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Articles by MilesCorak

Leah Boustan talks about the challenges of asking the right research questions to the students of the Applied Economics Seminar at The Graduate Center

8 days ago

This is the first of a recurring series of interviews where the PhD students at The Graduate Center talk with economists and other social scientists about their work and research experience. With these interviews the students are exploring the challenges of formulating good research questions and establishing a research agenda. Hopefully, other early career researchers will find this series a helpful tool.
In this first installment, Miles Corak, professor of economics at The Graduate Center and Stone Center Senior Scholar, kicks things off by interviewing Leah Platt Boustan, Professor of Economics at Princeton University who visited the department on January 28th, speaking to a paper called “Economic and cultural effects of living in an ethnic enclave: Early 20th century evidence

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Poverty and equality of opportunity: three pictures to motivate policy for social mobility

November 25, 2019

Read my comments presented to the Public Economics Forum on “Intergenerationally Disadvantaged: Newest Evidence and What it Means for Policy,” organized by the Melbourne Institute for Applied Economic and Social Research, on November 26th, 2019 in Canberra, Australia.
Social mobility varies across countries, but it varies in a particular way, a way that I argue is relevant for the conduct of public policy.
Inequality begets inequality. Up to 50% of income inequality is passed on to the next generation in countries like the United Kingdom, Italy, and the United States, but only 20% or even less in countries like Norway, Denmark and Finland, where there is a much smaller gap between parent incomes.
Incomes are stickier across generations where inequality is higher
But different

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Tax the rich! Tax the rich! Tax the rich? But why?

November 12, 2019

Jagmeet Singh’s promise in his election night speech that “we’re going to make sure the super wealthy start paying their fair share” was met with cheers, the decibel level rising as his fellow New Democrats chanted: “Tax the rich! Tax the rich! Tax the rich!”
The leader of the New Democratic Party addresses his supporters.
It is not entirely true that the federal election ignored big policy issues, but if it was issues-driven, how did a wealth tax fly under the radar?
At some point in the coming weeks Mr. Trudeau will meet Mr. Singh over coffee to talk tax policy. Sadly, the election left Canadians no wiser as to what divides progressives on the issue, but if you want the full picture look south to the Democratic leadership campaign.

Four years ago a wealth tax was a policy that

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My Mandate Letter for the Minister of Families, Children and Social Development

November 4, 2019

The first step a newly elected Prime Minister takes on the road to governing is choosing the members of cabinet and giving them their marching orders. Prime Minister Trudeau set to this task with zeal when he was first elected in the autumn of 2015, and surprised many by making the mandate letters public. The CD Howe Institute asked a number of experts to draft their versions, and this post offers a slightly longer version of the mandate letter I wrote for the Minister of Families, Children and Social Development published by the Institute.
Click on image to link to the 2015 Mandate Letter
All Canadians have a right to live the life they value with dignity.
As Minister of Families, Children and Social Development, your actions should be governed by this principle, and

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How do the party platforms address the changing nature of work, pay, and poverty?

October 7, 2019

The world of work is changing and creating anxiety about jobs and incomes. There is some overlap on how the major parties contesting the Canadian federal election propose to deal with these challenges, but the Conservatives are definitely the outlier. The Greens score high on vision but low on feasibility,  both the New Democrats and Liberals put a list of reasonable proposals on the table, with the Liberals offering a bigger vision that is also feasible. The Conservatives don’t seem to propose anything to address the world of work, imagining citizens as consumers, and implicitly offering a smaller role for government in the workplace.

The “changing nature of work” has to be—right up there with climate change—one of the hottest issues facing Canadians, a big cause of uncertainty

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Intergenerational mobility between and within Canada and the United States

April 15, 2019

Intergenerational mobility is lower in the United States than in Canada, but the border only partially distinguishes the two countries with mobility varying significantly within each. The within-country differences and similarities hint at some of the reasons why the United States has lower social mobility than many other rich countries.
This is the main theme of a study released by the National Bureau of Economic Research, based upon Canadian data my co-authors and I constructed with the cooperation of Statistics Canada. Our research offers a more accurate comparison between these two countries than any cross-country comparisons made in the literature to date: tax-based administrative data, used to define similar measures of income, and coming close to covering the total

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The “middle class” is within easier reach for low income Canadian children, than it is for low income Americans

April 15, 2019

Upward mobility is more likely in Canada than in the United States, with the middle class within easier reach for Canadian children raised in low income families than for low income American children.
Canadian children raised by parents with incomes at the bottom 10 percent can expect to be earning enough as a young adults to place them much higher, above the 40th rung of a 100 rung income ladder, and significantly higher than their American counterparts. To reach a similar point on the income ladder an American child would have to have parents who ranked as high as the 39th percentile.
Source: Connolly, Corak, Haeck (2019, Figure 3). Click on image to enlarge.
This is one important finding in a study released by the National Bureau of Economic Research, based upon Canadian data

