state’s measure of 20.7% for all individuals (Borden, 2013). The rate of poverty among male individuals who are disabled is 26.5% in Detroit compared to the state’s rate 13.9% (Espejo, 2012). In females, the percentage of poor individuals is 30.8% in Detroit compared to 18.3% within Michigan. With reference to age, evidence suggests that individuals between the ages of 5 and 15 years are the poorest, with higher poverty rates being recorded for Detroit compared to the whole state (Espejo, 2011). For example, the percentage of poor females aged 15 years in Detroit is 78%, while that of the whole state for the given age is 25%. In terms of the race, the blacks are poorer in comparison with other races in Detroit. In perspective, 254,062 black individuals are considered poor, 38.889 whites while Asians, Hispanics and American Indians have numbers below 20,000 (Binelli, 2012). These comparative studies substantiate the soaring levels of poverty in Detroit compared to the state of Michigan, where there is a considerably higher poverty rate within Detroit.

A comparison of Detroit’s poverty levels to the federal poverty levels is also important. It has often been postulated that the proportion of families that live in poverty in Detroit is thrice that of the United States. Indeed, statistics substantiate that 11.7% of families live in poverty in the United States, compared to 35.5% in Detroit (Borden, 2013). In the education front, more than 85.9% of individuals in the nation have completed high school education, while only 77.4% of Detroit’s over 25 populations have cleared high school education. Further, close to 28.5% of the nation’s over 25 population has attained bachelor’s degree, while only 13%  of the same group have the same education levels in Detroit (Espejo, 2012). From an individual perspective, 40.9% of Detroit individuals are considered poor, while 40.9% in the nation can be termed as poor (Binelli, 2012). These statistics indicate high poverty levels, and the detrimental poverty levels witnessed in Detroit are a worrying trend. It is clear that such statistics have necessitated the introduction of policies and programs to deal with the problem.

Policy implementation

The implementation of the program starts with reception of applications from individuals within the state who are interested to join the Family Independence Program. The applicants are then vetted on the basis of their eligibility for the program, in line with the specific legislations placed (State Of Michigan, 2015). One of the important considerations is that a family that receives the fund must have a minor child who has at least one caretaker. However, there are a number of exceptions when consideration of the minor child is done to ensure that only the needy individuals benefit. Further, there are different considerations on the average level of income for the applicant’s families, the citizenship of the applicants as well as enrollment in the PATH program (Zenk, et.al., 2005). Successful applicants get the cash which can be given in different time limits on which they will receive the money, depending on their levels of need. Families that reach certain limits may get Temporary Housing services from the program for a period not exceeding three months after determination of the FIP application (State Of Michigan, 2015).

There are different levels of government involved in the enactment, legislation and implementation of the policy. Although the Michigan County government enforces and has the right of determination on eligibility of candidates, the program is implemented to achieve the goals of the Social Security Act enforced by the federal government (State Of Michigan, 2015). This implies that both the federal and state governments have an important role in implementing the policy. This also indicates that the policy is made with consideration of the state and federal government postulations on the matter and their attitudes towards poverty eradication.

One of the vital players in the policy is the federal government because the policy lies within the Social Security Act and therefore the federal government is interested to know how the program is run (Espejo, 2011). Further, the county government is vital because it forms the specific legislation that governs the implementation of the policy within the county. Moreover, it is clear that the Department of Human Services is greatly involved in the success of the program, because it is involved in receiving applications, vetting applicants and giving out the money. Further, it handles any matters arising from the money given and may therefore revoke the assistance partially for a duration of time or holly for a lifetime of the family. The department is also closely involved with other departments like the Michigan Works Agencies, which implements the PATH initiative that seeks to benefit Family Independence Participants to be self reliant and develop skills necessary to enter the job market (State Of Michigan, 2015). The final important group is the general Michigan public, which applies for the assistance and is given the fund. Given that the policy is meant to solve pertinent issues within their society, the public plays a crucial role as the target group without which the program would be relevant. The cooperation between the players outlined makes it possible to implement the program successfully and realize its effectiveness within Detroit, Michigan.

