Experts can discuss Obama’s State of the Union proposals

Release Date: February 13, 2013


BUFFALO, N.Y. — University at Buffalo experts are available to speak to the media about ideas and proposals that President Barack Obama shared in his State of the Union address, from energy policies to the need to better prepare American students for high-tech careers and increasing the minimum wage. 

Joseph A. Gardella Jr.
John and Frances Larkin Professor of Chemistry
University at Buffalo College of Arts and Sciences
716-645-1499; cell phone number may be obtained by contacting Charlotte Hsu at 716-645-4655

Gardella can discuss the president’s message regarding the need to equip American students with skills in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) to meet the demands of a high-tech economy.

He is director of the Interdisciplinary Science and Engineering Partnership (ISEP), an initiative to improve science education at 12 Buffalo Public Schools by increasing interdisciplinary, hands-on learning. The program engages about 60 middle and high school teachers each year in research-based professional development that encourages them to enliven classrooms with experiments and other hands-on activities.

“ISEP is an example of a STEM program that is leveraging university and community resources to provide young people with the knowledge and skills they need to be successful in modern, high-tech careers,” Gardella says. “We work with middle and high schools to develop and implement STEM learning experiences that meet the unique needs and interests of both students and teachers.”

“ISEP is funded by the National Science Foundation, and is an example of a federally-funded program that is bringing new, needed opportunities to schoolchildren,” Gardella adds. “Thanks to the leadership of the Obama administration, in both the Department of Education and the National Science Foundation, there is a tight focus on aligning STEM work in higher education to supporting teacher professional development and school based innovation to bring STEM related classroom content and curricula to all students.”

Erin Hatton
Assistant Professor, Department of Sociology
University at Buffalo

Hatton focuses on work and those making – or struggling to make – a living from it.  Her first book, “The Temp Economy: From Kelly Girls to Permatemps in Postwar America,” examines the temporary help industry and its adverse effects on the economy and workers, and her research also extends to the fields of gender, race, labor, political economy and public policy.

“The proposed increase in the minimum wage is both important and necessary. It will certainly not be enough to solve all struggling families' problems, but when you're supporting a family on the minimum wage, every little bit counts. In fact, such an increase represents a 25 percent pay increase,” Hatton says.

“Although an extra $70 a week might be meaningless to those who earn over $100,000 a year, it is not meaningless to the thousands of parents who feed their children and pay for medical bills on a minimum wage job.”

Jerry M. Newman
SUNY Distinguished Teaching Professor
School of Management
University at Buffalo

Newman is co-author of Compensation, the leading book on that topic for the past 25 years. He can also speak on the topic of minimum wage from personal experience, having worked undercover at seven fast-food restaurants while writing his book, My Secret Life on the McJob: Lessons from Behind the Counter Guaranteed to Supersize Any Management Style.

“Raising the minimum wage is a complicated issue,” Newman says. “Retailers will tell you that it will be the end of their businesses, but minimum wage workers will tell you that it is the beginning of a life for them.”

Jessica Owley
Associate Professor of Law
University at Buffalo Law School

Owley, an expert in environmental law and land conservation, can speak on the president’s remarks on energy and climate change.

“The President's energy policy gives environmentalists both something to cheer about and something to worry about,” Owley says. “It is encouraging that he is reinforcing his support of renewable energies. His support of using public land as places to locate renewable energy facilities (like wind and solar) will help move the country forward. This must be done carefully, however. The push to develop solar quickly has outpaced our studies of the potential environmental impacts of those facilities. The President is continuing to support his ‘all of the above’ approach for energy, though, championing development of domestic oil and gas. This strategy slows our need to reduce fossil fuel use and increases environmental degradation in the meaning time.”

“Without mentioning the term hyrdrofracking, the President's speech implies that he supported increased use of this technique. He talks about burning cleaner and speeding up permits but does not talk about other environmental concerns. The environmental implications of hydrofracking development remain uncertain. Last year Obama pledged to require disclosure of the chemicals. That has yet to occur. Furthermore, we need to go beyond chemical disclosure and subject this industry to the Clean Water Act and other environmental laws.”