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If there is such a thing as the “Canadian Dream,” it would look very much like what Americans say is the “American Dream”

April 15, 2019

Public opinion polls suggest that Canadians and Americans share basic attitudes toward inequality and opportunity, and toward the underlying drivers of upward mobility. If there is such a thing as the “Canadian Dream,” it would look very much like what Americans say is the “American Dream.”
The Pew Charitable Trusts conducted a number of public opinion polls asking Americans what meaning they attach to the phrase “The American Dream,” and these have been adapted and conducted in Canada with remarkably similar responses.
In these polls respondents were asked to indicate the degree to which they agreed with a series of possible definitions of the American Dream. Sixty percent of American respondents ranked “being able to succeed regardless of family background” eight or higher on a

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Equality of opportunity is a choice

April 15, 2019

Tony Atkinson, the great British economist, encourages us to think of inequality as a choice, something that can be influenced by public policy.
If this is the case for equality of outcomes, then it is surely also so for equality of opportunity; the significant differences in social mobility between the rich countries hinting at the role governments play in determining the degree to which family background is destiny, the rich raising the next generation of rich adults, the poor seeing their children face low chances of upward mobility.
Some of these differences may simply reflect different social priorities, but others may teach us about the power of different policies.
The United States, where roughly one-half or even more of inequality between parents is passed on to children,

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Rest in peace Alan Krueger

March 19, 2019

Alan Krueger did everything an economist should aspire to achieve: strong research grounded in a solid understanding of theory and statistical method; framed to uncover facts important to the way people lead their lives, to the challenges they face; and communicated to resonate among policy makers, compelling them to do better for their citizens.
Writing in 1924, upon the death of his teacher and mentor Alfred Marshall, the great British economist John Maynard Keynes said that the “study of economics does not seem to require any specialised gifts of an unusually high order. Is it not, intellectually regarded, a very easy subject compared with … philosophy and pure science? Yet good, or even competent economists are the rarest of birds. An easy subject at which very few excel !”

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The changing nature of work calls for enhancing the human and financial capital of children in less wealthy families

December 4, 2018

The Canadian federal government should enhance the human and financial capital of children in less wealthy families, enhance market incomes of lower paid workers, and enhance the security of working incomes by adapting three existing programs to new realities: widening their scope, making them more flexible, and making them easier to obtain.

The changing world of work is also a changing world of pay, a world that will likely lean toward greater wage rate inequalities, lower or stagnating incomes for the bottom 40 percent, and greater income insecurity for the broad majority.
I suggest three changes to current public policies that take incremental, but important, steps toward fostering capital accumulation among children from less wealthy families, increasing market incomes earned

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Canada’s Poverty Reduction Strategy adopts the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal to end poverty

August 21, 2018

The targets to reduce income poverty in Canada’s Poverty Reduction Strategy take an important step toward the first UN Sustainable Development Goal addressed to ending poverty, but progress will fall short without all Canadian governments—not just the federal, but also provincial, and municipal governments—adopting coordinated policies to eliminate deep poverty.
The first UN Sustainable Development Goal is to “End poverty in all its forms everywhere,” and has explicit targets associated with it.
Two of these targets are particularly relevant for Canadians. They speak to ending income poverty, and are:
By 2030, eradicate extreme poverty for all people everywhere, measured as people living on less than $1.90 a day
By 2030, reduce at least by half the proportion of men, women and

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Canada’s official poverty line: what is it? how could it be better?

August 21, 2018

Source: extracted from “Opportunity for All: Canada’s First Poverty Reduction Strategy”, Employment and Social Development Canada. Click on image to enlarge
Canada’s Poverty Reduction Strategy released by Jean-Yves Duclos, the Federal Minister of Minister of Families, Children and Social Development, proposes to introduce legislation to establish an official poverty line for the country. This is an act of political courage, but the poverty line continually needs to be updated and improved.