The Department of Human Services determines the individuals who get the money (State Of Michigan, 2015). However, there are basic eligibility conditions that DHS must consider in determining the eligibility of applicants. Firstly, the applicant family is considered when it has $3,000 worth of assets or less, and the income should be less than the highest monthly benefit needed for the group. Other considerations include income budgeting requirements from all applicants, the monthly benefits that are contextually called payment standards, as well as the group composition of the individuals within the family (State Of Michigan, 2015). Further, the determination also considers the nationality of the applicants and is restricted to families than have at least one citizen or legal immigrants. However, the DHS does not follow up on how the family uses the cash, but it seeks to provide training to those who get the assistance on spending habits, self-reliance and planning (Zenk, et.al., 2005). It is within the department’s power to determine the type of assistance to be given in terms of cash, temporary housing or both types.

The implementation is in line with the originators’ motives on the program. Indeed, the program has been geared towards provision of cash and material assistance to poor families so that they can obtain basic services. The department received applications from 122,495 families in 2013, which represents the number of eligible families that wished to get the assistance (Eisinger, 2013). All the families were given assistance totaling to $18,342,608 that was given according to the numbers derived from the counties. Such assistance has been extended over the years to needy families, helping them to cater for their primary needs and subsequently eradicating poverty. Further, people who have taken PATH program have endeavored to use the assistance to improve the lives of their families through getting jobs and skills that have helped them to get a flow of income after the end of the assistance extended by the state (Zenk, et.al., 2005). Therefore, it is evident that the program meets its designed purposes as per the originator’s intentions.

There are a number of issues that have been witnessed with the implementation of FIP. Firstly, the program’s eligibility requirements elicited debate in 2011, because there were too many exceptions to the clause, which made an exaggerated number of individuals eligible for the program (Borden, (2013). This led to the amendments, which reduced the lifetime of the benefits to 48 months and applied stringent conditions as sanctions on aspects such as work and study requirements, age limit of children who are termed as dependents as well as improvement of the resident verification status. Secondly, there was an issue in 2013 concerning whether individuals who are through with their cash assistance programs should get temporary housing assistance (Family independence agency, 2013). Initially, the termination of the time limit meant that the individuals were eliminated from the program. However, such postulations were changed to enable families to obtain temporary housing for three months even after the expiry of their term for the cash assistance. Other matters arising have sought to include hardship exceptions to incorporate real issues that face poor people so that the assistance can be given for more than 60 months (Family independence agency, 2013).  The issues have provided policy makes with ways to revise existing legal frameworks on the policy and therefore align it with the objectives intended.

The implementation of the program has illustrated that coordination between the federal and local authorities leads to better delivery services. However, it is clear that the local government must put in place plausible frameworks that help the policy to meet objectives because it is better versed with the issues that are specific within the state. Although the authority with power over the policy may determine its effectiveness, true efficiency results from independence and transparency of the policy implementation regardless of the authority that has power. In addition, politics plays an important role in the way in which the policy is implemented. This is because the elected officials represent the views of the public and therefore steer the programs to suit such interests. When the officials pass legislations that improve the program’s efficiency, the public benefits and in this case the poverty is alleviated. This is because such legislations indicate the allocation of the resources, the accountability of the implementers on the allocated resources, the eligibility of prospective applicants and the disbursement of the funds. However, corrupt individuals and officials in political hierarchy that pursue self-interests may limit the extent of the policy relevance because the funds may be embezzled or there could be eligibility requirements that do not suit the intended recipients of the cash.

