Ex-Obama aide, Princeton prof and labour economist Alan Krueger dies at 58

Alan Krueger. Photo: Twitter timeline of @Alan_Krueger
Princeton University economist Alan Krueger, who served as chairman of President Barack Obama’s Council of Economic Advisers and was one of the profession’s top experts on the labor market, has died. He was 58.

The New Jersey school announced his death on its website Monday. His family later issued a statement saying that Krueger took his own life. Police found Krueger inside his home on Saturday morning and he was later pronounced dead, said Sergeant Fred Williams, a spokesman for the Princeton Police Department.

Krueger, who had been a professor at Princeton since 1987, served in Obama’s White House from 2011 to 2013 after a stint as the Treasury Department’s assistant secretary for economic policy. In addition, he served as chief economist at the Labor Department for a year during President Bill Clinton’s administration.

“Over the weekend, America lost a brilliant economist, and many of us lost a dear friend,” Obama said in a statement. “He saw economic policy not as a matter of abstract theories, but as a way to make people’s lives better.”

Krueger’s research focused mainly on the labor market yet often managed to hit the key political and social debates of the day. He argued in the 1990s that increases in the minimum wage didn’t necessarily lead to job losses, using the experience of New Jersey fast-food restaurants. He introduced the notion of the “Great Gatsby Curve” to show links between wealth concentration and social mobility across generations.

More recently, as the opioid epidemic drew headlines, he detailed how nearly half of men age 25 to 54 and not in the labor force took pain medication every day. He suggested that was hurting participation in the workplace.

“Alan Krueger taught me about economic policy for more than two decades,” Harvard University professor Jason Furman, who succeeded Krueger as head of the CEA, said on Twitter. “His convincing empirical research on the most important questions is a lasting legacy. A devastating loss.”

Krueger delivered the luncheon address at last year’s prestigious policy symposium hosted by the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, where he discussed dwindling worker bargaining power and monetary policy.

His work also touched on pop culture, as in the early 2000s when he showed how concert tickets had surged in price and started to generate more revenues for performers than CD sales. Just last week his work was widely cited following the college admissions scandal in the U.S. He had previously concluded admittance to a top university typically benefited black and Hispanic households, and households with lower educational backgrounds, much more than other children.

“I would remember his creativity and fearlessness whether it was as a scholar taking on an issue or willing to go explore a part of a city when you were on a trip somewhere. He just had a gusto both for intellectual life and personally,” Lawrence Katz, a Harvard economics professor and co-author with Krueger on a number of papers. “There’s nothing I saw from him that didn’t suggest we’d be seeing decades and decades more of incredible work.”

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