Dr. Algernon Austin, Economic Policy Institute

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Dr. Algernon Austin is the Director of the Program on Race, Ethnicity, and the Economy (PREE) at the Economic Policy Institute. As the director of PREE, Dr. Austin oversees reports and policy analysis in the economic condition of America’s people of color. 

What (or who) inspired you to do the work you are doing, especially your work on race and ethnicity?

Many experiences in my life have led to where I am today. An early influence was the writings of James Baldwin. His essays were the first writings that I encountered that made me think deeply about issues of race in American society. It was one of the early steps toward where I am today. 

What is the biggest challenge facing the United States economically and how would you fix it?

Jobs. We need nine million jobs to return us to the unemployment rate that we had at the start of the recession. But at that time, Latinos, African-Americans, and American Indians still had higher than average rates of unemployment. We would need about 1.5 million jobs going to people of color to have their unemployment rates be as low as the white rate before the recession. Therefore, for me, the true jobs deficit is about 10.5 million jobs. There are many things that we need to do to address the jobs deficit,  too many to address in this space. But I can list three policies that deliver a big jobs-bang for the buck: extending unemployment insurance benefits for the long-term unemployed, repainring our nation’s deteriorating infrastructure, and providing aid to state and local governments. These should be our starting points to addressing the 10.5 million jobs deficit. 

How can people find out more about your work or get involved in the Economic Policy Institute?

My work can be found at http://www.epi.org/people/algernon/austin/.

What advice do you have for young people interested in your field?

Find a role model and learn about how they came to be where they are.

On a more personal note, what’s your favorite sports team?

I appreciate athleticism and bodies in motion a great deal, but I don’t follow most popular American sports. I’m a martial artist, so I do follow the professional MMA leagues a bit. But when I think of athleticism I also think of dance acrobats, in addition to martial arts. Based on my interests, “teams” that have caught my eye recently are Giorgio Petrosyan (kickboxing), Cirque de Soleil (acrobatics), and the Erica Rebollar/Rebollar Dance company.