Matthew Diemer comments on vulnerability of families losing supports while pandemic continues to affect employment, child care, and access to basic necessities 

October 01, 2020

Professor Matthew Diemer was quoted in the Detroit Free Press article, “Back to school puts financial strain on Michigan's most vulnerable families.” Nushrat Rahman interviewed Detroit families and representatives of local organizations and agencies in order to reveal the hardships faced by thousands in the city. 

As the new school year ramps up and the economic downturn of the COVID-19 pandemic continues, parents are having to make tough financial decisions, wrote Rashman. Nonprofits and social service agencies say they see families struggling to purchase materials for school, access child care, and put food on the table. Experts worry that, without government intervention, long-term financial strain may widen opportunity gaps for children, and challenges to learning in the pandemic can exacerbate inequalities into the future.

As of July 29, nearly a quarter of Detroiters were unemployed and nearly half said they couldn’t afford to buy more food, according to the University of Michigan’s Detroit Metro Area Communities Study, which surveyed 1,138 Detroiters online and over the phone. 

The CARES Act, extra unemployment benefits, eviction moratoriums, and utility shutoff protections helped people facing financial strain. Social supports at the state and local level helped but with benefits rolling back, people are now struggling to make ends meet and stay in their homes, Diemer said. 

The pandemic could widen what researchers refer to as opportunity gaps—the often wide differences in resources and educational opportunities that exist between students such as those from low-income families and those from wealthier families. For example, most students from low-income families weren’t able to afford learning alternatives such as private tutors that were readily available to their higher-income peers during the spring and summer when school buildings were closed.

William Elliott, professor of social work at the University of Michigan, said American families need long-term solutions. He recommends “federal interventions” for the next couple years, like mortgage forgiveness and rent relief coupled with policies to build wealth. Elliott said people have found themselves relying on family networks for financial help, living in combined housing areas and going to food banks, but this is temporary.

Featured in this Article

Professor of Education; Faculty Associate, Research Center for Group Dynamics, Institute for Social Research