A state-issued ID card—nothing more than a thin, three-inch piece of plastic—can change a life in profound ways.
Applying for federal benefits, for example, requires an ID. Presenting an ID is also commonly needed when applying for jobs, visiting a food pantry, or seeking emergency or temporary shelter.
“In many ways, an ID card actually can act as a barrier that prevents people in need from getting access to the employment and social service ecosystems, and the organizations and supports that are built to help them,” said Meghan Pierce, Ph.D.
“An ID card is like currency in the social service marketplace, and members of Philadelphia’s housing-insecure and disadvantaged communities simply do not have the $30 they need to secure that form of currency.”
—Meghan Pierce, Ph.D.
Associate Professor of Marketing
La Salle’s School of Business
An associate professor of marketing at La Salle’s School of Business, Pierce partnered with a Northwest Philadelphia nonprofit, Face to Face Germantown, to assess the impact of its support services for the disadvantaged Philadelphians it serves. More specifically, Pierce and her students analyzed Face to Face Germantown’s work to connect its guests with personal identification documents and the subsequent effect of this work.
Data collected from this and prior research projects conducted by La Salle faculty and students helped Face to Face Germantown secure a one-time, evaluation capacity building initiative (ECBI) grant from Pew Charitable Trust in 2019, to help the nonprofit build a tool for future data collection.
“A standard question we receive from grant funders asks us how our work improves the lives of our guests. Without the data from Dr. Pierce’s work, we never could have applied for this grant,” said Tara Monihan, director of social, legal, and health programs at Face to Face Germantown. “The data drives us and gives our work more purpose.”
After Face to Face Germantown had gotten IDs into the hands of those who needed them most, Pierce and her La Salle students offered their pro bono services to help assess the impact and reach of the project. La Salle’s team placed close to 700 calls to the approximately 200 Face to Face Germantown guests who obtained a Commonwealth of Pennsylvania ID or accessed their birth certificate, surveying Philadelphians, then analyzing the data and testimonies they had collected.
The La Salle team reached two findings in their research.
Quantitatively, of those who had received ID documentation as a result of Face to Face Germantown:
“A Pennsylvania ID requires an initial $32.50 payment and a $32.50 renewal after four years,” Pierce said. “An ID card is like currency in the social service marketplace, and members of Philadelphia’s housing-insecure and disadvantaged communities simply do not have the $30 they need to secure that form of currency.”
Indirect, qualitative evidence, Pierce said, suggested that interactions with law enforcement also improved. “When encountered by law enforcement and asked to present an ID they do not have, these disadvantaged Philadelphians are more likely to have a negative interaction with law enforcement,” Pierce added. “The presence of an ID card changes the sentiment and experience in those interactions.”
“A standard question we receive from grant funders asks us how our work improves the lives of our guests. Without the data from Dr. Pierce’s work, we never could have applied for this grant. The data drives us and gives our work more purpose.”
Director of Social, Legal, and Health Programs
Face to Face Germantown
Pierce’s students have undertaken similar research projects each semester through service-learning courses at La Salle’s School of Business—with exception to two semesters impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. These courses inform students on time and logistics management, data collection and analysis, and community relations.
“Our students are happy to contribute to projects that impact our Northwest Philadelphia community and help them learn about La Salle’s Belfield neighborhood,” said Pierce, a La Salle faculty member since 2014. “It gives space for students to reflect on our community and get to know our knowledge-rich neighbors.”
Pierce has submitted the group’s research work and findings to the Journal of Public Policy and Marketing, where it is under peer review.
—Christopher A. Vito