Friday, June 20, 2014

Status report

Life's been pretty busy, but I thought some readers might be interested in what I've been up to.

I just learned that I passed my third and final comp, which officially means I only have the dissertation proposal and defense left. I should propose early in the fall semester. I started back at the Urban Institute, this time in the Income and Benefits Policy Center (previously I was with the Center on Labor, Human Services, and Population). They do broadly similar stuff with a few different emphases... I think the split is largely historical. I am working with the workforce development team which means a lot of education and training evaluations.

I have a lot of projects on my plate jumping in:

1. Assessing research plans for an evaluation of Trade Adjustment Assistance training grants to community colleges (not actually doing the evaluations ourselves, but overseeing the evaluators).

2. Part of the evaluation of a health professions training program that was a part of the Affordable Care Act.

3. An evaluation of the Accelerating Opportunity, an Adult Basic Education program.

4. An evaluation of a science and engineering education program in Alaska that I am still green on, but my understanding is that it takes Alaskan natives, supports primary and secondary science and engineering education, and then follows them and provides supports through college for those who continue to college.

I'm also involved in a proposal for an evaluation of an apprenticeship program in Maryland.

In addition to the dissertation and this work I have recently been asked to write another report for the National Academy of Engineering on the role of out of classroom training in the engineering technician and technologist workforce. It will cover apprenticeships, internships, co-ops, and on the job training. I'm putting together some data for it but it will be a lot of case studies as well (because a lot of the data on this stuff isn't that great).

So I'm keeping pretty busy, but the fact that I've been able to focus this work on education and training, and especially on both mid-level skills training and science and engineering is very encouraging for me. My work with the Urban Institute previously was nowhere near as focused on my specific research interests.

Monday, June 9, 2014

Quick thoughts on the Koch donation

Just like with the hospital donation a couple weeks ago, libertarians are twitterpated that the Kochs donated to the United Negro College Fund. But they're not just excited, they've (or at least half a dozen reasonably well known libertarians with an internet presence on my facebook feed) been making big pronouncements about leftist critics of the UNCF donation. I am still not sure exactly who these leftist critics are. In trolling through I can only find Dan Bier linking to "#Koch" on Twitter, and when I click on it (as I write this) I only see one person in the top results even mentioning the UNCF donation critically (and to be fair to that twitterer they're actually not criticizing the donation at all they're using the opportunity to criticize the Kochs). So none of this seems like the groundswell of opposition some libertarians are implying (which makes sense, because to be honest it seems a little stupid to expect a groundswell of criticism), but the fact is it is out there in today's news cycle at least.

I always find this strange. I don't personally mind the UNCF donation at all or the hospital donation. In fact I wish they gave all their donations to those sorts of things. The world would be a better place if they did. But even though I don't mind that, I can still have a sour view on the Kochs. I don't see why the sorts of libertarians that react to this have such a hard time grasping that what we don't like about the Kochs is not their good donations but their bad donations.

Second, whenever this comes up libertarians love to drone on about how the Kochs support gay marriage and oppose the drug war. I also find this reaction strange too. First nobody criticizes the Kochs for that presumably because that's not what they have a problem with. Second, do libertarians ever suddenly decide that leftists are a good influence on American society because they support the gay marriage and oppose the drug war? Of course not. So why would they expect liberals to suddenly warm up to the Kochs because they finally got something right on those issues?

Third, the only place I ever hear about the Kochs' support for gay marriage and the drug war is from libertarians. The really huge, well publicized stuff from the Kochs seems to be oppositions to progressive taxation, health reform, progress on climate change, and of course their support for libertarian leaning academic economics, political science, philosophy, etc. Maybe it's all selection effect (i.e. - the media only chooses to report on that stuff), but there are plenty of competing media outlets and the Kochs have the resources to push their own priorities. So chances are the Kochs care a lot more about those things that we hear about outside of libertarian defense pieces than they do about gay marriage or ending the drug war.

Urban Institute conference on apprenticeship in an international context today

I forgot to mention this - I'm at the Urban Institute today attending a conference on apprenticeships, organized by my dissertation advisor Bob Lerman. You can watch live (or see the video later) here.

Also in apprenticeship news, Bob recently appeared on a PBS segment on apprenticeship. Coincidentally Werner Eikenbusch, a committee member on the NAE committee on the engineering technicians and technologist workforce that I am working with currently, is also featured.

Friday, June 6, 2014

Did you hear the one about how income inequality isn't increasing?

Analysis at the "Political Calculations" blog suggesting that income inequality has been flat for decades has been making the rounds, including with Mark Perry and Don Boudreaux. I'm no inequality expert, but I wanted to make few points that I think are getting lost in sharing this around.

1. First, the basic analysis is right that household formation patterns are very important for understanding different measures of inequality. This is widely acknowledged.

2. But, what I think people are missing is that there are a lot of ways of measuring inequality besides the Gini coefficient. The Gini coefficient aggregates changes across the entire income distribution, which is a very important property! But it doesn't necessarily give you a good measure of what's going on at different points in the distribution. Most people who talk about inequality have been referring to what's going on at the upper end of the income distribution. Gini coefficients are fine, but don't use a Gini coefficient to try to refute a completely different claim.

3. I am taking the result at face value for the time being because I haven't crunched the numbers myself and they come right from the Census Bureau! But, we should be careful. They come from the CPS, which top-codes income, and of course we know that the biggest changes in inequality have come at the top of the income distribution. As recent Economic Policy Institute analysis has shown, this is even true of wage income. They use Social Security data which I assume does not top-code like the CPS data. So would the Gini coefficient hold as steady if better data were used? Maybe, maybe not. You just have to know what you're dealing with when you pass this stuff around.