Professor reaches US Department of Labor
Jennifer Hunt, in the a professor Department of Economics, took a leave of absence from the University this past January to serve as the Chief Economist at the U.S. Department of Labor.
Hunt started her job just one month after learning she was being considered for the appointment, which tasks her with, among other things, advising the Secretary of Labor.
“It was a bit disorienting to think you’d have such a change in your life in just a few weeks,” Hunt said.
Hunt provides the Secretary of Labor with incoming employment and unemployment statistics, a topic constantly in the public eye since the recession.
The unemployment rate remains an important indicator of the nation’s economic state because although employment growth rises, it remains in context of the largest labor market recession since the Great Depression.
“There’s been a steady recovery, but there’s more to be done and we’d like it to be recovering even faster,” she said.
Hunt said this position gives her the chance to address issues she researched as an academic, such as wage inequality and economic effects of immigration reform.
The increasing wage inequality is an ongoing trend in labor market, she said.
The Department of Labor plans to mitigate this problem by increasing the minimum wage, she said.
Once her term is finished, she wants to continue working with European unemployment and analyze whether some of Germany’s economic techniques could be applied to the U.S. labor market, she said.
Hunt’s new job requires her to help develop real policy that can pass through Congress, she said.
“Part of my job is to consider politics,” she said. “That’s the part I’m not as familiar with.”
Hunt is excited to work on the administration’s immigration reform plan, a back-up plan that the House and Senate may use in case they do not come to an agreement.
She looks forward to implementing the ideas gathered from her research and tackling issues head-on.
“I’ve come in at the right time,” she said.
Hunt’s research focused on two main areas — immigration reform and unemployment. Recently, she studied how an increase in skilled immigration could increase innovation and growth in the U.S. economy, she said.
She began working at the University in September of 2011 as an established scholar in immigration, corruption and the role of women in innovation, said Rosanne Altshuler, chair of the University’s Department of Economics.
“In the short time she’s been here, she’s been able to help our undergraduates and our [graduate] students learn about diverse areas in economics,” she said.
Hunt built up a reputation in the field of labor economics by conducting careful, clear research on interesting and relevant economic topics, Altshuler said.
Because Hunt presents her findings clearly at conferences and in her papers, policymakers have asked her to evaluate and formulate their economic policies both in the U.S. and abroad.
“People listen to what she says,” Altshuler said.
Accepting political positions is a common occurrence for top academics, she said.
Altshuler said Hunt’s yearlong appointment would only improve her teaching after she returns.
“It’s going to make her more interesting and more relevant for the students,” she said.
Altshuler said Hunt is an important player in the Department of Economics, whose appointment not only shows that she is respected within the profession, but that the University has an outstanding department with faculty in demand in the highest levels of government.
“She’s very smart, she’s a creative thinker, she is extremely responsible and responsive and she’s an asset to our department,” she said.
Hunt began her career as a labor economist, studying the labor market and the people who work in it.
She compared U.S. unemployment rates to Germany’s when they were high, and ironically, later on compared the countries in opposite economic roles following the recession, she said.
Hunt grew up in Europe during the ’80s, a time when unemployment was a growing problem. When it first became a problem, people were horrified by the news reports that paid a great deal of attention to the topic, she said.
The experience left an impression on her, she said.
Her first year in college, Hunt took an economics course and became intrigued by the mathematics involved in economics.
“I guess I had decided I wanted to do something with math,” she said.
Since Hunt abruptly learned about her appointment, the University and the Department of Economics hurried to find professors to fill her course schedule, she said.
Hunt also advises undergraduate students such as Daniel Lee, a School of Arts and Sciences senior.
Lee, an economics major, said Hunt worked with him on his honors thesis focused on developing economics.
Hunt inspired him to read more economic papers about labor economics and the changing labor patterns in developing nations, Lee said, which tied in nicely with his thesis.
“I definitely think that her knowledge, erudition and experience in the area will greatly benefit the Department of Labor,” he said. “I wish her all the best for her appointment.”