April 17, 2017

ILR's Groat Award winner to talk about 'Work that I love'

Francine Blau
Blau

Professor Francine D. Blau ’66 will return to her hometown of New York City April 20 to receive the ILR School’s 2017 Judge William B. Groat Alumni Award for achievement and service to the school. She said that she is focused on research and other professional activities but feels it is important to give back.

“I’ve never been busier,” said Blau, a labor economist whose writing on the gender pay gap and other issues is referenced by scholars and laypeople the world over.

Blau will share the stage at The Pierre Hotel with Joanne Restivo Jensen ’84, who will receive the Alpern Award at ILR’s annual signature event.

“Cornell always comes first and your students, but you give back to society as a whole by sharing your expertise,” Blau said. “You have to give back.”

That giving back included two and a half years chairing a panel on the economic and fiscal consequences of immigration for the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine. The panel found that the long-term impact of immigration on overall wages and employment of native-born American workers is “very small.”

“Immigration is integral to the nation’s economic growth” and “has an overall positive impact on long-run economic growth in the U.S.,” according to the panel’s September 2016 report, just as some political candidates claimed the opposite.

Blau, ILR’s Frances Perkins Professor of Industrial and Labor Relations and professor of economics, was in the news explaining the report’s findings. She took the pressure in stride as part of the responsibility that comes with being a world-class economist.

There was a time when it wasn’t so easy to push through the pressure, though.

When Blau, at age 20, began her doctoral program at Harvard University, only 7 percent of Ph.D. degrees in economics were awarded to women. Although she was accustomed to a male-dominated learning environment – she was one of 15 women in a class of about 90 as an ILR undergraduate – Harvard was a much more difficult atmosphere.

The women’s movement gave her insight into what she was experiencing and the inspiration to work in an area she found important and relevant. She also began to meet some established female economists, and that encouraged her further.

Ever since, gender issues have anchored her research focus.

Blau has written extensively, often with her husband, Lawrence Kahn, ILR’s Braunstein Family Professor, about gender issues, wage inequality, immigration and international comparisons of labor market outcomes.

The IZA, an international think tank in Bonn, Germany, awarded Blau its outstanding achievement in labor economics prize in 2010 and noted: “Her work has profoundly shaped the view of scholars and policymakers on the causes and consequences of gender differences in economic outcomes, and on policies for advancing women’s labor market position and well-being.”

“I feel so lucky to have had the opportunity to do work that I love,” Blau said.

Judge William Groat, counsel to the New York State Joint Legislative Committee on Industrial and Labor Relations, played a key role in founding the ILR School in 1945. The award was established in 1971 in honor of his vision and accomplishments.

The Jerome Alpern Award was established in 1997 in honor of ILR alumnus Jerome Alpern ’49, MBA ’50, for his service and support to the ILR School, its students and alumni, and for his professional accomplishments outside the field of industrial and labor relations.

Mary Catt is interim assistant dean for communications at the ILR School.