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Professor appointed to White House council

| Wednesday, August 27, 2014

The Council of Economic Advisers (CEA) provides President Barack Obama with guidance on both foreign and domestic economic policy and helps inform White House policy decisions, and this year, the CEA includes a Notre Dame professor. abigail_wozniak_newest_2013_300 Professor Abigail Wozniak, an associate professor of economics, began a one-year term as a senior economist at the CEA in July and said the position allows her to apply her academic interests and knowledge to tangible problems and solutions.

“It’s a chance to answer questions that people need answered,” Wozniak said in a press release. “I’m looking forward to being able to use the training that I have in a way that helps the public interest.”

Wozniak is not able to take press requests during her term for the CEA, but William Evans, chair of the economics department, said Wozniak has completed a broad range of research projects during her time at Notre Dame, with a specific focus on labor economics.

In the past few years, Wozniak has taught courses on labor economics and the development of the American labor force. Dating back to 2005, when she began teaching at Notre Dame, Wozniak’s courses included “Principles of Microeconomics and Migration, Education and Assimilation: Three Forces that Built America.” She also teaches graduate-level economics classes.

Evans said Wozniak’s position speaks to the high level of respect she commands as an economist.

“I think the fact that she’s gotten a job with this sort of visibility indicates what the profession thinks of her,” he said. “There are a lot of really great economists who have had these staff positions at the same point in her career, so I think it’s a great opportunity for her. It’s indicative of what the profession thinks of her work, to have such a high-level and visible position.”

Evans also said Wozniak’s position highlights the excellent work of the Notre Dame’s economics department, which he said is “relatively young,” growing from 11 faculty members when he arrived in 2007 to nearly 25 currently.

“We want the profession at large to understand the good things that are going on here, and this is one way we get to publicize that,” he said.

Kevin Rinz, a graduate economics student who also worked as a staff economist at the CEA from July 2013 until July 2014, said the work at the CEA differs vastly from an academic setting.

“You spend a lot of time in meetings, on conference calls, writing memos, creating presentations, analyzing data and reading papers, but which of those things you do in a given day and the topics you cover vary substantially and are subject to change on very short notice,” he said. “The Council itself is composed of three people — the chairman and two members. The members help the chairman lead the organization. When CEA gets a request from another part of the White House or starts a new project of its own, one of the members usually works with the senior economists with relevant expertise to decide what direction CEA’s work will take. The senior economists and junior staff [including staff economists, research economists and research assistants] then carry out the analysis and report back to the member.”

Rinz said the members then take requests to the chairman, who gives further direction until the project is complete. He also said CEA staff are free to pursue research topics that interest them and take them to the members and chairman.

Evans said he hopes Wozniak’s experience at the CEA will help create a unique and innovative classroom experience when she returns in July 2015.

“It would be nice to parlay this into some policy-based courses that students can benefit from,” he said. “But we’ll see, that’s going to be up to [Wozniak]. It’s a very different experience from teaching.”

Rinz said working with the CEA can enhance academic research in a variety of  ways.

“Since CEA’s focus is very broad and academics tend to focus on fairly narrow fields, you have to learn about a lot of topics in which you didn’t necessarily have pre-existing expertise when you work at CEA,” Rinz said. “This can help you discover new areas in which you would like to do research when you return to academia.

“Also, perhaps more importantly for researchers interested in public policy, working at CEA shows you what issues policymakers consider important, how they think about them and what kind of evidence they find persuasive. This can be useful if you want policymakers to pay attention to your future research.”

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About Jack Rooney

Jack is a 2016 graduate of Notre Dame, and The Observer's former managing editor. He is currently spending a year living and working for the University in Ireland, and writing columns to keep him busy. For more random thoughts and plenty of news links, follow Jack on Twitter @RooneyReports.

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