Economics gave Neil Mehrotra a lens through which to see the world in a whole new way. “It was a good framework to understand both things that are happening in the economy and things that were happening in the world around me and to put it all together in a way that makes sense.”
Mehrotra’s interest was piqued when, as a high school student in Minnesota, he picked up an introductory economics textbook as a way to prep for a couple of advanced placement exams — and, he hoped, to place out of a couple of college courses.
Instead, he found the subject that would become his life’s work. The very elements of economics that initially captured his interest continue to steer the macroeconomist’s work today.
“One of the interesting things about being a macroeconomist is that there are a lot of things that we don’t know. Unlike some other sciences, we can’t run experiments, so you’re left often with a lot of theories and fewer facts to try to distinguish between those theories,” Mehrotra said. “That makes it interesting and at the same time makes it harder, but it’s what makes [macroeconomic]s such a fruitful area of discussion.”
While completing his Ph.D. at Columbia University, which he earned this spring, Mehrotra focused much of his work on the U.S. labor market. He’s examining a recent shift in an economic indicator known as the Beveridge Curve. The curve represents the downward sloping relationship between unemployment and job openings in the economy. When the economy enters a recession, unemployment tends to go up while job openings go down. But following the recent recession, the two variables have behaved in a way many economists did not expect. Job openings have gone up, but unemployment hasn’t fallen as much as expected.
“It’s happened in the past but not necessarily in recessions and so we’re trying to determine what it’s telling us about the labor market. Is there something more going on than just too little demand for jobs in the economy?” Mehrotra said.
Based on the research he’s done so far, Mehrotra attributes at least some of the shift to a mismatch of skills among unemployed workers, which could be due in part to the hard hit that some sectors, like construction and finance, took during the recession. Mehrotra is currently building a theoretical framework to explain how much of the rise in unemployment can be attributed to skill mismatch.
“The skill mismatch suggests that there needs to be some sort of worker retraining, but there’s still room for conventional means of addressing unemployment, including easing monetary policy or further fiscal stimulus, which would be effective in reducing unemployment,” Mehrotra said.
Mehrotra begins teaching in the spring, with undergraduate courses in macroeconomics and corporate finance on his schedule. Mehrotra said he’s most looking forward to the “rich research environment” of Brown and becoming part of a department that is getting bigger each year.
“And I get to work with good undergraduate and graduate students and that’s always a plus. It makes the teaching easier and it makes it more fulfilling in terms of interactions with students.”