Lab for Economic Opportunities (LEO) at Notre Dame Creates New Partnerships

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The COVID-19 pandemic brought no shortage of bad news, especially to minority and low-income Americans. Poverty rates, categorized as a family of four living on an annual income of less than $26,250, officially rose to 11.4 percent in 2020, though the U.S. Census Bureau said pandemic relief brought the number down closer to 9 percent. And hourly jobs like those in the hospitality industry all but halted.

As the face of poverty in the United States shifted in response to these factors, Notre Dame’s Lab for Economic Opportunities (LEO) widened its network of partners to better understand and address poverty. Spanning the country and tackling issues ranging from rapid rehousing for the homeless, to professional development for parents and teachers trying to engage with their children’s education, to curricula designed to help secure financial resiliency for under-resourced families, these partners are working tirelessly to help those in need. The researchers at LEO intend to launch evaluations designed to help the partners determine how they can be even more successful in reducing poverty.

One project already underway is a study on the impact of COVID-19 on nursing home mortality rates. LEO co-founder Bill Evans gathered data which suggested that nursing homes that had imposed strict measures to stop COVID-19, like disallowing visitors, had substantially lower rates of COVID-19 mortality, but higher numbers of non- COVID deaths. Evans believes social isolation may have played a role in the mortality of residents.

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LEO is now working with social service agencies, including Catholic Charities of Southeast Michigan, Georgia Southern University, Positive Maturity, the Health Association of Niagara County, NY, and Good Samaritan, to test the efficacy of senior companion programs on improving quality-oflife measures, assisted living status, and health outcomes like hospitalizations. LEO hopes to provide evidence-based research that helps bolster effective programming for the more than 3 million senior citizens in the United States.

As a Catholic university, Notre Dame draws inspiration from the life of Jesus. He served the poor, the marginalized, and the overlooked. LEO, too, readily and meaningfully serves those Jesus so loved.