Jackson Lubke’s Window Into Housing Equity

The budding economics researcher studies gentrification, wealth economics, and the power of home ownership

In the United States, home ownership is often a precursor to financial security—and, for those who lack intergenerational wealth, this milestone is often out of reach.

Jackson Lubke, A23, wants to bridge this gap. As a Laidlaw Research Scholar, Lubke worked with Peter Levine, associate dean of academic affairs at the Jonathan M. Tisch College of Civic Life, and his Equity Research Group to examine intergenerational socio-economic movement. As a research assistant for economics professor Elizabeth Setren in the School of Arts and Sciences, he analyzed datasets pertaining to the METCO school integration program, wherein Boston students are bussed to schools beyond city borders. Now, he’s writing a thesis on the spillover effects from gentrifying neighborhoods, drawing on urban economics and equality-focused macroeconomic research.

What drives you?

For a long time, I’ve been interested in wealth inequality and how there are certain barriers to individuals—and often to entire communities—in the accumulation of wealth. At least in America, a major way of accumulating wealth historically has been through homeownership. Getting access to homeownership is very important. I’m interested in how the intersection of where you live and what you own predicts future economic opportunity and financial success.

I took a class last spring with Shomon Shamsuddin in the Urban and Environmental Planning Department. He’s an awesome professor on housing and inequality, and it really highlighted how important housing is as a determinant of economic success and how entire communities can be left behind through the realm of housing.

What’s the focus of your current research?

I find gentrification fascinating. I decided to look into the spillover effects from gentrification as a way to look at: How does gentrification spread? If a neighborhood gentrifies, what happens to the neighboring areas? I want to give policymakers reference points for what to expect so that we can understand it and combat it. One of my mentors is Jeffrey Zabel in the Economics Department. He’s my thesis adviser, and he pushed me in the right direction with data.

What sparked your passion for gentrification research?

I’ve been driven toward economic equity and opportunity most of my life. My mom was the daughter of Korean immigrants who came to this country with very little, and my dad was raised by a single mom who had multiple jobs and went to night school. She became a teacher and raised three kids in rural Minnesota. Hearing about how he struggled with housing insecurity—and seeing how that lack of housing security and the lack of accumulated wealth really affected how he grew up—has inspired me.

My parents worked hard to get to where they are, and that’s really awesome. At the same time, they were incredibly fortunate. There are lots of people who work just as hard as they do and weren’t able to see that success. I see my work as a scholar and an advocate—which I believe are two sides of the same coin—as trying to extend that opportunity, so that people who work hard don’t have to rely on luck for economic opportunity.

How do you hope to change the world?

I view my path as academic but policy oriented. I’m planning on getting an economics Ph.D. at some point after graduation and using it to answer questions about equity and empowerment that I think will bring a lot of social good. In much of my work and life, I try to remember what [lawyer and activist] Bryan Stevenson once said:  “The opposite of poverty is not wealth. The opposite of poverty is justice.’”

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