Reflecting on the LEO-Atlanta collaboration

Author: Leigh Lynes

Paige Dunmire
Paige Dunmire

Atlanta-area resident Paige Dunmire shares her thoughts on the news of LEO’s Atlanta-based cohort.


Atlanta has battled poverty and income inequality since the 1960s. Atlanta was ranked the “most unequal large city in the United States” in 2018, with a 24% poverty rate. The income gap is increasing, and the more geographically and socioeconomically isolated a neighborhood is, the more likely poverty will endure there for generations. Systemic problems cannot be solved until a viable solution to poverty and income inequality is found. While local organizations may already have effective interventions, research has not yet identified what is working to move the needle. The Wilson Sheehan Lab for Economic Opportunities (LEO), an anti-poverty research lab at the University of Notre Dame, is stepping in to collaborate with Atlanta-based community organizations to learn more about effective ways Atlanta can fight poverty to change the community for the better.

LEO partners with service providers across the country who want to disrupt the anti-poverty space. These providers realize that decades of effort in the fight against poverty have not effected change and have left us with little understanding of what works to lift lives up. LEO is grounded in a belief that research serves people, not the other way around, so they work side-by-side with partners to design and implement a research approach that’s both rigorous and respectful of every person it involves.

Being poor is expensive, especially in Georgia. Due to high living expenses, low-income families in the state typically spend more than half of their incomes on rent. Childcare is also expensive, and this combination of high rent and expensive childcare crowds out basic necessities. Low-income families should not be trapped choosing between a home and food. With LEO’s help, Atlanta can learn what works to help people at all socioeconomic levels thrive.

One obstacle to solving the problem of poverty in Atlanta is that some people do not think a solution is necessary. According to a 2014 Pew Research study, 45% of the Atlanta Metro Area population believes government aid to the poor does more harm than good. Demographics can influence a person’s likelihood of donating to programs that support the underprivileged. White, married, Baby Boomer and GenXers making over $50,000 a year are most likely to think government aid to the poor does more harm than good. Further, 61% of people who consider religion “very important” and 24% of people who consider religion “somewhat important” also believe aid to the poor does more harm than good.

Though government aid is not donation-based, many community nonprofit organizations require the generosity of these very individuals to support their work. Members of local parishes and communities may see the work that LEO—born out of the mission of the University of Notre Dame and inspired by Catholic social teaching—is doing to build evidence about what work and realize that it is possible to find effective ways to combat poverty in Atlanta.

LEO’s partnership with Atlanta-area service providers can increase awareness of the impact of giving, showing the community how to grow and evolve through charity and kindness…and the importance of evidence-backed programs and services. With its unique problem-solving strategy, LEO’s work will be unlike anything Atlantans have experienced. Through collaboration with local organizations, LEO can bring the knowledge required to find an enduring solution to poverty and income inequality in Atlanta.