2014 Insight Award winner works to transform policy approach to wage inequality
The University of British Columbia’s Thomas Lemieux—two-time Impact Award nominee and winner of the 2014 Insight Award—has spent his life collecting evidence, testing theories and improving how we make decisions.
One of Canada’s leading economists and an internationally recognized expert in labour economics, Lemieux’s impact on the field has been profound. His research laid the foundation for a school of thought explaining trends in wages and inequality, reframing policy development and economic thought, while providing new insight into the causes and consequences of the substantial rise in earnings inequality over recent decades.
“The gap between rich and poor has definitely been increasing,” says Lemieux, director of The University of British Columbia’s Vancouver School of Economics. “I’ve been trying to understand some of the causes behind that.”
My research is trying to get at specific explanations for why inequality is growing. The idea is to suggest some policy responses so that the benefits of growth are more evenly distributed.
Education inequality and a growing gap
Honouring outstanding achievement by an individual or team whose project has made a significant contribution to knowledge and understanding about people, societies and the world, the Insight Award recognizes the degree to which Lemieux’s work has helped us better understand trends in immigration, education and inequality, and more importantly, how to guide public policy in these areas.
“We’ve seen economic growth in the 21st century, and growth is a good thing. But we also need to think about how that wealth is distributed,” he says. “My research is trying to get at specific explanations for why inequality is growing. The idea is to suggest some policy responses so that the benefits of growth are more evenly distributed.”
Lemieux has observed that, despite a growing economy, we are also seeing a growing gap between rich and poor, one Lemieux says is often related to what he calls “education inequality.”
“Over the last few decades, the wage gap between the more and less educated has been growing. For people who don’t have access to higher education, things are getting harder,” he says. “The best way to improve one’s labour market outcomes, earnings and probability of finding a job is to pursue higher education. We need to make sure that students in all regions of the country have access to good quality education at all levels. The fact of the matter is that the value of a degree is very large…. How can universities graduate students who are ready for tomorrow’s job market?”
We need to make sure that students in all regions of the country have access to good quality education at all levels.
A celebrated—and cited—scholar
Lemieux is a founding co-editor of the American Economic Journal: Applied Economics, now the most prominent journal in the field of applied microeconomics. A prolific scholar, he has over 13,000 Google Scholar citations and has presented his research in hundreds of conferences, workshops and seminars in Canada and internationally.
President of the Canadian Economics Association in 2013-14, Lemieux was awarded its 1998 Rae Prize as the economist in Canada deemed to have made the most outstanding research contributions in the previous five years. More recently, he was named a fellow of the Society of Labor Economists and a fellow of the Royal Society of Canada. He was also the 2014 recipient of the Bank of Canada Fellowship.
Dealing with many of the most difficult and profound questions about how we should organize ourselves as a society and how we can collectively maximize human welfare, Lemieux has spent his career studying enormous quantities of data, testing theories and improving the methodology by which we make these decisions. His research has led to new understanding on trends in immigration, education and inequality, and more importantly, on how best to shape public policy in these areas for the benefit of all Canadians.