Meet the Roosevelters: Lauren Melodia
June 9, 2022
Our “Meet the Roosevelters” blog series seeks to give fresh insight into the people behind the Roosevelt Institute: our research interests, personal stories, and what drives us in our work.
Lauren Melodia joined the Roosevelt Institute in March 2021. As Deputy Director of Macroeconomic Analysis, she provides research and data analysis on fiscal and monetary policy, unemployment, and growth to support the think tank’s portfolio of work. Her Roosevelt publications include the issue briefs “Reimagining Full Employment: 28 Million More Jobs and a More Equal Economy” and “Rethinking Inflation Policy: A Toolkit for Economic Recovery,” as well as the recently released “Energy Price Stability: The Perils of Fossil Fuels and the Promise of Renewables.” Lauren’s expertise and viewpoints on full employment, economic potential, and justice are sought after, with recent appearances before the US Joint Economic Committee and the House Financial Services Committee, as well as the publication of her essays on the state of the American economy in the Washington Post, The Nation, and Ms. Magazine.
Prior to joining Roosevelt, Lauren worked at the crossroads of economic justice and criminal justice reform. She organized a successful campaign to end New York’s exploitative prison telephone contract and built a statewide coalition to end rural New York’s economic dependence on the prison industry. She then worked in regional economic development, advocating and building consensus for infrastructure projects to create and maintain jobs in rural areas. Lauren grew up in Seattle, WA, and holds a BS in foreign service from Georgetown University and an MA in economics from CUNY John Jay College.
Lauren, what brought you to Roosevelt in this moment?
The COVID-19 pandemic opened up a lot of opportunities to talk about macroeconomic theory and policy choices—how should the government support people in times of economic crisis and recovery? The Roosevelt Institute was creating space to wrestle with these questions and their impacts on people’s daily lives. One of the people conducting research on these topics is J.W. Mason, a fellow with the Macroeconomic Analysis department here, who I studied with at John Jay College. This moment and J.W.’s work drew me into the Roosevelt Institute.
How does your background in movement building and criminal justice reform inform your work?
I spent many years working with prison families and currently and formerly incarcerated people to end mass incarceration. The people I worked with face some of the greatest labor market discrimination in our society and are largely left out of the equation of what full employment means in this country. These relationships are front and center to how I approach the topic of full employment and macroeconomics. So many people were left out of the economy before the pandemic, when the US was experiencing some of its strongest economic conditions in decades. Our goal now should not be to get back to the economy we had before the pandemic, but to create the macroeconomic policies and conditions that push beyond to a more inclusive and equal economy.
What drew you to specialize in macroeconomics?
Some of the biggest policy and social change demands of our time—from ending carbon pollution to ending poverty—require government investment. Those investments are only possible if there is a shift in macroeconomic theory and policy that is reflective of reality—how our economy truly operates—and not unsubstantiated, textbook theory. I wanted to put my energy toward building an evidence-based understanding of macroeconomics and the importance of fiscal policy, because those ideas are often foundational to achieving progressive social change.
You often field questions about inflation from reporters and policymakers. What is your bottom-line message on how to handle inflationary pressures in 2022? And what is the question you wish reporters would focus on?
There is a ton of evidence that inflation over the past year is coming from a lot of different sources—some related to the pandemic, others to long-standing problems in our economy. This is not to be confused with the economy spiraling out of control. Rather, this is an opportunity to make some structural changes to our economy and make investments that have been sorely needed for too long. However, I believe reporters are focusing too much on how the number changes from month to month and, therefore, the desire for a quick solution. I wish they would focus on the causes more and on the monthly numbers (out of context) less. There are plenty of actions Congress can take today to shift the structure of our economy in ways that will have long-lasting, meaningful effects on people’s experiences with prices in our economy. But if reporters are fixated on this as a monetary policy issue only, then they are steering the conversation away from many solutions.
How have your family, community, and upbringing shaped your professional and personal choices?
When my mom became a single parent, she had to figure out how to take care of my sister and me and make a living. She ended up running a child care center in our home my entire childhood. Her business was the backbone of our local economy, because she made it possible for other parents, especially those who didn’t have the option to have a family member stay at home with children, to go to work. Growing up inside a child care center and a female-led household made me connect with feminist theory and activism very early in life. It also led me on my career path to be of service to my community, to play a role in making visible the invisible in our society, and to be critical of and demand changes to our social and economic structures when they don’t serve people equally.
What book should policymakers be reading right now?
For those who haven’t already read and signed it, I’d recommend House Resolution 109 – Recognizing the Duty of the Federal Government to Create a Green New Deal. It’s a very quick read, and policymakers can just sign the last page of it when they’re done reading it and help move it forward.
I’d also recommend the book Worked Over: How Round-the-Clock Work Is Killing the American Dream by sociologist Jamie McCallum. It’s a chilling account of America right before the pandemic—when people were working too much or too many part-time jobs and still not making ends meet. It’s a reminder that we have to do better than getting the economy back to 2019 employment levels—we need to transform our relationship to work and the power dynamics in the economy. If anything, the experiences of the pandemic should help us to create permanent safety nets and protections for people and their families, so that we can do better than the period of time McCallum writes about in this book.
Looking ahead at the policy landscape of 2022 and beyond, what opportunities and threats do you see on the horizon?
I think the biggest threats to an inclusive and democratic economy are the ideologies of white nationalism and white supremacy. And I think the only way to counter these unconscionable and destructive ideas is changing the structures of our economy, so that the wealth we all collectively create is shared by everyone and people’s basic needs are met universally.
What gives you hope?
The tremendous amount of union organizing happening in the US makes me hopeful. I hope that energy and that shop-floor organizing can generate a web of collective action to push for some larger policy changes and economic transformations that our society desperately needs and that politics-as-usual has been unable to achieve.