Owley adds that the president’s suggestion to develop an Energy Security Trust is “a good idea. “We need to be reducing our energy use and increasing efficiency. This is an area where American ingenuity has excelled, and we should draw on it more.”

Owley teaches environmental law, property, land conservation and Federal Indian Law. She received her PhD in environmental science, policy and management from the University of California-Berkeley in 2005, shortly after completing her JD at Berkeley Law in 2004. Though her general research is on land conservation and property rights, her current scholarship focuses on using property tools for conservation in the context of climate change.

Neel Rao
Assistant Professor, Department of Economics
University at Buffalo

Neel Rao’s research interests are in the areas of labor economics, health economics and organizational economics. Recent working papers include “Social Learning in the Labor Market: An Analysis of Siblings,” and “The Impact of Macroeconomic Conditions in Childhood on Adult Labor Market Outcomes.”

“Although some claim that a rise in the federal minimum wage will increase unemployment overall, it is not obvious that this is always the case. Basic models of competitive labor markets do predict some increase in unemployment from a higher minimum wage, an effect that may be especially important for younger, unskilled workers. However, not all empirical studies find evidence of this phenomenon, and other more complex models do not make this prediction,” Rao says.

“A higher federal minimum wage might benefit some workers with low earnings. In real dollars, the federal minimum wage is lower today than in the 1970s. Income inequality also appears to have increased in the U.S. since then.”

Kelly Roy
Director, Early Childhood Research Center
University at Buffalo Graduate School of Education

Roy, an expert in early childhood education and pre-kindergarten training, can speak on the president’s remarks on the need to expand early education for 4- and 3-year-olds.

“Basically, the president is planning to increase funding to support universal pre-K for children in low- to middle-income families,” Roy says. “Currently the states bear the vast majority of the responsibility for this. Mr. Obama is interested in increasing the number of children and potentially reducing the age of the children to 3 who receive this valued service.”

“In 2011, the State of New York served about 45 percent of the eligible 4-year-olds. This initiative is a result of the decades of data supporting the long-term individual and societal benefits of children attending preschool.”

"Numerous long-term studies, including the Perry Preschool, which began in the early 60s, have found that individuals and society benefit from children attending high-quality preschool as early as possible. The long-term benefits include increased educational success measured through increased achievement and attainment; decreased special education and grade repetition; decreased behavioral difficulties, depression, drug use, or involvement in crime; increased earnings; and employment success. These individual benefits result in savings to society in costs associated with crime and punishment, health care costs and social service costs associated with dependence on government support.

"Short-term benefits include increased cognitive skills — kids are learning positive things and they enjoy it. Social and emotional skills also develop well in a high-quality program. Children learn how to regulate their own behavior to learn well in a group. Elements of a high-quality program include teachers who are well-educated and paid fairly. They plan well to meet the children’s needs and then reflect on their work to continuously improve the children’s learning. Class size and ratio of teachers to children should be adequate to meet the needs of the class and allow the teacher to do his or her job well. There needs to be a policy foundation within which a preschool operates that supports its success for it to be high quality."

Paul Zarembka
Professor, Department of Economics
University at Buffalo

Paul Zarembka specializes in Marxist theory, U.S. labor history and economic development. He is editor of the annual series “Research in Political Economy” (Emerald Group) and the author of “Essays in Modern Capital Theory.”

“A federal increase in the minimum wage is likely to have a positive effect on U.S. employment figures because it will increase the purchasing power of workers, which has a tendency to increase sales and overall employment. Studies of state minimum wage increases show the same result,” Zarembka says.

“Employees can readily understand this result.  Employers, however, are often short-sighted and think only of its immediate effect on wage costs and are not conscious of the greater total profits this may generate for their businesses,” he adds.

“In general, an increase in the federal minimum wage may somewhat increase incomes at the bottom end of the employment scale – that is, the incomes of workers who make a more important contribution to your life relative to their incomes than do CEOs.”

Media Contact Information

Charlotte Hsu
News Content Manager
Sciences, Economic Development
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