The Malcolm Wiener Center for Social Policy, home to the Inequality program, is the Harvard Kennedy School’s center for the advancement of ideas, research, and policy to confront social problems that are among the nation's most urgent domestic policy challenges.
Social Policy encompasses concerns of poverty and disadvantage, enduring inequalities of race, education and economic mobility, the safety net for families and children, crime and criminal justice, urban neighborhoods and inner cities, employment and labor markets, and health care.
Endowed by Malcolm Hewitt Wiener in 1988, the Center has been an influential voice for over twenty-five years in domestic policy through its work on community policing, welfare reform, youth violence, inner-city poverty, youth and the low-wage labor market, American Indian economic and social development, and medical error rates.
The Malcolm Wiener Center faculty members who currently participate in the Inequality & Social Policy program are listed in the sidebar at the right.
Bridging the worlds of scholarship, policy, and practice
The Malcolm Wiener Center faculty bridges the worlds of scholarship, policy, and practice, striving to contribute solutions through engagement that is informed by the unique insights and knowledge made possible in each of these realms.
In 1993, Center colleagues David Ellwood and Mary Jo Bane were named to the Clinton Administration to serve in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). Ellwood, now the Scott M. Black Professor of Political Economy and Harvard University Distinguished Service Professor, became Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation, serving as co-chair of President Clinton's Working Group on Welfare Reform, Family Support, and Independence. He later served as Dean of the Harvard Kennedy School from 2004 to 2015. Mary Jo Bane, Thornton Bradshaw Professor of Public Policy and Management Emerita, became Assistant Secretary for Children and Families, where she served from 1993 to 1996.
Jeffrey Liebman, Malcolm Wiener Professor of Public Policy, served in the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) during the first two years of the Obama Administration, first as Executive Associate Director and Chief Economist, and then as Acting Deputy Director. A decade earlier, Liebman had served as Special Assistant to the President for economic policy (1998-1999) and coordinated the Clinton Administration’s Social Security reform technical working group.
Christopher Jencks, Malcolm Wiener Professor of Social Policy Emeritus, and William Julius Wilson, Lewis P. and Linda L. Geyser University Professor Emeritus—together with colleagues Katherine S. Newman, now Provost and Senior Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs of the University of Massachusetts, and David Ellwood—founded the Inequality & Social Policy program in 1998 and the Harvard PhD Program in Social Policy in 1999, advising many of the nearly 200 Harvard PhD students that came through the program during their time on the faculty.
Christopher Jencks received Robert M. Hauser Award for lifetime achievement from the American Sociological Association's Inequality, Poverty, and Mobility Section in 2013. The Inequality & Social Policy program held a conference, Reexamining Inequality, in his honor on the 40th anniversary of Inequality that same year. A member of the National Academy of Sciences (since 1997), the American Academy of Arts and Sciences (since 1992), and the American Academy of Political and Social Science (since 2002), his books include The Academic Revolution (with David Riesman); Inequality: Who Gets Ahead?; The Urban Underclass (with Paul Peterson); Rethinking Social Policy; The Homeless; and The Black White Test Score Gap (with Meredith Phillips).
William Julius Wilson was honored with Harvard symposium celebrating his career in 2019 (video). A MacArthur Prize Fellow from 1987 to 1992, Professor Wilson has been elected to the National Academy of Sciences, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the National Academy of Education, the American Philosophical Society, the Institute of Medicine, and the British Academy. He is a recipient of the 1998 National Medal of Science, the highest scientific honor in the United States. In 2014 he received the W.E.B. Du Bois Career of Distinguished Scholarship Award from the American Sociological Association. Wilson is the author of numerous publications, including The Declining Significance of Race (1978, 1980, 2012), winner of the American Sociological Association's Sydney Spivack Award; The Truly Disadvantaged (1987, 2012), which was selected by the editors of The New York Times Book Review as one of the 16 best books of 1987, and received The Washington Monthly Annual Book Award, the Society for the Study of Social Problems' C. Wright Mills Award, and the American Political Science Association’s Aaron Wildavsky Enduring Contribution Award; and When Work Disappears: The World of the New Urban Poor (1996), which was selected as one of the notable books of 1996 by the editors of The New York Times Book Review, and received the Sidney Hillman Foundation Award and the American Political Science Association’s Aaron Wildavsky Enduring Contribution Award.
Primary avenues of activity
The Malcolm Wiener Center's core programs focus on inequality, criminal justice, the world of work, and educational achievement and equity.
The Program in Criminal Justice Policy and Management, led by Sandra Susan Smith, conducts research and sponsors activities to promote sound policy and effective management in the administration of safety and justice.
The Shift Project, led by Daniel Schneider, examines the nature of paid work, which is transforming rapidly, and the implications of these changes for economic security and the health and well-being of workers and their families.These changes are particularly dramatic in the large and growing service sector where workers’ hours and work schedules often vary week-to-week and day-to-day. The Shift Project has developed an innovative method of data collection to collect survey data on scheduling practices and wellbeing from thousands of retail workers employed at large firms.
The Project on Workforce is an interdisciplinary, collaborative project between the Harvard Kennedy School's Malcolm Wiener Center for Social Policy (David Deming), the Harvard Business School Managing the Future of Work Project (Joseph Fuller), and the Harvard Graduate School of Education (Peter Q. Blair).
The Achievement Gap Initiative (AGI) at Harvard University, directed by Ronald F. Ferguson, is a university-wide initiative designed to help raise achievement for all children while narrowing racial, ethnic and socio-economic gaps.
Photo credits: HKS shield in the Collins Rotunda by Kent Dayton.
Taubman Building exterior by Pamela Metz.