The Great American Road Trip
Darrick Hamilton has clocked an impressive number of miles lately. Since April, the economist and associate professor at the Milano School of International Affairs, Management, and Urban Policy has traveled coast-to-coast attending conferences on racial and income inequality. As a part of an impressive band of scholars at The New School’s Schwartz Center for Economic Policy and Analysis, Hamilton has been quietly building steam as a leading economic pundit. Quietly until now, that is. His latest work, some of which disputes the necessity of federal budget cuts, is turning more than a few heads.
A professor of economics and urban policy at The New School since 2003, Hamilton has been as a rising force—and emerging expert—on racial inequality and the country’s widening wealth gap, as well as a vocal opponent of austerity measures. On April 22, he critiqued the latter during a segment on Harlem’s WHCR 90.3 radio, and also broached the subject with colleagues in two powerful opinion pieces in the Huffington Post. His latest, published on April 26, proposes a program to offset cuts to social security by guaranteeing a similar fund for all Americans at birth, accessible once they reach 18. These “baby bonds,” the amount of which is based upon family wealth, would then allow young people the opportunity to launch careers or pursue further study. This same proposal was a key component of a recent New York Times article debating the widening income gap. Quoted in the piece, Hamilton said, “[They’re] really going to break the link of intergenerational poverty, and the intergenerational wealth gap.”
Hamilton’s insights like those on the baby bonds are high in demand these days. On the road for much of this past semester, Hamilton made stops in Washington (where he gave the keynote address at the annual White Privilege Conference), North Carolina (for a conference on racial and ethnic inequality at Duke University), Ohio (for a labor economics conference at Oberlin College), Texas (as a panelist in a black studies conference at the University of Texas), as well as a smattering of meetings and conferences across the East Coast.
Back in New York, Hamilton’s own research hasn’t taken a back seat to all the travel. Fresh from a two-year grant that assessed the net-worth of families, he hopes to incorporate a much-needed niche in the field of study. Now, evaluating the financial wellbeing of families across the U.S is not new. For one, the U.S. census registers economic and demographic data every 10 years, and seeing as the first was in 1790 (enumerated population of 3,929,214), the process has become efficiently streamlined. For another, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) has created an exhaustive set of labor statistics since the 1960s.
Hamilton cites a lack of available data for ethnic minorities as a major impetus behind his study. His grant, which brought together a diverse and interdisciplinary research team, all focused on the goal of piecing out large ethnic groups, (Asian American, Latino, and African American) into their smaller, ancestral nodes (Salvadorian, Korean, Japanese, Caribbean), and assessing the wealth net worth of the race. Where traditionally researchers have used employment status and income levels as indicators of race finances, Hamilton has broadened the list of variables to include stock portfolios, homeownership, and more—positioned against personal debt. The results are an individualized scorecard of the financial health of a race in a given locality.
Hamilton’s work, though perhaps disparate in theme, coalesces under one simple, yet impactful view of the economists at the Schwartz Center: an unfair economy is an inefficient one. To learn more, follow Hamilton on Huffington Post here, or see his list of publications here.