Why the Richmond Fed has zero Black Ph.D. economists
Bank working to improve talent pipeline, mentorship opportunities
The Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond is one of only five Fed banks that employs zero Black Ph.D. economists, according to a New York Times report this week.
Of the 12 Federal Reserve banks, seven employ only one or two Black Ph.D. economists, which Fed officials blame on lack of Black talent in the economics pipeline, according to the New York Times report.
The Richmond Fed is no exception, according to bank officials.
“There’s a small numbers problem that the economics profession faces in terms of the number of Ph.D.s that are produced,” says Richmond Fed Research Director Kartik Athreya. “At even the best of times, we have a great deal of difficulty hiring economists of any background. From a numbers perspective, it’s unsurprising in some sense that we have been unsuccessful, just as many others have.”
The Richmond Fed currently employs approximately 30 Ph.D. economists — highly coveted positions that are recruited on a yearly basis across the Federal Reserve system. Athreya compares the recruiting process to “speed dating,” as candidates participate in numerous interviews and presentations before banks deliberate about hirings.
“It’s wildly competitive,” Athreya says.
But during the past four years, the Richmond Fed, which also encompasses the Baltimore and Charlotte, North Carolina, metropolitan areas, has made a more conscious effort to hire more research assistants from diverse backgrounds and intensify its internal mentorship programs with prospective Ph.D. students. The Richmond Fed has worked to recruit more undergraduate economics students from historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs), especially Howard University and North Carolina A&T.
The goal of the research assistant programs is to equip successful undergraduate economics students with the skills they need to be successful in an economics Ph.D. program. During the past few years, the Richmond Fed has been focused on creating a more formalized mentorship program that provides help with career planning and opportunities for co-authorship and research presentations.
“It’s really about reassuring them that, ‘Yes, you belong in this world very much, and you should never think otherwise,’” says Athreya. “But that happens only through building experiences. Otherwise it’s just talk.”
Currently, Ph.D. economists are heavily white or Asian across the 12 Fed branches. Across the whole system of 870 Ph.D. economists, 625 are white, 146 are Asian, 82 are Hispanic or Latino and only 11 are Black, according to figures published by The New York Times. Six of the Ph.D. economists identify themselves as two or more races, non-Hispanic.
“The long game is the only game in town, and we’ve got to be sure that pipelines at every relevant institution like the Fed are doing their little bit,” Athreya says. “And then we have to be patient. I don’t think that every one of us can solve this problem instantly. And that’s sad, but it’s also reality.”