Danny Yagan is a UC Berkeley economist whose recent work questioning higher education’s role in promoting upward mobility made national headlines. In January 2017, Yagan created the oft cited Mobility Report Cards for all 2,199 U.S. Colleges alongside Raj Chetty, John Friedman, Nicholas Turner, and UC Berkeley’s Emmanuel Saez. Yagan, a fellow of the National Bureau of Economic Research, has been an Assistant Professor in Berkeley’s Economics Department since 2014. He has been an IRLE faculty affiliate since coming to Berkeley and works in public and labor economics, focusing on education quality and access and inequality in recovery form the great recession. We spoke with him what he’s working on now, and what got him interested in working on the issues that impact American workers.
What brought you to Berkeley?
The extraordinary senior faculty.
What are you working on right now?
I am researching whether passive rentiers have replaced the working rich at the top the U.S. income distribution.
Now, how would you explain that to your mother or next door neighbor?
I want to know whether the top 1 percent are in the top 1 percent because they sit back and relax while their investments grow, or because they’re working and the economy rewards their human capital extraordinarily well.
What do you think is the number one issue facing workers today?
Finding a sustainable middle-class job.
What raised your consciousness about the challenges facing regular working people?
My worldview was shaped by growing up in a small Illinois town full of regular working people.
What do you think the role of academic scholarship and data is in really improving the lives of working people?
Academic research offers playbooks to citizens and policymakers for improving work and pay.
If you weren’t a professor at Berkeley what would you be doing?
I would be running a NASA mission.
Danny Yagan is an assistant professor of economics in the department and a faculty research fellow of the National Bureau of Economic Research. He joined the department after earning a BA summa cum laude and a PhD in economics from Harvard University and after completing a post-doc at UC Berkeley.