by Caroline Dobuzinskis, former IWPR Communications Manager, and
From 2000–2001, Rodgers served as U.S. Labor Secretary Alexis Herman’s chief economist and at the start of President Barack Obama’s first term, served on the Labor Department’s transition team. He was elected to the National Academy of Social Insurance in 2006 and serves as Vice President of the United Way Worldwide’s U.S. Board of Trustees.
Rodgers has known of IWPR’s work for a number of years and was originally introduced to the Institute through his work on racial inequality. “I was really intrigued by IWPR’s work and there are aspects of my research that have always dealt with integrating gender,” said Rodgers.
Rodgers describes his personal mission as “empowering people through economics.” This aligns well with IWPR’s effort to inform policy, inspire change, and improve lives through sound research that supports better policies for women and families.
When Rodgers joined the faculty at William and Mary College in 1993, he put this mission into action, by assisting a grassroots campaign calling for the landscapers and gardeners employed at the college to be paid livable wages. Rodgers built an economic and business case for why the wages should be increased, comparing the school’s salary structure to the local salary structure. His work moved both the school’s president and provost to join the campaign, and salary adjustments were eventually made.
“That piece of research probably impacted [many] workers,” said Rodgers. “People had felt invisible. That was the worst. The low pay was bad but the worst insult was being invisible.” Rodgers’ own interactions with the workers showed him why the change was important and he considers his role in increasing wages one of his most memorable accomplishments.
“My mom—and Secretary Herman, when I worked at Labor—instilled in me that all work has value and that there are people and families behind the numbers.”
As a professor, Rodgers aims to teach his students both “content and confidence,” recognizing that many have to work full- or part-time while studying, perhaps keeping them from a full academic experience. In addition, Rodgers also encourages confidence in young people on the playing field as coach of a youth soccer team. He holds the third highest soccer license available in the European system and coaches a team in New Jersey. He also enjoys running and volunteering in his community.
In the future, he would like to work on research to help all American households and families to have a balance of family time and work. He sees secure retirement as a future policy priority. “For me now the big issue that I am seeing, and it’s only going to grow, is ‘how do we provide a secure retirement to our parents and to our grandparents?’ and that translates into economic security for ourselves.”
IWPR is proud to have Rodgers serving on its board of directors.
To view more of IWPR’s research, visit IWPR.org