Professor's Study Sparks Controversy

Congressional Committee Members Debate Accuracy of Economic Report

A study by a Harvard economist is at the center of a small controversy in Congress after Republicans prevented the study from being published as a committee report.

According to the study, written by Professor of Economics James L. Medoff, the number of vacant jobs in the U.S. has decreased since the mid-1980s. In addition, jobs which are available are not as attractive, said Medoff yesterday.

Initial inspiration for the controversial report, Medoff said, came from Boston Globe Editor John C. Driscoll, who told Medoff that many in the Boston community had been accusing the press for portraying a falsely negative image of economic conditions.

The results of the initial study, Medoff said, were that "prosperity was not around any corner" he could see.

Medoff said that after he presented his initial findings to an aide from U.S. Sen. Lloyd L. Bentsen's (D-Tex.) office, the aide suggested that he expand the findings into a more developed study.


The aide also told him that the Joint Economic Committee, of which Bentsen is a member, would be interested in the results.

However, because of new rules enacted by Congress on behalf of Rep. Richard K. Armey (R-Tex.), another member of the committee, the report was rerouted upon its completion to Bentsen's Subcommittee on Economic Growth, Trade and Taxes.

Armey "tends to be skeptical of studies done on behalf of Democrats," said Pat C. Shortridge, a spokesperson for the Texan. But Shortridge stressed that Armey had not yet seen the study.

The Globe reported that because of Armey's ongoing opposition to liberal interpretations of the economy, the committee was unable to publish Medoff's report.

But Medoff defended the report against Armey's pre-suppositions.

"We at Harvard are all academics," he said. "We take some pride in our integrity and objectivity. Obviously [Armey] simply did not like the conclusions of my study."

Medoff's study also says that since 1975 the number of unemployed who claim that their job losses are permanent has risen 11 permanent, from 33 to 44 percent.

"In this downturn more than in any other recent downturn, people are more likely to be permanently unemployed," said the economist.

A unique feature of the current recession, Medoff said, is that whitecollar workers are also suffering, as seen in the soaring unemployment rate among this class of workers. During the previous three recessions--which the economist classified as "blue-collar"--the percentage of unemployed white-collar workers actually declined.

Medoff said that an important distinction between the long-term and the short-term must be drawn to correctly analyze economic data.

"We're in a period where there are cyclical and structural economic problems going on at once," Medoff said. "In terms of the cycle, they could be getting better but that doesn't mean that anything at all is happening with the structural problems."