3Qs with Jeffrey Thompson of the New England Public Policy Center
New director on regional challenges, how Center’s research improves public policy
June 18, 2018
The Bank's New England Public Policy Center (NEPPC) has a new director in Jeffrey Thompson, an economist who joins the Boston Fed from the Federal Reserve Board of Governors in Washington, D.C., and who previously served as a professor at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. In fact, Jeff commuted from Massachusetts to Washington during much of his time at the Board, so is no stranger to New England. We sat down with Jeff to get a sense of his background, and the Center’s research intersections with New England's policy challenges.
Coming from the Board of Governors, give us a sense of your focus there as a principal economist, and how you expect your time at the Board will contribute to the work of the New England Public Policy Center?
I focused on household finance at the Board, which is a natural fit for the Policy Center and indeed the Boston Fed in general. My work looked at a range of issues—from wealth and consumption inequality to the implications of student indebtedness and retirement insecurity, among others. Many of these are areas the Center and other Boston Fed researchers have tackled or are presently examining. I see a lot of overlap, especially if you look at the bigger picture: economists at the Board of Governors conduct research with an eye to providing clear guidance to policymakers. That’s not unlike what we do here at the Center: tackle important and complicated issues, ultimately helping to inform policymakers in New England and distill useful guidance on pressing policy challenges.
The Policy Center works to help inform public policy in New England and has focused on a range of issues over the years—from infrastructure spending to rainy day funds to, more recently, the fiscal impact of the opioid crisis. What do you believe are some of the top policy issues facing New England presently?
I know New England pretty well and I’ve seen first-hand some of the challenges the region faces, despite a generally positive economic outlook. For one, it’s clear the opioid crisis is a pressing concern. The Center is currently focused on this issue because of the human toll this crisis is taking, and policymakers’ interest in understanding the depth of its impact so they can address the origins and challenges of the crisis, which are hardly straightforward. Higher education finance is another area we are exploring, particularly the impact of reduced public funding on schools and student outcomes. The region’s public colleges and universities are key in developing New England’s future workers’ skills to match those needed by firms in the region. And moreover, it’s important for New Englanders to be able to tap into a career path to provide financial stability for their families. It’s important to consider whether higher education financing is where it needs to be to achieve these longer term goals.
As a region, despite being far into the current economic expansion, there are still people who are left behind. That’s a problem. What is needed to help these individuals integrate into the workforce over the long haul? What policy initiatives can help them achieve a better quality of life? I feel these questions are deeply tied to the mission and vision of the Federal Reserve, and are areas where the Center can add real value to the current policy conversation.
Big picture, why is it important—from your perspective—that Reserve Banks undertake regional policy work like that of NEPPC?
I would say that regional policy work is one of the most important ways Reserve Banks can help implement the Federal Reserve’s dual mandate of maximum employment and stable prices. The collaboration between economists and policymakers hopefully leads to policy changes and decisions that improve local economies, thereby helping to pursue maximum employment, as an example. And while we’re working in this region, we’re of this region, too. We care about the people that live here, and want to help improve the quality of life for all of New England’s residents. The same is true across each of the Federal Reserve districts.