Why is an official poverty line an act of political courage?
The statistical clarity announced in “Opportunity for all: Canada’s first poverty reduction strategy” is an act of political courage. Canada will have an official definition of poverty, and going forward Canadians will know exactly

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Ask yourself two questions while reading Canada’s Poverty Reduction Strategy

August 21, 2018

Canada’s first “Poverty Reduction Strategy” will only prove useful if citizens take ownership, and use it to hold governments to account for reaching meaningful goals.
What is a “poverty reduction strategy”? How is it useful?
In one sense, it is surely actions taken, programs designed, monies spent. And that is how Opportunity for All — Canada’s First Poverty Reduction Strategy begins: a list of policies, programs, and budgets that the government has undertaken, and for which politicians want to be given credit. The federal government can rightly claim that it has been pursuing a “poverty reduction strategy” from the day it was elected in October 2015.
But for citizens, whether poor, rich, or middle class, this is not good enough. A poverty reduction strategy must also be a

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Ever wonder where to find the Trump Tower? Then take this “Trump Walking Tour” with me, and learn even more

May 7, 2018

Meet at the southwest corner of 53rd Street and 6th Avenue, under the large statue across from the Hilton Hotel, the tour guide will be holding a “Social Justice Tours” sign.
That is what The Municipal Arts Society of New York website counsels, and indeed, Dan is there … Social Justice Tours being the non-profit he started three years ago, that is taking off quite nicely, nicely enough—thank you very much—to have its website hacked by someone with a Russian IP address. You might have a little trouble reaching them at socialjusticetours.com for at least the next week or so, until the volunteer IT guy gets things fixed.
But this much I could get from my web search “Social Justice Tours engages New Yorkers in critical dialogue by exposing injustice & highlighting inequality in an

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Thinking about minimum wages, and thinking about them like an economist

January 8, 2018

There is a movement afoot, and there is an election in the offing. Always a great dance to watch, no matter what the issue.
The latest show is taking place in Ontario, where “$15 & Fairness” is the rallying call for raising the minimum wage, and has found a willing partner in the province’s Premier who will go to the polls in the spring, but in the meantime has legislated significant increases in the minimum price for an hour of work. The same dance plays out in the United States, and in many cities and states a minimum wage of $15 per hour is becoming a reality.
The big question in Ontario is exactly that raised by The New York Times during the 2015 primaries when Bernie Sanders was battling Hillary Clinton for the Democratic nomination: “As the campaign for a $15 minimum wage

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The Caledon Institute of Social Policy is Canadian social policy

December 9, 2017

To understand the development of Canadian social policy during the last 25 years, you must appreciate the role of the Caledon Institute of Social Policy, which closed it doors on November 30th, 2017.
The Maytree Foundation hosted a conference celebrating the Institute’s accomplishments, and paying tribute to the vision and energy of its principles: Michael Mendelson, Sherri Torjman, and its founder Ken Battle (whose engagement in social policy advocacy began under the pseudonym Grattan Gray).

The Institute’s publications are archived on the Maytree Foundation site. Maytree also published a tribute volume:  25 years of informing the debate: A tribute to the Caledon Institute of Social Policy .
The volume includes a timeline of major milestones in the impact Caledon had on social

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The Canada Child Benefit is an important innovation in cash benefits to families with children

July 1, 2017

The Canada Child Benefit offers a policy option that the United States should consider in pursuing a goal to reduce child poverty by half.
The commitment to address child poverty has waxed and waned in Canada since an all-party resolution was passed in the House of Commons in late 1989 committing the federal government to “seek to eliminate child poverty by the year 2000.”
Poverty and social policy are now high on the agenda of the current federal government, which intends—over the course of the next six months—to articulate a poverty reduction strategy, but which has already taken a major step toward this goal by introducing the “Canada Child Benefit” in its first budget. This program came into effect in July 2016, and represents a major revamping of cash support to

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Poor children are twice as likely to grow up to be poor adults in some Canadian communities than in others

June 23, 2017

Intergenerational cycles of poverty vary across Canada, with low income children in some places facing a less than one-in-five chance of growing up to be poor adults, but in others the rate is more than double. The strong majority of children raised by lower income parents face a greater than one-in-four chance of growing up to be low income adults, and for many these odds were at least as high as one-in-three.
The chance that poverty will be passed on across the generations is 30 percent for the country as a whole, and the majority of children, 54 percent, live in 97 of a total of 266 municipalities where the chances of falling into an intergenerational cycle of low income are between 25 and 30 percent. A further 24 percent of poor live in a community where these chances

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I have a new job, and if you want to know more read this post

February 16, 2017

I have a new job! During the 2017 calendar year I am the “Economist in Residence” at Employment and Social Development Canada. I report to the Deputy Minister of this very large federal government department responsible for the major threads in Canada’s social safety net—insurance, investment, and income distribution that enhance capabilities and opportunities promoting the freedom Canadians have to lead the lives they value.

