The Future of Inequality

A free, one-day conference to explore the causes and consequences of economic inequality

The USC Center for Economic and Social Research’s 5th anniversary conference

Event program


Rising economic inequality and changing labor markets can lead to anxiety about current and future financial security, frustration over working long hours for low wages, and doubts about the benefits of automation and globalization. Large segments of society do not have the skills needed to adapt to shifts in labor market opportunities, and so they may experience wage stagnation or even a precipitous drop in income, feel like an unproductive and/or disrespected member of society, and worry neither they nor their children have hope for economic stability or socioeconomic advancement. Economic inequality is both a cause and effect of differences in health and life expectancy, educational opportunities, and civic and political participation. Further, while economic inequality is increasing worldwide, its impacts vary widely across countries, such that understanding variations can provide insight into how best to address inequality’s sources and cope with its consequences.


This one-day conference brings together leading experts on inequality in the United States and worldwide to discuss the challenges and how policymakers and individuals can address and adapt to them. Click on any name to view the corresponding biography.

8:30 a.m. - 9 a.m. Arrival

9 a.m. - 9:15 a.m. Opening

Amber Miller, Dean of the Dornsife College of Letters Arts and Sciences, University of Southern California

9:15 a.m. - 9:30 a.m. The Future of Inequality Explained

Arie Kapteyn, Executive Director, CESR

This brief presentation sets the stage for the conference by introducing commonly-used inequality concepts and comparing trends across countries.

9:30 a.m. - 10:30 a.m. Session 1 – When It Comes to Your Health, Zip Code Matters More Than Your Genetic Code

Keynote: Anthony Iton, Senior Vice President for Healthy Communities, The California Endowment

Panel members: Ashlesha Datar, Donna Spruijt-Metz

Exploring the strength of the relationship between life expectancy and neighborhood, this presentation draws from analysis of thousands of death certificates and GIS mapping across seven cities and regions. We will discuss the implications of social determinants of health for United States health spending and population health management.

10:45 a.m. - 12:00 p.m.. Session 2 – Global Trends in Inequality and Well-Being

Keynote: Arie Kapteyn, Executive Director, CESR

Panel members: Margaret Gatz, Jinkook Lee

In this session we will discuss how inequality of income, health, and education may affect national well-being, what might be underlying mechanisms, and how inequality persists from one generation to the next.

12:00 p.m. - 1:00 p.m. Lunch Break

1:00 p.m. - 2:15 p.m. Session 3 – Inequality and Deaths of Despair

Keynote speakers: Anne Case, Emeritus Professor of Economics, Princeton University; Angus Deaton, Emeritus Professor of Economics, Princeton University and Presidential Professor of Economics, University of Southern California

Panel members: Dan Benjamin, Brian Finch

America’s century-long decline in midlife mortality among white non-Hispanics came to a halt a the beginning of the 21st century, even as mortality declines continued in other rich countries and in the U.S. among Hispanics and African-Americans. This presentation will present the facts and speculate about underlying causes, particularly regarding the long-term deterioration – even destruction – of the way of life of white, working-class Americans. Questions for consideration will include, “Is modern capitalism failing the large number of Americans who do not have a bachelor’s degree?” and “Which policies might help?”

2:15 p.m. - 3:30 p.m. Session 4 – New Work Arrangements

Keynote speaker: Alan Krueger, Professor of Economics, Princeton University

Panel members: Silvia Barcellos, Joanne Yoong

Rising inequality, declining labor power, standardization of work, and development of digital matching labor markets have drastically altered work relationships between employers and employees. Many also fear artificial intelligence and increased use of robots will lead to further changes in the nature of work in the future, and the erosion of traditional employer-employee relationships. This presentation will summarize what is known about the evolution of working relationships in the U.S. and around the world, the likely future course of work relationships, and popular policy proposals.

3:45 p.m. - 5:00 p.m. Session 5 – Educational Inequity and How to Prepare Future Generations for a Changing World

Keynote speaker: Paul Reville, Professor of Education, Harvard University

Panel members: Anna Saavedra, Juan Saavedra

Educational inequity begins at birth, as children born into wealthier households enjoy far more support and enrichment than do their less advantaged peers. The privileged receive, to name a few advantages, better nutrition, more health care, more early childhood education, more afterschool and summer learning opportunities than those growing up in economically disadvantaged households. These gaps affect children’s prospects for success in school and often are compounded by the stark differences between economically advantaged and disadvantaged students’ school experiences. The consequences of these gaps are not only disastrous for the less fortunate, but also threatening to our national prosperity. Though the accident of birth is a robust predictor of educational opportunities, there are strategies for weakening the strong association between socio-economic status and educational achievement/attainment. This presentation will describe inequity of children’s opportunities and educational outcomes, strategies for providing each child with a fair chance for success, and the case to policymakers and taxpayers for supporting investment in these approaches.

5:00 p.m. Closing and reception