Natasha Pilkauskas


Poverty, Inequality and Public Policy

This course is dedicated to an in-depth study of poverty and inequality in the United States. In particular, we will examine how poverty and inequality are measured, consider the underlying causes of poverty/inequality, consequences of poverty/inequality and then consider how our views of these causes shape public policy. We will examine theories of the culture of poverty, social stratification and discrimination, concentrated poverty and the underclass, economic and family structure drivers as well as institutional causes of poverty such as education and incarceration. We will also consider how special populations are particularly affected by poverty, such as children.

The aim of this course is for students to come away with an understanding of recent historical trends in terms of thinking about poverty and its causes and how that thinking influences policy making.

Evaluating Public Policies

This course provides an introduction to the fundamentals of evaluation research design and methods as applied to public policies and programs. The goal of the course is to help students build research and analysis skills. The course covers the role of evaluation in the public policy process, and both process and impact evaluation research, including research designs for establishing causal inference between exposure to public policies/programs and outcomes. Students will gain skills in understanding and crafting research designs common in public policy evaluation, including randomized controlled trials, quasi-experimental designs and non-experimental designs. Students will also gain skills in understanding/critiquing published public policy evaluation literature, measurement/data collection methods, and basic statistical methods for analyzing evaluation data. Class format will include lecture, discussion of case studies, and small group applied exercises.

U.S. Social Policy

US Social Policy will provide students with an understanding of state and federal social welfare policies and the impact they have on special populations, particularly those in poverty. We will examine the theoretical roots and foundations of social welfare policies (how and why do we design policies the way we do?), discuss social welfare policies that address poverty, examine social welfare policies that target specific needs (e.g. nutrition, health, child maltreatment) and also investigate how policies are targeted at special populations (children, the elderly, immigrants). The goal of the course is to give students an overview of the US social policy landscape.

Child and Family Policy

The goal of the course is to give students an overview of the US social policy landscape as it relates to children and low-income families. We will consider the strengths and weaknesses of policies that target children and families – to examine how policy affects children. On occasion, we will compare US social policies to those of other western countries. This course aims to help students think about how policy might be able to improve the life trajectories of disadvantaged children.

This class will start by considering the family, how it is defined, and why that matters for policy. We will also think about how our values in US shape the policies and programs that we construct (and our own thoughts about them), and who we deem “deserving” of assistance. Then we will delve into child poverty and the consequences of growing up poor. After that we’ll study different policies that are targeted at income poverty, the working poor, consider the development of children (early intervention, early childhood education, school), and then consider specific problems (poor nutrition, health, neighborhoods). The last section of the class will consider populations that are “at-risk” because of family characteristics/or experiences (children who are immigrants, experience discrimination, have incarcerated parents, experience abuse/neglect or grow up in a single parent family).

University of Michigan, Ford School of Public Policy