Robert M. La Follette School of Public Affairs
Thursday, July 31, 2014

Faculty affiliate leads Institute for Research on Poverty


Lonnie Berger


Tim Smeeding

La Follette School faculty affiliate Lawrence (Lonnie) M. Berger took over as director of the Institute for Research on Poverty today (August 1).

Berger replaces  Timothy Smeeding, whose six-year term expired at the end of July. John Karl Scholz, dean of the College of Letters and Science, announced Berger’s appointment in May.

“I leave IRP in great hands,” Smeeding says. “As a faculty affiliate, member of our executive committee, and co-author of our core grant renewal proposals, Lonnie has helped the institute stay ahead of the curve at a time when poverty research and policy are becoming increasingly complex and multidisciplinary. His decisions during the transition to the directorship have been both impressive and thoughtful. He will do a wonderful job over the coming years to move IRP forward. And I join all former directors in offering him our full support.”

Berger is a professor in the School of Social Work, where he chairs the doctoral program. He is an expert in child and family policy; child development and well-being; child maltreatment; children’s living arrangements; family resources; and family structure. His research focuses on the ways in which economic resources, sociodemographic characteristics, and public policies affect parental behaviors and child and family well-being. His work has been published in leading social science journals and edited volumes.

Berger has received more than $19.5 million in research grants for his independent and joint work, including a prestigious five-year career development award from the National Institutes of Health for his study of maternal re-partnering and how it affects parenting behaviors and child development. His UW awards and honors include an H.I. Romnes Faculty Fellowship for 2013–2018 and a Vilas Associate Award for 2011–2013.

At the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Berger is a faculty affiliate of the La Follette School of Public Affairs; Center for Demography and Ecology; Waisman Center; Center for Financial Security; Prevention Sciences Interdisciplinary Graduate Training Program; Population Health Graduate Program; and the Institute for Clinical and Translational Research. At Columbia University, he is affiliated with the National Center for Children and Families. He has been a guest researcher at the National Institute for Demographic Studies in Paris, France.

“I am extremely honored that my colleagues have entrusted me with leading the Institute, which has been at the forefront of poverty and social policy research for going on 50 years,” Berger says. "“I look forward to continuing IRP’s collaborative and interdisciplinary research and policy-relevant work; our joint efforts with the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, policymakers, and practitioners to identify emerging research interests; and our outreach to share what we’ve learned with people beyond academe. I also look forward to supporting the work of our impressive array of affiliates as we work together on IRP’s ultimate aim of conducting research to better understand how to promote the economic and social well-being of struggling individuals and families.”

During his term, Smeeding, Arts and Sciences Distinguished Professor of Public Affairs at the La Follette School, has led the successful competition for a five-year renewal of IRP’s core grant; helped IRP win a five-year award to create a national poverty fellows training program; created a summer workshop on teaching poverty; and helped IRP successfully compete for the national RIDGE Center for National Food and Nutrition Assistance Research, which is funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

The Institute for Research on Poverty is a nonpartisan center for interdisciplinary study of poverty and social inequality in the United States. It was established in 1966 in an agreement between the university and the federal government as a national center for study of “the nature, causes, and cures of poverty.” In the years since then, the Institute’s affiliates, who represent a range of disciplines, have formulated and tested basic theories of poverty and inequality, developed and evaluated social policy alternatives, and analyzed trends in poverty and economic well-being.