Dan Black
Professor Dan Black

The Harris School of Public Policy is offering a new specialization for its students, Social and Economic Inequality. We spoke with Professor Dan Black to get the details and learn what students can look forward to exploring through the specialization’s coursework.

Why the Social and Economic Inequality Specialization, and why now?

Harris has historically been interested in recognizing, researching, and proposing solutions to social and economic inequalities. A challenge with researching these issues—often linked to opportunities for socioeconomic mobility—is that the questions for which we seek answers are often difficult to objectively measure. How much does it matter with whom you are going to school, for example? Calculating statistics is one thing, but how do we interpret those statistics? As a result, we often don’t have a good discussion in the public domain about inequality. If we want to see those good discussions, and good solutions, we want Harris students to be equipped with the tools to be at the table and contributing.

The faculty, as well as the students, has long wanted to make this specialization possible. We’re excited that we have built up faculty mass to teach the courses and sustain the specialization for Harris students.

What are some of the skills students can gain from the selected courses?

Through the courses leading to the specialization, students will be introduced to modern theories of inequality and the empirical study of those theories and develop a greater understanding of the existing mechanisms that slow movement in income distribution. Students will also gain the tools to discuss more clearly what the data about income and social inequality are telling us—which can lead to more effective and productive policy decisions and practices.

For whom will the Social and Economic Inequality Specialization be of most interest?

This specialization will have an appeal to Harris students broadly, since social and economic inequality are linked to so many policy issues.

Consider the role of education in socioeconomic mobility. The GI Bill in the United States is an excellent example. Prior to the GI Bill, only the wealthiest were able to go to college. After the bill was enacted, those from lower socioeconomic classes had that tool within reach, which provided them with a previously unattainable growth opportunity.

Municipal finance is another policy field impacted by social and economic inequality. If a town or school district doesn’t have resources, its residents will likely be at a disadvantage compared to a well-funded entities.

And for those interested in policies impacting families and children, there have been countless studies on what happens when parents have the human capital and time to invest in their child’s success as opposed to parents who don’t. However, how do we most effectively measure those outcomes and, more importantly, what are solutions that will have the greatest impact?

These are but three examples. I’m confident that our students will recognize other applications in their own fields of interest and bring those observations to the specialization courses!

Want to learn more? Visit the Specialization in Social and Economic Inequality page to learn more about the specialization.