Michael Wiseman

Michael Wiseman

Research Professor
Address: MPA Building, Room 608
805 21st Street NW
Washington, District Of Columbia
Phone: 202-994-8625
Fax: 202-994-8913
[email protected]

In Memory of Michael Wiseman, Ph.D.
1944 - 2020

View CV

Michael Wiseman was Research Professor of Public Policy, Public Administration, and Economics at GW. He previously held tenured appointments in economics at the University of California at Berkeley and in public policy at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. 

The three-department span of Professor Wiseman’s GW appointment reflected his interest, as an economist, in both the development of public policy and its management, including evaluation.

In recent years he served as a consultant on evaluation for several states, the US Social Security Administration’s Office of Retirement and Disability Policy, the Office of Family Assistance in the Administration for Children and Families of the US Department of Health and Human Services, the Economic Research Service of the US Department of Agriculture, the European Commission, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, the UK Department for Work and Pensions, and various non-governmental organizations engaged in evaluation work.

He was an affiliated scholar with the Institute for Research on Poverty at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.  He taught the graduate “Poverty and Social Policy” course for GW's Trachtenberg School of Public Policy and Public Administration.

Current Research

Supplemental Nutrition Assistance and Unemployment Insurance in the Great Recession

The “Great Recession” of 2007-2009 generated massive unemployment.  For many workers, unemployment insurance (UI) benefits cushioned the effects of job loss on consumption, but many workers are not eligible for UI and earnings replacement rates for those eligible are low.  Moreover, despite unprecedented extensions of available UI benefits for those eligible, large numbers of recipients exhausted their maximum available benefits before finding new jobs.  Many applied for and received Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits.  In this project Michael Wiseman is working with investigators for six states and colleagues in the USDA Economic Research Service to study the interaction of UI and SNAP programs before, during, and after the Great Recession.  The research is unique in that for each state UI and SNAP administrative data are matched to create exceptionally reliable information on the distribution and timing of SNAP take-up among UI recipients.  Results have been presented at various meetings; the overall report will be published in 2015 as a book.

Supplemental Security Income for Children

Supplemental Security Income (SSI) is the most important component of public assistance for American families with disabled children.  Like disability-related assistance for working-age adults, SSI-for-children caseloads have increased substantially in recent years.  This has occurred despite a lack of apparent change in the prevalence of disabilities among children generally.  Analysts have pointed to many factors as likely contributors to caseload growth, including diminished family incomes, the decline in the real value of alternative sources of support such as Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), and state efforts to promote transfer to SSI of children (and adults) from other programs that involve more state costs.  In this project Michael Wiseman is working with Erica Harbatkin of SRI, Inc. to model the determinants of the demand for and supply of SSI for children and to study the sources of variation across states in take-up of SSI for potentially eligible children.  Preliminary results suggest that part of the variation is the consequence of differences in state strategies for promoting SSI access, and that these difference persist.  Once complete, the results will be used to assess the merits of various SSI reform proposals.

Poverty in the US and the UK:  Relative Measurement and Relative Achievement

By the government’s official measure, 18 percent of children in the United States were living in poor families in 2007. By 2010 the rate was 22 percent.  In contrast, the official poverty rate in the United Kingdom was 23 percent for 2007/2008 (the fiscal year beginning April 1, 2007); by 2010/2011 it had fallen five percentage points, to 18 percent.  Thus on face the circumstances of children moved in opposite directions in the two countries.  Movement in the general population poverty rates was similar:  Both countries experienced the Great Recession.  Between 2007 and 2010 the unemployment rate in the US rose from 4.6 to 9.6 percent; the unemployment rate in the UK from 5.3 to 7.8 percent.  The difference is the product of a combination of policy and measurement.  This work, done jointly with Trachtenberg graduate student Tyler Rockey, focuses on the measurement side and contrasts approaches to poverty assessment and recent innovations in poverty assessment in the two countries.  Rockey and Wiseman produce unique estimates of what the prevalence of poverty would be in the US were assessment done the British way.  A first paper on this work was presented in August 2014 at the annual workshop of the National Association for Welfare Research and Statistics.

