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Rucker Johnson

Associate Professor of Public Policy

Rucker Johnson


Rucker C. Johnson is an Associate Professor in the Goldman School of Public Policy at the University of California, Berkeley, and faculty research associate at the National Bureau of Economic Research.  As a labor economist who specializes in the economics of education, Johnson’s work considers the role of poverty and inequality in affecting life chances.

Johnson was one of 35 scholars to receive the prestigious 2017 Andrew Carnegie Fellowship. His research has appeared in leading academic journals, featured in mainstream media outlets, and he has been invited to give policy briefings at the White House and on Capitol Hill. His forthcoming book, Children of the Dream: Why School Integration Works, will be published by Basic Books & the Russell Sage Foundation Press early next year.

Johnson is committed to advance his scholarly agenda of fusing insights from multiple disciplinary perspectives to improve our understanding of the causes, consequences, and remedies of inequality in this country. Johnson earned his Ph.D. in economics at the University of Michigan. At UC-Berkeley (2004-present), he teaches graduate and undergraduate courses in applied econometrics and topical courses in race, poverty & inequality.


Curriculum Vitae

Download a PDF (225KB, updated 12-18-2018)

Areas of Expertise

  • Labor and Employment
  • Race, Poverty & Inequality
  • Economics of Education
  • Health Disparities
  • Social Welfare Policy

Last updated on 12/18/2018

Selected Publications

  • Children of the Dream: Why School Integration Works (Forthcoming)

    Johnson, Rucker C. Children of the Dream: Why School Integration Works (Forthcoming). New York, NY: Basic Books and Russell Sage Foundation Press.

    Many Americans believe that the racial integration of US schools was a social experiment doomed from the start. But in fact, economist Rucker C. Johnson contends, school integration efforts in the 1970s and 1980s were overwhelmingly successful, and our retreat from them has had dire effects on our society. 

    In Children of the Dream, Johnson unearths the astonishing truth about integration’s spectacular achievement in America. Drawing on original longitudinal studies going back to the 1960s, he shows that students who attended integrated and well-funded schools were more successful in life than those who did not—and that this holds true for children of all races. Indeed, Johnson's research shows that such schools were nothing less than the primary engine of social mobility in the decades after the civil rights movement. Yet in the face of racial backlash, America gave up on integration. Since the highpoint of integration in 1988, we have regressed, and segregation again prevails.   

    Explaining why integration worked, why it was abandoned, and how it can be revived to the benefit of all, Children of the Dream offers a radical new perspective on American social policy. It is essential reading in our divided times.

    Find it on Amazon.

  • Reducing Inequality Through Dynamic Complementarity: Evidence from Head Start and Public School Spending

    Johnson, Rucker C. and C. Kirabo Jackson (Forthcoming). “Reducing Inequality Through Dynamic Complementarity: Evidence from Head Start and Public School Spending”American Economic Journal: Economic Policy. 

    We compare the adult outcomes of cohorts who were differentially exposed to policy-induced changes in Head Start and K12 spending, depending on place and year of birth. IV and sibling-difference estimates indicate that, for poor children, these policies both increased educational attainment and earnings, and reduced poverty and incarceration. The benefits of Head Start were larger when followed by access to better-funded schools, and increases in K12 spending were more efficacious when preceded by Head Start exposure. The findings suggest dynamic complementarities, implying that early educational investments that are sustained may break the cycle of poverty.

    PDF (4KB)

  • Follow the Money: School Spending from Title I to Adult Earnings

    Johnson, Rucker C. (2015).  “Follow the Money: School Spending from Title I to Adult Earnings”.  Edited volume, ESEA at 50, The Russell Sage Foundation Journal of the Social Sciences.

    Title I funding has been the largest federal program of K-12 education for the past 50 years with the objective to eliminate the educational disadvantage associated with poverty. I provide new evidence on the long-term effects of school spending from Title I on children's educational and adult economic outcomes. To study effects of Title I, I link school district spending and administrative data on Title I funding to nationally-representative data on children born between 1950 and 1977 and followed through 2011. Models include controls for birth cohort and school district fixed effects, childhood family and neighborhood characteristics, and other policies. I find that increases in Title I funding are significantly related to increases in educational attainment, high school graduation rates, higher earnings and work hours, reductions in grade repetition, school suspension/expulsion, incarceration, and reductions in the annual incidence of poverty in adulthood; effects on educational outcomes are more pronounced for poor children.

    PDF (4KB)

  • The Effects of School Spending on Educational & Economic Outcomes: Evidence from School Finance Reforms

    Jackson, Kirabo, Rucker C. Johnson, Claudia Persico (2015). “The Effects of School Spending on Educational & Economic Outcomes: Evidence from School Finance Reforms”. The Quarterly Journal of Economics 131(1): 157-218.

    Since the Coleman Report, many have questioned whether public school spending affects student outcomes. The school finance reforms that began in the early 1970s and accelerated in the 1980s caused dramatic changes to the structure of K–12 education spending in the United States. To study the effect of these school finance reform–induced changes in public school spending on long-run adult outcomes, we link school spending and school finance reform data to detailed, nationally representative data on children born between 1955 and 1985 and followed through 2011. We use the timing of the passage of court-mandated reforms and their associated type of funding formula change as exogenous shifters of school spending, and we compare the adult outcomes of cohorts that were differentially exposed to school finance reforms, depending on place and year of birth. Event study and instrumental variable models reveal that a 10% increase in per pupil spending each year for all 12 years of public school leads to 0.31 more completed years of education, about 7% higher wages, and a 3.2 percentage point reduction in the annual incidence of adult poverty; effects are much more pronounced for children from low-income families. Exogenous spending increases were associated with notable improvements in measured school inputs, including reductions in student-to-teacher ratios, increases in teacher salaries, and longer school years.