Jean-Yves Duclos is the Minister responsible, and his mandate letter is full of challenges, not least of which involves leading the development of a Canadian “Poverty Reduction Strategy,” and improving the Employment Insurance program to reflect the changing nature of work.
I report directly to the Deputy Minister of Employment and Social Development

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Tony Atkinson has died

January 1, 2017

Tony Atkinson has died.
Tony Atkinson is a great economist because he is a master at all the challenges defining the subject.
He is a theorist of the first order.
And his theory informs measurement.
And better measurement guides the search for, the gathering of, and the presentation of better information.
And theory, measurement, and information are in the service of better public policy, better social decisions for the least advantaged … in his country, and across the globe.
Tony Atkinson is a great economist, and he was a great human being.
Kind.
Generous.
Without ego.
Full of empathy.
And I am grateful to have learned, and to be able to continue to learn, so much from his writings and example.
And I am grateful to have crossed his path.
Tony Atkinson’s inscription in my copy

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I’ve been blogging for five years, and here are my 10 favourite posts

December 30, 2016

With the New Year approaching, permit me the opportunity to wish you and yours peace and prosperity.
The end of 2016 marks the fifth year of my blog, and I’m grateful to my students and readers for making it worthwhile, and particularly to those who have taken the time to reblog, comment on, or otherwise share one of my 148 posts.
Rather than offer you the usual top ten most popular posts, here are links to my favourite posts written at some point since I started blogging in November 2011. They are not necessarily the most viewed, but I like them because they best illustrate the principles motivating my writing:
Write about what you know, and give readers the opportunity and resources to learn more.
Focus on what is relevant—what people want to read, and what contributes to a

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Can you change your mind about inequality? Read my just published paper

December 9, 2016

The Pope has strong views about inequality because he has a theory, and doesn’t need data.

One of Canada’s most prominent pundits has strong views about inequality because he has data, and doesn’t need theory.

I’ll probably never convince either of them to change their views, but maybe I can convince you with both theory and data.
Give me the chance by reading my just published paper, “Inequality is the root of social evil,’ or Maybe Not? Two Stories about Inequality and Public Policy.”
I tell two stories about inequality. The first is from the perspective of those who feel it is not a problem worth the worry, and the second from the perspective of those who see it as “the defining challenge of our time.” I tell these stories to clarify their underlying logic, but also

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How The Great Gatsby Curve got its name

December 5, 2016

On January 4th, 2012 The New York Times published an article called “Harder for Americans to Rise from Lower Rungs.” I had spent a considerable amount of time during the New Year’s holidays talking with Jason DeParle about the comparative literature on intergenerational income mobility, and was pleased to see his article on the front page.
So pleased that I emailed Alan Krueger, the Princeton University economist who at the time was the Chairman of the Council of Economic Advisors, to draw his attention to it, though I don’t know why I imagined that Krueger and his staff in the White House would not be reading The Times.
That is how “The Great Gatsby Curve” was born.

My email included a link to a blog post I wrote in the wake of the Occupy Wall Street protests. The post began

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Sons of low-income parents are more likely to grow up to be poor than daughters

December 1, 2016

Tags inequality, poverty trap, social mobility
Sons of low-income parents are more likely to grow up to be poor than daughters

November 30, 2016

Children of low-income parents are more likely than not to grow up to be low-income adults. This is true for both boys and girls, but more so for boys.
(Click on the image to enlarge.)
This figure shows the rankings of children from low-income Canadian families, what fraction stand on each of the 100 rungs defined to equally divide the population across their adult income distribution. Their parents stood on exactly the bottom 5th rung of their income ladder, and the likelihood of them not advancing very much or even falling lower is clearly evident.
If adult incomes were completely independent

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Should we worry about the top 1%, or praise them?

November 27, 2016

Tags inequality, social mobility, top one percent
Should we worry about the top 1%, or praise them?

November 27, 2016

Every Statistics Canada data release on the share of the economic pie going to the top 1% elicits strong opinions, the most recent being no exception. Do top earners elicit rather dishonourable sentiments such as envy that should be given little weight? Or do they challenge our need for community and inclusion, influencing the way we live our lives in more fundamental ways? Should we praise the top 1% or worry about them?
It depends. We would be in a better position to answer this question if we put aside questions of merit and just deserts and focused more on the sources of social mobility and the capacity to conduct

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How much social mobility for America? More, but it won’t happen without inclusive growth

October 24, 2016

Tags Amerian Enterprise Institute, American Dream, rags to riches, social mobility, The US Labor Market
How much social mobility for America? More, but it won’t happen without inclusive growth

October 24, 2016

Shania Twain, the legendary country-pop music star, personifies the “rags to riches” mobility at the core of the American Dream, and what’s so amazing she’s not even American. (Click image to read her bio.)
A common way to think about social mobility is in terms of “rags to riches” movement, a type of mobility that is central to the great defining metaphor of the United States, “The American Dream.” Indeed, policy makers often frame their discussion of social mobility in these terms, as for example in a May 2016 speech by the

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