The program differs considerably with others in other cities within the United States. In this paper, the main comparison is done with the Harlem Children’s Zone policy that is in New York City (Durkin & Rothman, 2006). Although both are intended towards dealing with poverty and providing assistance to poor individuals, the HCZ takes a more holistic approach towards the program. It seeks to give an educational background as well as social services that are geared towards transformation of the city and the welfare of the residents (Hyra, 2008). This is compared to the FIP’s limited approach that gives temporary assistance to poor families and then terminates them from the program. However, the requirement to enroll in PATH by FIP shows a considerable similarity between the two programs who seek self-reliance after the program, focusing on a long-term perspective of the families involved.

Further, the mode of assistance can be compared between the two programs. The FIP in Detroit seeks to offer temporary cash to families that are stricken with poverty so that they can get basic amenities. However, it is plausible to note that there is a moral hazard in any community that is associated with the issuing of cash resources, where most individuals may not use such resources as they promised. The HCZ program on the other hand provides social services and educational assistance to poor families (Durkin & Rothman, 2006). It is therefore plausible to posit that they eradicate moral hazards and the intentions of the programs are met much easily. In its approach of channeling children through a pipeline of education that gives support from child birth to maturity, the HCZ approach is definitely more concise compared to the FIP (Ssewamala, et.al., 2012). However, it is difficult to measure its effectiveness because of its considerably longer scope compared to the FIP.

The comparison of the program may also be stretched towards evaluation of the effectiveness of public and private initiatives to deal with urban problems. While the FIP is run by the state of Michigan under the Department of human services, the HCZ is coordinated by a privately owned organization under the leadership of Geoffrey Canada (Hyra, 2008). The public policy has an evidently narrower approach and is dependent on a long range of political bureaucracy in determinations of the legislations, as opposed to the easy decision making mechanism in place for HCZ (Ssewamala, et.al., 2012). This implies that changes can be made easily within the private organization in line with the changing needs of the society in private compared to public programs. However, private programs like HCZ are designed for specific regions or places (Jackson, 2001). Such sentiments have been given by researchers into the HCZ model, who argue that its configuration only fits Harlem’s needs and may therefore not be adopted for other parts like Detroit (Jackson, 2001).

Recommendations and additional research


The problem of poverty in Detroit may be tackled when the program has a wider scope of approaching the issue. Firstly, there is need to increase the level of expenditure on infrastructure, education and job creation. Although the program provides a way to tackle short-term lack of basic needs, there is need to incorporate programs that create more sustainable improvements in the lives of the people. Despite the PATH initiative, it is clear that provision of job opportunities and infrastructure would place the families at a better point to obtain employment and lead to self-reliance. Further, the FIP should focus on an education based system that seeks to provide an educational foundation to children and the youth in Detroit. This will not only lead to better lives in future, but would also have trickle-down effects on development in the entire state of Michigan.

Further, the FIP should also focus on lobbying employers to employ low-income workers and also set up institutions that offer tertiary skills to such workers. Although the cash initiative helps poor families, it has been evident that most of them get frustrated when the term ends and do not have alternative means of provision. Such efforts to get poor individuals employed were made by the Stimulus bill of 2009 that sought to enable state governments to give subsidies to employers. However, the program expired regardless of the fact that the unemployment rate for low-skilled workers is high in many cities. In Detroit, plausible initiatives would be to set up tertiary institutions that empower individuals on skills that they need and lobbying employers to accept such individuals.

To reduce the moral hazard of using the cash for unintended purposes, the program should offer the families more non-cash resources and utilities. Although the initiative gives temporary housing to some individuals, it should endeavor to provide housing for most of its beneficiaries instead of giving them money to pay rent. Such initiatives can be made in conjunction with Detroit’s department for housing or other associated departments. The program should also incorporate educational programs in Detroit where the children can get access to such services, and as well provide food for the communities instead of giving money. Using such initiatives, it is evident that the intended benefits will increase community welfare and individuals will not be tempted to use the temporary assistance in non-beneficial ways.

