UK professors among researchers nationwide to study economic inequality

James P. Ziliak, left, and Christopher R. Bollinger

WASHINGTON, D.C. (July 25, 2018) — Two University of Kentucky economics professors are among several researchers nationally receiving grants to study economic inequality. The Washington Center for Equitable Growth announced today that it will award 24 grants this year, totaling close to $900,000, to economists and other social scientists conducting research on the channels through which economic inequality affects economic growth and stability.

This robust body of research, now totaling more than $3.8 million in grant awards to more than 150 researchers over five years, is the foundation on which equitable growth advances a deeper understanding of the role that public policy plays in promoting strong, stable and broad-based economic growth.

A grant of more than $60,000 will go to James P. Ziliak and Christopher R. Bollinger in the Gatton College of Business and Economics to use survey-linked administrative data to develop a better understanding of earnings and earnings volatility, especially for those at the top and bottom of the distribution. Ziliak is the Carol Martin Gatton endowed chair in microeconomics and director of the UK Center for Poverty Research. Bollinger is the Sturgill endowed professor of economics and former director of the UK Center for Business and Economic Research.

To help resolve a debate in the literature about whether income volatility has increased or decreased over the past decade, Ziliak and Bollinger will link the Current Population Survey to the Social Security Administration’s detailed earnings records data. This unique data is essential for understanding earnings, as previous research demonstrates that earnings in household surveys differ from those measured in administrative data — especially at the top and bottom of the distribution.

Determining whether the recent increase in income volatility (as shown in papers using household survey data) also occurs in the administrative earnings data, is important in evaluating the changing well-being of individuals and families. It also impacts the measures of inequality. Decreasing volatility may suggest decreasing inequality, which contradicts many recent estimates of the change in inequality in the U.S. This work is critical to understanding the nature of inequality in the U.S. today and the level of income volatility Americans may be experiencing.

In this fifth round of grantmaking, Equitable Growth will award 12 grants to university faculty and 12 grants to doctoral students at universities across the United States. Awards in this year’s grant cycle total $895,000, an increase of almost 16 percent from 2017 funding. There will also be an additional $39,000 in co-funding from the Russell Sage Foundation.

The categories of research in which the organization awards grants are human capital and the labor market, innovation, macroeconomics, and how institutions (including government, corporations and other large organizations) affect inequality and growth. Equitable Growth is especially interested in research that uses government and other new or innovative data sources to shed light on important economic questions.

“Equitable Growth is excited to support another round of scholars who are deepening our understanding of how economic inequality affects overall economic well-being and how we can promote more equitable growth,” said Washington Center for Equitable Growth’s Executive Director and Chief Economist Heather Boushey. “Each research question is an opportunity to fill in another piece of the puzzle, and after five years of grantmaking, a clearer picture is emerging of the channels through which economic inequality may affect economic growth and stability. With this growing body of research, scholars are advancing our understanding of how to create a stronger economy — one that works for Americans up and down the income ladder.”

Equitable Growth’s academic grants are open to researchers affiliated with a U.S. university, and its doctoral grants are open to graduate students currently enrolled in a U.S. doctoral program. Here is the 2018 request for proposals.

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