Johnson Scholars Tackle Complex Health Issues
By Julia Sommer, Public Affairs
The School of Public Health has received a five-year, $4.3 million grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation to continue its support of postdoctoral scholars in an area of paramount concern -- health policy research.
Founded in 1992, the Scholars in Health Policy Research Program selects up to 12 outstanding recent doctoral graduates in economics, political science and sociology each year to conduct two years of interdisciplinary research at Berkeley, Yale or Michigan.
Four scholars joined Berkeley's program this fall: Michael Greenstone, Helen Levy, David Pellow and Lynn Sanders. They will tackle the dangers of polluted air, relationships between work, health and race, and trends in employer-sponsored health insurance.
Director of the program at Berkeley is professor Richard Scheffler, a health economist with appointments in public health and public policy.
"Over 40 faculty are involved as mentors and instructors in the program," notes Scheffler. "Berkeley is fast becoming the leader in health policy research and training at the postdoctoral level."
Greenstone received his PhD in economics from Princeton this fall with a dissertation on "An Empirical Examination of the Costs and Benefits of the Clean Air Act Amendments of 1970 and 1977."
He has found that in areas of the country more heavily regulated by the Clean Air Act Amendments, contrary to popular legend, there were only modest job losses; there was substantial improvement in air quality; and there were significant increases in property values.
Greenstone points out that the improvement in air quality and increase in property values suggest that "there's actually a monetary value to clean air."
Working with faculty in public health and economics, Greenstone is now studying how air pollution affects infant mortality.
Levy also received her PhD in economics from Princeton this fall, where her dissertation was on "The Cost and Financing of Employer-Sponsored Health Insurance."
She has found that such insurance is on the decline, with part-time and newly hired workers especially hard hit. Now she is studying the financial impact on individuals of not having health insurance.
Levy says she chose Berkeley for her postdoc because of the "outstanding empirical economists here." After Berkeley she will join the faculty of the Harris Graduate School of Public Policy Studies at the University of Chicago.
Pellow received his PhD in sociology from Northwestern this fall with a dissertation on "Black Workers in Green Industries: The Hidden Infrastructure of Environmental Racism."
Now he is studying the relationship between work and health, or "what social mechanisms produce or mitigate unhealthy work environments.
"Occupational health is of growing concern for millions of workers in the U.S. and around the globe," notes Pellow. "I hope more scholars will pay attention to this issue in the future."
Pellow will be involved in Berkeley's new Center for Urban Ethnography being put together by Martin Sanchez-Jankowski, professor of sociology.
Sanders is on leave from her post as assistant professor of political science at the University of Chicago. She is completing a book, "Surveying Race," which examines how racial issues affect U.S. democracy and public opinion.
At Berkeley she will investigate the relationship between health and racial segregation and political participation.
"I chose Berkeley because it has the most structured program, and because of the diverse research community here and at UCSF," says Sanders. "There are so many specialties to draw from here."