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Faculty members in Maxwell’s Center for Policy Research explore hows and whys of American social policy
From the Maxwell Perspective
Cities are expensive places to do business. Nonetheless, cities tend to be economic hubs regardless of region. Why? “Companies choose cities because the spatial concentration of activity allows them to do business more easily, equivalently at a lower cost despite the high land rents,” says Stuart Rosenthal, professor of economics, editor of Urban Economics and the Melvin A. Eggers Economics Faculty Scholar at the Maxwell School.
Rosenthal’s research explores questions of tax policy, housing, business and development in urban areas. How does the business and economic status of neighborhoods affect housing prices and rental housing? How does tax policy influence housing and business development? His current study, “The Effect of State Tax Policy on Business Location,” is funded by the Kauffman Foundation.
Down the hall, colleague Doug Wolf has recently landed a major grant from the National Institute on Aging to study end-of-life trajectories—how quickly people’s health declines at the end of life and why. It’s one of several projects related to aging for Wolf, Gerald B. Cramer Professor of Aging Studies and a fellow of the Gerontological Society of America. He has spent his career studying the well-being and life-course patterns of older Americans.
At first glance, Wolf and Rosenthal’s work has little relationship. Yet both are working under the auspices of the Center for Policy Research (CPR), one of eight institutes and research centers associated with the Maxwell School.
The commonality, says recently appointed CPR director Christine Himes, is that both are working in areas of domestic social policy—public policy and practice centered in the areas of health care, human services, criminal justice, poverty, education, taxation, social welfare and labor. The 33 faculty members who comprise CPR may not have direct connections or overlaps in their study, but all target areas of U.S. social policy. Together, they benefit from a shared infrastructure—a staff trained in areas such as grant writing and preparing manuscripts for publication—and a close proximity that can lead to information sharing.
Compared with the Maxwell School’s Moynihan Institute, which has a focus on applied international policy, or the Campbell Institute, which studies governance and citizen engagement, CPR’s work is “basic research that is interested in the effectiveness of policy on people and less interested in the organization of the policy-making groups,” says Himes, a sociologist who studies topics of health and aging. “Some of the work gets translated into policy decisions, but we’re not always necessarily looking at a specific piece of policy or legislation.”
Currently, CPR has 15 active grants that total just under $1 million in sponsored research. Himes, who took the helm of the research center in July, hopes to see that grow in the coming year. “We have an exciting faculty doing work on important, timely policy issues,” she says. “I hope to get that research more widely circulated and more widely recognized.”
She would also like to see more focused collaboration and research. “We have many people working on different aspects of education policy, for example. We have lots of people working on various urban issues—welfare, housing, urban development. I’d like to find research projects that bring them together into defined focus areas.”
Her own research examines questions related to longer life. While people aren’t necessarily healthier, data show that in the last 20 years they are less disabled by later-life health. Himes is exploring the possible reasons—better medical care, earlier detection of disease, better treatment of symptoms—as well as trying to project future trends. “What are the implications for health in later life as obesity increases in the population? I’m looking at how obesity earlier in life affects health status later.”
In the course of her work, she might share data or methodologies with Wolf or with Janet Wilmoth, another sociologist, who’s conducting a large-scale project on how military service affects health in later life, or any of the other faculty members in CPR’s Aging Studies Program, which serves as a link with the SU Gerontology Center.
“I’d like to build more synergy among the faculty,” Himes says. “The center is in a good position to step up a bit and explore new methodological approaches and ideas.”