    PDF (4KB)

  • How Much Crime Reduction Does the Marginal Prisoner Buy?

    Johnson, Rucker and Steven Raphael (2012) “How Much Crime Reduction Does the Marginal Prisoner Buy?” Journal of Law and Economics, 55(2) 275-310.

    We estimate the effect of changes in incarceration rates on changes in crime rates using state-level panel data. We develop an instrument for future changes in incarceration rates based on the theoretically predicted dynamic adjustment path of the aggregate incarceration rate in response to a shock to prison entrance or exit transition probabilities. Given that incarceration rates adjust to permanent changes in behavior with a dynamic lag, one can identify variation in incarceration rates that is not contaminated by contemporary changes in criminal behavior. For the period 1978-2004, we find crime-prison elasticities that are considerably larger than those implied by ordinary least squares estimates. We also present results for two sub-periods: 1978-90 and 1991-2004. Our instrumental variables estimates for the earlier period suggest relatively large crime-prison effects. For the later time period, however, the effects of changes in incarceration rates on crime rates are much smaller.

    PDF (301KB)

  • Health Dynamics and the Evolution of Health Inequality over the Life Course: The Importance of Neighborhood and Family Background

    Johnson, Rucker C. (2011).  “Health Dynamics and the Evolution of Health Inequality over the Life Course: The Importance of Neighborhood and Family Background”. The B.E. Journal of Economic Analysis & Policy: Advances Vol. 11 : Iss. 3, Article 6.

    This paper investigates the extent and ways in which childhood family and neighborhood quality influence later-life health outcomes. The study analyzes the health trajectories of children born between 1950 and 1970 followed through 2005. Data from the Panel Study of Income Dynamics (PSID) spanning four decades are linked with information on neighborhood attributes and school quality resources that prevailed at the time these children were growing up.

    There are several key findings. First, estimates of sibling and child neighbor correlations in health are used to bound the proportion of inequality in health status in childhood through mid-life that are attributable to childhood family and neighborhood quality. Estimates based on four-level hierarchical random effects models (neighborhoods, families, individuals, over time) consistently show a significant scope for both childhood family and neighborhood background (including school quality). The results imply substantial persistence in health status across generations that are linked in part to low intergenerational economic mobility. Sibling correlations are large throughout at least the first 50 years of life: roughly three-fifths of adult health disparities may be attributable to family and neighborhood background. Childhood neighbor correlations in adult health are also substantial (net of the similarity arising from similar family characteristics), suggesting that disparities in neighborhood background account for more than one-third of the variation in health status in mid life.

    PDF (4KB)

  • The Effect of Male Incarceration Dynamics on AIDS Infection Rates Among African-American Women and Men

    Johnson, Rucker and Steven Raphael (2009) “The Effect of Male Incarceration Dynamics on AIDS Infection Rates Among African-American Women and Men,” Journal of Law and Economics, 52(2):251-293.

    In this paper, we investigate the potential connection between incarceration dynamics and AIDS infection rates, with a particular emphasis on the black-white AIDS rate disparity. Using caselevel data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, we construct a panel data set of AIDS infection rates covering the period 1982 to 1996 that vary by year of onset, mode of transmission, state of residence, age, gender, and race/ethnicity. Using data from the U.S. Census, we construct a conforming panel of male and female incarceration rates. We use this panel data to model the dynamic relationship between the male and female AIDS infection rates and the proportion of men in the age/state/race-matched cohort that are incarcerated. We find very strong effects of male incarceration rates on both male and female AIDS infection rates. The dynamic structure of this relationship parallels the distribution of the incubation time between HIV infection and the onset of full-blown AIDS documented in the medical and epidemiological literature. These results are robust to explicit controls for (race-specific) year fixed effects and a fully interacted set of age/race/state fixed effects. Our results reveal that the higher incarceration rates among black males over this period explain the lion’s share of the racial disparity in AIDS infection between black women and women of other racial and ethnic groups. The magnitude and significance of these effects persist after controlling for measures of crack cocaine prevalence and flow rates in and out of prison. In a separate analysis, we exploit the occurrence of system-wide state prison overcrowding litigation as an instrumental variable for the flow rate of prison releases. We find short-run increases in prison release rates that were induced by final court decisions on relief of prisoner overcrowding resulted in significant increases in subsequent AIDS infection rates among women and blacks, manifesting 5-10 years following the increase of prison releases.

    PDF (795KB)

Up from Poverty: Funding Solutions That Work

Up from Poverty: Funding Solutions That Work

Hilary Hoynes, Rucker Johnson, Henry E. Brady

Date: May 7, 2016 Duration: 59 minutes

The Grandchildren of Brown: The Long Legacy of School Desegregation

The Grandchildren of Brown: The Long Legacy of School Desegregation

Rucker Johnson, Ophelia Garmon-Brown, Julian Wright, Rosie Molinary, Ivan Lowe

Event: The Grandchildren of Brown: The Long Legacy of School Desegregation

Date: November 12, 2015 Duration: 107 minutes

Desegregation and (Un)equal Opportunity

Desegregation and (Un)equal Opportunity

Rucker Johnson

Date: November 19, 2012 Duration: 18 minutes


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