The FIP program may also be improved through the adoption of the model employed by HCZ. In the model, children from poor background undergo a pipeline of assistance since birth and even to the late stages of their education. With such an initiative, the children grow within a system that develops their holistic development for longer periods instead of the temporary nature of the current program. Research has indicated that individuals who go through such a program have a lower probability of engaging in criminal activities, family crises and drugs, which are pertinent issues in Detroit. This implies that the program’s revitalization could help deal with other issues within the city and therefore lead to better outcomes.

The length of the assistance should also be considered in light of the needs by the recipients. As previous attempts to revise the provisions have been evident, it is important to restructure the temporary assistance in a way that will benefit the target group. For instance, longer terms may be given to families with only one parent who is unemployed and has a minor child to take care. However, term limits should also be lowered for families that have two parents, or when one of the parents gets a job. The remainder of the benefits that had been allocated to the family may be used for provision of other utilities within the program.

One of the policy changes has been the requirement that all beneficiaries of FIP be participants in PATH, which is a work program that seeks to indict poor individuals to the job market (Michigan Poverty Law Program.org, 2015). The proposal was given in April 17th 2015, and sought to give sanctions to non-compliant individuals. If the policy is enacted, it implies that only individuals willing to work will receive the temporary assistance and therefore such initiatives will lead to better outcomes because there will be an incentive to join the labor force. However, there is due consideration of certain exemptions before giving the sanctions to make it more applicable, although the policy has not been enacted (Michigan Poverty Law Program.org, 2015).

Future research areas

Future research may delve to explain factors that have led to the prevalence of poverty within Detroit

Other research endeavors may seek to assess the effects of political goodwill on the poverty eradication effects in Detroit.

Finally, research may center on other urban challenges in Detroit and policies that have been placed to deal with such challenges.


The paper has explored the problem of poverty in Detroit. In explication of this urban problem, it has highlighted the Family Independence Program, an initiative by the state of Michigan to provide short-term assistance to needy families within the state. Through the statistical inferences within the document, the need for the policy was explicated based on the prevailing poverty rates within Detroit, in comparison with the state of Michigan and the nation. Further, the broad aspects of the policy implementation have been explained, with the involvement of authorities and comparison of the program with others. Finally, it is plausible that the recommendations provided in this research will have substantial impacts in improving its approach, and in particular dealing with the problem of Poverty within Detroit.



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Durkin, P., & Rothman, R. (2006). Educating vulnerable pupils. Providence, R.I.: Annenberg Institute for School Reform at Brown University.

Eisinger, P. (2013). Is Detroit dead?. Journal Of Urban Affairs36(1), 1-12. doi:10.1111/juaf.12071

Espejo, R. (2011). Urban America. Detroit: Greenhaven Press.

Espejo, R. (2012). Poverty. Detroit: Greenhaven Press.

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Jackson, J. (2001). Harlem world. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Michigan Poverty Law Program.org,. (2015). Review of Lifetime FIP Sanction prior to closing eliminated – BEM 233A — Michigan Poverty Law Program. Retrieved 22 April 2015, from http://www.mplp.org/Issues/Review%20of%20Lifetime%20FIP%20Sanction%20Eliminated

Ssewamala, F., Sperber, E., Blake, C., & Ilic, V. (2012). Increasing opportunities for inner-city youth: The feasibility of an economic empowerment model in East Harlem and the South Bronx, New York. Children And Youth Services Review34(1), 218-224. doi:10.1016/j.childyouth.2011.10.003

State Of Michigan,. (2015). Family independence agency. Retrieved 22 April 2015, from http://www.michigan.gov/documents/FIA-TANF-State-Plan_14674_7.pdf

Zenk, S., Schulz, A., Israel, B., James, S., Bao, S., & Wilson, M. (2005). Neighborhood Racial Composition, Neighborhood Poverty, and the Spatial Accessibility of Supermarkets in Metropolitan Detroit. Am J Public Health95(4), 660-667. doi:10.2105/ajph.2004.042150

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