The Impact of Mobility Mentoring®

Many evaluations of programs intended to improve family well-being show positive effects for a few—often a minority—of participants but little or no consequence for many.  The recent book Scarcity:  Why Having Too Little Means So Much by Sendhil Mullainathan and Eldar Shafir has drawn attention to the consequences of poverty for people’s ability to manage and plan.  These authors and others have used ideas drawn from what is broadly termed “brain science” to develop strategies for offsetting poverty effects and aiding low-income adults in taking advantage of opportunities for advancement.  The Mobility Mentoring® (MM) program developed by the Crittenton Women’s Union is brain-science linked and has a credible record of accomplishment.  However, to date no rigorous evaluation of MM impacts has been conducted.  As consultant to MDRC, Inc., a respected national evaluation organization, Michael Wiseman is working with MDRC and CWU personnel on a randomized trial of MM impact.  Major foundation funding has been secured, and implementation is tentatively set for early 2015.

The Human Services Research Initiative Prize

Tom Gais, the Director of the Rockefeller Institute of Government of the State University of New York, and Michael Wiseman are promoting the establishment of a program of prizes for exceptional state and local government effort to incorporate research in the management of human services.  The prize is to be awarded to local and state government agencies for well-developed plans for undertaking rigorous evaluations of alternative strategies for carrying out common public functions.  The intent of the program is to draw public attention to and thus encourage inexpensive yet serious impact analyses closely connected to the routine operations of public agencies.  Gais and Wiseman believe that such analyses are essential for improving the evidence base for government innovation.  The program is designed as well to enhance the capacity of state agencies for conducting experiments and engaging with local experts and with peers in other states in investigation of matters of common interest.  A concept paper is available; a related analysis with co-authors Mike Fishman (MEF Associates) and Jim Manzi (Applied Predictive Technologies) will be presented at the 2014 meetings of the Association for Public Policy and Management.

Misreporting of Supplemental Nutrition Assistance in the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES)

The National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) is a premier information source for study of the health of Americans.  The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly FSP, the Food Stamp Program) is the nation’s largest nutrition-oriented social assistance program.  Ideally, the combination of other nutrition and health information about NHANES respondents with information on receipt of nutrition assistance would support study of the targeting and effectiveness of SNAP.  However, the utility of NHANES as a source of information on use and consequences of SNAP is diminished if survey respondents fail to report receipt accurately.  In this project Michael Wiseman and co-investigator John A. Kirlin of the US Department of Agriculture compare estimates of national SNAP participation and benefits derived from the NHANES with administrative totals and investigate the pattern of under- and over-reporting of SNAP receipt by NHANES respondents in a pilot study that matched NHANES data for Texas to that state’s program administrative files.  A report on the project will be released in fall 2014 after release by the National Center for Health Statistics.  

Selected Publications

Activation and Reform in the United States:  What Time Has Told” (with Theresa Anderson and Katharine Kairys).  In Ivar Lødemel and Amilcar Moreira, editors, Activation or Workfare?  Governance and Neo-Liberal Convergence.  Oxford University Press, 2014 (in press). 

“Getting it Right, or at Least Better:  Misreporting of Food Stamp Receipt in the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey” (with John A. Kirlin)  Paper presented at the 34th Annual Fall Research Conference of the Association for Public Policy Analysis and Management, Baltimore, Maryland, November 8-11, 2012 (revised 2014).

Doing Process Analysis Better.  Monograph prepared for the Office of Policy, U.S. Social Security Administration under contract HHSP23320095635WC.  September 2012; revised August 2013. 

The Path to the Prize:  Two Perspectives on Counter-Factual Evaluation.”  Talk given at 8th Evaluation Conference, Ministry of Regional Development, Polish Agency for Enterprise Development, “Evaluation in the System of Public Policies,” Warsaw, Poland 12-13 November 2012. 

The Design and Commissioning of Counterfactual Impact Evaluations:  A Practical Guidance for ESF Managing Authorities (with Stephen Morris and Herta Shönhofer).  Monograph prepared for the European Commission Directorate-General for Employment, Social Affairs and Inclusion under contract VC/2011/702.  October 2012. 

“Financial Performance Incentives” (with Steve Wandner).  In Douglas Besharov and Phoebe Cottingham, editors, The Workforce Investment Act: Implementation Experiences and Evaluation Findings.  Kalamazoo, Michigan:  Upjohn Institute for Employment Research, 2011.

Supplemental Security Income for the Second Decade,” Poverty & Public Policy, 3(1), 2011, article 6.