The research community
at the Institute includes
visiting scholars, consultants,
economists, research analysts,
and research assistants. These
scholars bring a diversity of
backgrounds, interests, and
expertise to research that
deepens our understanding
of economic opportunity
and inclusion as well as
policies that work to improve
both. We talked with four
of them about their work.
In college, Kuma Okoro had a professor who frequently
argued that the federal poverty line, despite its name, is
actually a pretty lousy measure of poverty.
That’s because it’s based primarily on the cost of food,
which was among the largest expenditures for impoverished
families in the 1960s when the measure was developed, but
is much smaller today.
The idea that there isn’t one measure of poverty really
stuck with him, said Okoro, who’s now a research assistant
with the Institute.
“That influences my thinking about the work that we’re
doing,” he said. “What aspect [of poverty] is this capturing?
What aspect is this leaving out?”
Okoro, the biracial son of a Nigerian immigrant and a
rural Iowan, grew up in the Milwaukee area, one of the most segregated metropolitan areas in the country. People living
blocks apart could have entirely
different life trajectories, he said, and
that raised a lot of questions for him.
So when Okoro entered Georgetown
University, he found himself
drawn to classes that examined
poverty and inequality. “As I was
moving through my degree, those
were really the classes that I found
the most interesting and the most
exciting and the most relevant to the real world,” he said.
As an intern working on transportation policies for the
Federal City Council, a community advocacy group in Washington,
D.C., Okoro had a chance to work on such real-world
equity issues. For example, the area’s subway gets a lot of
attention from policymakers who are familiar with it, but his
group pushed for more funding for buses because fares are
much lower and low-income families depend on them.
Since joining the Institute in September 2020, Okoro has continued to work on issues of economic opportunity
and inclusion. For a recent project with visiting scholar Krista
Ruffini, a leading expert on food security policies, Okoro
assembled a map showing the dates state governments
planned to distribute the pandemic electronic benefit transfer,
a nutrition assistance program meant to replace free
school lunches for children attending school remotely.
The program has proven to reduce hunger, yet many
states delayed distributing the benefits—some until the
end of the school year—due to bureaucratic and logistical
challenges. It impressed him, Okoro said, that the Minneapolis
Fed would have an institute devoted to identifying and
seeking solutions to such issues.
More Scholar Spotlights from this issue