MIP network member Jeffrey Smith recently met with HCEO to discuss his research, which centers on the evaluation of social programs such as job training for the disadvantaged. 

Smith earned his Ph.D. from the University of Chicago, where he studied with HCEO Co-director James J. Heckman. At the time, Prof. Heckman was doing work on job training programs, an area that is still a major interest for Smith. "My research agenda has kind of taken off from that place," Smith says. "It has a strong methodological component."

Job training programs, or active labor market programs, which is the term Smith prefers, basically attempt to give unemployed or underemployed individuals jobs, increase their earnings, or otherwise improve their labor market outcomes. Smith studies the effectiveness of these types of programs.

"There's a vast literature, relative to the amount of money that is spent on these programs, that tries to estimate their effects," Smith says. 

Some of his recent research has looked at evaluating these programs and their impacts. He mentions one paper which studies the question of whether program participants can discern whether or not the program actually helped them. 

"The work I've done so far suggests they have no clue," he says. Finding more efficient ways to ask these questions could have a huge impact, he notes, as impact evaluations are very costly. 

"I find this stuff endlessly fascinating," Smith says.

Smith is Professor of Economics and Public Policy at the University of Michigan. He is also a faculty member of HCEO's Summer School on Socioeconomic Inequality.