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Scholar spotlight: Rajashri Chakrabarti

Real-time tools to track equitable growth

April 15, 2024


Jeff Horwich Senior Economics Writer
Photo collage of Rajashri Chakrabar
RAJASHRI CHAKRABARTI, Head of Equitable Growth Studies, Federal Reserve Bank of New York
Scholar spotlight: Rajashri Chakrabarti

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.

Before 2022, few scholars had published research on how different groups of Americans might experience inflation differently. Researchers grappled with sparse, imperfect data. After decades of stable prices, inflation had frankly become kind of a humdrum topic.

That was then. Fast forward to May 2023 and the launch of the Equitable Growth Indicators from the New York Fed. Every quarter, Rajashri Chakrabarti and her Equitable Growth Studies team publish the most recent data on inflation, retail spending, employment, income, wealth, and debt—broken down by race, gender, education, income, age, geography, and veteran status.

“Averages do serve as reference points, but they do not tell the whole story,” said Chakrabarti, who represents the New York Fed on the Institute’s System Affiliates Board. “Now that these indicators are available, we are in the room with policymakers to bring up how a specific macroeconomic pattern we might be seeing is not equal—different groups are facing different patterns.”

Chakrabarti and her colleagues leverage data from public and private sources to produce standardized indicators that follow demographic-specific trends over time. One innovation Chakrabarti highlights is the ability to track real earnings by subgroup, adjusted for that group’s particular inflation rate.

The new indicators showed that as inflation rose in 2022, Hispanic households—whose “basket” of goods is weighted more heavily toward transportation—experienced higher inflation as fuel and used car prices soared. Lately, the pain has shifted toward Asian households, who are more exposed to stubborn inflation in housing costs.

Chakrabarti is watching the data to see how post-pandemic trends bear out over time. These include narrowing gaps between men and women in earnings and labor force participation. Whether these improvements hold up over time may hinge upon the persistence of work-from-home arrangements.

“We are in the room with policymakers to bring up how a specific macroeconomic pattern we might be seeing is not equal.”
—Rajashri Chakrabarti

Much of Chakrabarti’s research lies, in her words, “at the intersection of macroeconomics and inequality.” Though she began as a labor economist focused on education, over 17 years at the New York Fed her interests have broadened, inspired by presentations and collaborations across the Fed System. Her papers-in-progress include education market responses to labor demand changes, the effects of debt forgiveness and forbearance, and the effects of natural disasters on low-income and minority households.

“I still love education, but my interests have evolved a ton during my time at the Fed,” Chakrabarti said. “Who knows where I’ll be going, but inequality will always be part of whatever I do.”

More scholar spotlights from this issue

Sheridan Fuller—A path toward public service

Aurélie Ouss—Criminal justice insight, in sight

Jesse Rothstein—Making data accessible for all

Jeff Horwich
Senior Economics Writer

Jeff Horwich is the senior economics writer for the Minneapolis Fed. He has been an economic journalist with public radio, commissioned examiner for the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, and director of policy and communications for the Minneapolis Public Housing Authority. He received his master’s degree in applied economics from the University of Minnesota.