by Maria Papacostas

On Feb. 28, the Temple Economics Society (TES) was thrilled to host Patrick Harker, president of the Philadelphia Federal Reserve as part of our “Economics Week.”

Addressing about 200 students and faculty, he discussed the status of the national and local economies, offering a brief overview of the Federal Reserve (referred to as “the Fed”) and monetary policy. After presenting somewhat dismal – but not surprising – statistics on labor participation rates in the U.S., Harker suggested achievable solutions for increased productivity and growth.

TES is a student-run organization that meets weekly to offer students the opportunity to learn about economics outside of the classroom. We welcome professionals and academics to help us discover the variety of career paths within the field of economics. Hosting Patrick Harker allowed us to hear another opinion on the economy outside of the theoretical world of the classroom.

Harker’s speech addressed the growing public costs related to the aging U.S. population and the falling labor participation rate as Baby Boomers retire. Economic theory has proven that if the labor participation rate falls, output decreases. Harker said he believes that as long as policy addresses these developments by “maximizing the potential of our workforce,” the economy can remain healthy.

As a member of the Temple Economics Society Executive Board, I had the pleasure of sharing lunch with President Harker before his speech. Anyone familiar with the role of Federal Reserve presidents understands that they walk a tightrope. I admired his ability to speak earnestly and candidly about the economic situation facing our country. What I admired even more was his insistence on suggesting and imagining practical solutions.

With the small group at lunch, Harker discussed the need for education to encompass “STEMpathy,” a term he credited to a friend, which combines the acronym for science, technology, engineering and mathematics with empathy. He explained that this means if a student chooses a four-year college education path, he/she must not only gain exposure to intensive math and sciences but also an ability to analyze situations with a sense of empathy. Schools must continue to emphasize humanities in partnership with the mathematical and scientific fields of study. For those who decide that a four-year college education is not the right fit, copious opportunities for rewarding careers exist in our Reserve’s district. These include what Harker referred to as “opportunity occupations, jobs that pay at or above the national median income but that don’t require a traditional four-year degree.” He suggested a car mechanic or tradesman as an example. In a diverse economy such as ours there is no one-size-fits-all career path.

He concluded his Economics Week speech with a comparison to his college football career at the University of Pennsylvania. “When I was playing football,” he said, “we ran where the ball was headed to catch it; that’s how we have to look at policy – monetary, fiscal, and other – not where we are on the field but where we’re headed.”

TES thanks Patrick Harker, as well as Temple University students and staff, for participating in Economics Week with us.

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