Economist Translates Research on Low-Wage Workers Into Policy
January 13, 2009 - With the nation in a recession and a new presidential administration in office, economist and labor scholar Harry Holzer believes the time is right for sweeping policy changes to help low-wage and disadvantaged workers.
He says it’s an interesting and exciting time for public policy research.
“Both because of the administration and a new Congress – one that I hope will pay more attention to the research literature – and also because of the economic changes that make a lot of these issues so important,” says Holzer, a professor in the Georgetown Public Policy Institute.
Holzer’s research currently focuses on employment woes of disadvantaged men - particularly issues facing African-American men, advancement prospects for the working poor and worker inequality.
“I started working on issues involving young black men … [once I] came to realize welfare reform, for whatever its pluses and minuses, left out the men – the dads, the noncustodial fathers,” Holzer recalls.
Holzer and his colleagues found that improvements could be made in the men’s lives if three key factors occur: provide education and training to improve prospects, improve rewards for the working and reduce the employment barriers facing ex-offenders and noncustodial fathers.
Decades of research on both the employer and employee sides of the labor market are important to Holzer’s policy development today.
His most recent work has been specific to proposing economic recovery programs that he hopes will be implemented by the new Obama administration.
Proposals for Economic Recovery
Whatever economic and labor policies are developed during this presidency, the professor says, they should have a strong analytical foundation. “We want [the policies] to make sense, in terms of the underlying economics,” Holzer says, “and we’d like them to be based on evidence of what actually works.
He hopes the proposed economic stimulus package will include some programs that quickly can be implemented to stave off effects of the current economic crisis. He believes the legislative and administration goal will be to “get cash in people’s hands quickly.”
“Your standard education or training program doesn’t do that. You’ve got people sitting in the classroom and not necessarily being paid for work,” Holzer adds.
On the other hand, he says the time might be right for training programs as employers have slashed 524,000 jobs in December, alone. “It’s not a bad time to educate or train people because the jobs aren’t there,” he says.
A Bridge Between Research and Reality
In 2008, he established the Georgetown Center on Poverty, Inequality and Public Policy with law professor Peter Edelman and adjunct professor Mark Greenberg, who is the center’s executive director .
Edelman praises Holzer’s ability to forge relationships with key thought leaders in all fields, and his skills in translating research into policy.
“Think of the center as a bridge - a three-way bridge - between researchers, practitioners and decision-makers,” says Edelman..“Harry reaches people who need to be involved if we’re going to move these ideas; not just develop ideas.”