Maxwell School graduate student Reagan Baughman has worked on projects with several professors at the Center for Policy Research.
Research to Help the Working Poor
When the time came for Maxwell School professor Stacy Dickert-Conlin to write about her research on the U.S. Census, she naturally thought that her first-year doctoral student research assistant, Reagan Baughman, should co-write the paper. “Reagan clearly knew the data backward and forward,” says Dickert-Conlin, a professor at the Center for Policy Research. Baughman had no prior experience with statistical analysis before tackling the census project, Dickert-Conlin says, but “she plugged away and got through it, and we turned that work into a paper.”|
Three-and-a-half years later, Baughman has written another paper with Dickert-Conlin and has worked on projects with several professors, mentored other graduate students, and helped with the center’s recruitment efforts. “She’s very careful in her work, and contributes across the board to the department,” Dickert-Conlin says of the University Fellow. “I think she’s the most active graduate student we have.” Baughman, in turn, says Dickert-Conlin was a good match for her own interests, particularly research on the earned income tax credit, the subject of the first part of her dissertation. “I learned a lot from her research work, and she’s advised me on my work,” Baughman says.
Since high school, Baughman has been interested in public policy, particularly health care policy and the tax system. As an undergraduate at Drew University in New Jersey, she enrolled in political science and sociology courses, but soon found economics was a better fit. “I’d always done well in math, and I liked that I could incorporate math with a social science,” she says. “It was a more rigorous way to approach things. I liked using statistics and analysis.”
While at Drew, she became interested in the earned income tax credit—which reduces the federal taxes of some working people to offset increases in their living expenses and Social Security taxes—and decided to further research it for her graduate work. “The earned income tax credit has been around for 25 years,” she says, “but it’s become much more politically popular and the big expansions in it have occurred in the last decade, so there’s been a lot of research interest.” An advisor suggested SU as a good place to pursue research on the topic. “The Maxwell School has an excellent reputation,” she says. “I’d seen the Center for Policy Research while deciding whether to come here, and I knew it was the place I wanted to be. Meeting with students and faculty, I got the sense of an open relationship, that faculty and students work together in this Ph.D. program. And it turned out to be true. There are many opportunities at Maxwell, not only for the work you do, but for personal interaction and mentoring.” Coming from a liberal arts background at Drew, she enjoys the exposure to various fields at the interdisciplinary research center.
Part of Baughman’s dissertation looks at the impact of the earned income tax credit on private health insurance for low-income working families. While the credit provides income that makes health insurance more affordable, workers face higher tax rates as they earn more. Baughman says higher tax rates encourage workers to shift their compensation to benefits rather than cash, since benefits are not taxable. “Researchers have already found that this credit encourages people to go to work,” she says. “It provides incentive, boosts their wages, and reduces poverty, especially among families with children. But whether it encourages private health insurance coverage is an important policy question, because we have a problem in the United States with people being uninsured. Minimum or near-minimum wage workers are more likely than any other group to not have health insurance.”
Dickert-Conlin praises Baughman for her creative choice of dissertation topics. “She came up with all of her own ideas, rather than having someone say, ‘Wouldn’t that be an interesting idea for you to work on?’” This, along with her experience at the Center for Policy Research, will give her many options, Dickert-Conlin says. “If she decides to go into government or consulting work, her experience here will be valuable in creating projects that involve teamwork,” she says. “If she decides on academics, the fact that she comes up with ideas on her own and completes them will make her successful.”