Meet the Scholars: Katherine Gutierrez
Katherine Gutierrez is a PhD student in Economics at the University of New Mexico. She is a part of the Health Policy Research Scholars Cohort 2017.
Before we begin, tell us a little bit about yourself and what your research interests are.
My name is Katie, and I’m a third-year doctoral student in Economics at the University of New Mexico. I grew up in a rural area outside of Albuquerque, New Mexico, in a historic Hispaño community where my family has lived and farmed for generations. My research interests are mostly at the intersection of health and public economics—grocery taxes, food insecurity, federal food assistance programs, and policy evaluation (natural experiments for the win!)—and I’ve recently started work on higher education policy in New Mexico.
What’s the story behind why you’re doing what you’re doing?
I grew up in rural New Mexico and saw the real-life consequences of inequities (racial/ethnic, economic, social, etc.) in my community. My grandfather spoke Spanish as a first language but didn’t teach my dad (and so my dad couldn’t teach me or my brother) because of the stigma against Spanish speakers; my lived experience reflects some of the trauma my community has experienced. During undergrad, I worked with elementary school students in an after-school program located just outside of Albuquerque’s International District. Many of the children had difficult home lives, experienced hunger, and didn’t have the support or resources that would have made it easier for them to succeed.
New Mexico is a wonderfully diverse and beautiful state, but our history of double colonization and a federal disinterest in our Hispanic and Native American majority population have resulted in us ranking last or second to last in most development and well-being indicators. I see unique strengths in my community, so I am excited to be learning about tools to put policies into action!
Tell us about a project you are currently working on that you are excited about?
I’ve just started to examine the effects of policy changes to the New Mexico Legislative Lottery Scholarship, a low-bar scholarship program that pays some of the students’ tuition at New Mexican public higher education institutions. I went to undergrad on the Lottery Scholarship, so it’s close to my heart. I want to help my state make smart education policy that allows people—people who wouldn’t otherwise have had the opportunity or who would have had to take on massive amounts of debt—to pursue higher education.
For people unfamiliar with your research area, what is one piece of information you think is important for them to know?
A lot of people ask why I study food insecurity in the United States—don’t programs like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) prevent it? Actually, federal food assistance falls short of meeting the needs of most recipients, and only about one-third of food insecure people in the nation are income ineligible to receive food assistance benefits. Forty million people in the nation are food insecure, and it doesn’t have to be that way.
Who is a researcher you admire and why?
I especially admire economists who have gone against the formerly status quo free-market focus in economics. Some examples that spring to mind are labor economists working on minimum wage and worker well-being (Alice Evans, Arindrajit Dube, William Lester, and Alan Krueger, among many) and economists working on racial and gender inequities (Darrick Hamilton, Sandy Darity, Kate Bahn), antitrust enforcement (Marshall Steinbaum), class and income inequality (Joseph Stiglitz, Thomas Piketty, Richard Wolff, and many others), tax policy (Dina Pomeranz), or similar topics.
How has being an HPRS Scholar helped you during your time as a doctoral candidate?
HPRS has helped in so many ways, some of which I’m sure I am not even aware of yet. The first thing that comes to mind is that I could not have passed my qualifying exams without their support. I love being part of a group of passionate and driven researchers, and the support provided by my cohort has been invaluable in navigating my program and academia in general.
The training I’ve received in HPRS has helped me come into my own as a researcher. Thinking deliberately about my role in and future contributions to my field, as well as how to disseminate my research, has made it easier to plan my PhD work and academic trajectory in a way that is not only meaningful to me but workable for what I want to do career-wise.
I have already put some of the techniques for effective interdisciplinary work into practice with my work on a National Institute on Aging grant at the University of New Mexico Center for Social Policy, and I plan to submit my op-ed on grocery taxes to local newspapers!
In the RWJF HPRS program we have worked with you to help you think further about using your research to develop policy. If you could use your research to change any policy, what policy would it be?
I think there is a lot of low-hanging fruit with respect to food policy. The impacts on health would be large—we know that food security is associated with higher fruit and vegetable consumption, higher self-rated health, and many other aspects of health (and education effects, as well). One policy I would especially like to see is the elimination of grocery taxes on food. Six states currently tax food purchased at the grocery store. There is also a lot of room for SNAP reform. A few relatively easy changes I would encourage include making it easier to apply for and receive SNAP, increasing benefit amounts and the income eligibility threshold, standardizing application processes and requirements across states, and better dissemination of information on eligibility and potential benefits.
OK, here’s a fun question to wrap things up. If you could visit any place in the world, where would you choose to go and why?
This is a dangerous question to ask me—I have a never-ending list! If I had to choose one, I think it would be Iran. I studied Farsi for several semesters and would love to put it to use and see such a beautiful and historically rich place!
Thank you so much for your time!