MIP network member Peter Blair met with HCEO to discuss the research in applied micro-theory he conducts at the Blair Economics Lab at Clemson University.
Blair didn't initially set out to be an economist. He was training to be a physicist when he first became interested in the subject, particularly in how you could use economics to study racial segregation.
"I started to see how you could use the tools of economics to study questions that are very relevant to the social well-being of people," he says.
For the past two years, he has been developing the Blair Economics Lab, where he serves as the Principal Investigator. "The purpose of the Lab really is to create an environment where students can come in and work on very interesting research projects, do excellent work, and learn the process by which they can become researchers," he says. "It’s a very hands-on, collaborative process."
It was at the Lab where he began working with his student, SSSI alum Bobby Chung, on the issue of occupational licensing. This research resulted in the HCEO working paper, "Occupational Licensing Reduces Racial and Gender Wage Gaps: Evidence from the Survey of Income and Program Participation." (The paper has also been featured in a Research Spotlight and in an HCEO video.)
"We find something really surprising, which is that in the presence of occupational licensing, racial wage gaps are reduced, and also gender wage gaps are reduced," Blair says.
Blair first came to The University of Chicago as a student at HCEO's Summer School on Socioeconomic Inequality. He was later invited back for another workshop.
"It was phenomenal for me to see this experience of all of these great minds iterating on their work, because as a graduate student I would read their work and I would think, 'Wow, these papers just came out looking brilliant,'" he says. "And what I saw was, it took a lot of work. It took a lot of input from their colleagues to have that level of brilliance. And I felt so blessed that they brought me into that experience."
He credits the mentorship he received at The University of Chicago as an important part of his development as an economist. It's something he tries to continue with his students at the Blair Economics Lab.
"There’s definitely something that’s special about Chicago too in terms of its perspective on mentorship, where you can have someone that's a Nobel prize winner like Jim Heckman talking to me about my job market paper and giving me advice," he continues. "In a lot of ways that empowered me as an economist."
Blair is an Associate Professor of Economics at Clemson University.