In Memoriam: Eugene Smolensky, 1932 – 2023

January 4, 2024

The Russell Sage Foundation mourns the passing of noted economist Eugene “Geno” Smolensky on December 17, 2023, at the age of 91. Smolensky was emeritus professor of economics at the Goldman School of Public Policy at the University of California, Berkeley, where he served as dean from 1988 to 1997. Previously, he was professor of economics and director of the Institute for Research on Poverty at the University of Wisconsin, as well as a faculty member in the departments of economics at the University of Chicago and Haverford College. He also served in both the Carter and Clinton administrations. Smolensky served on the RSF board of trustees from 1994 to 2004.
Smolensky was a public finance economist and leader in the study of poverty, income distribution, and social welfare programs. His pathbreaking 1977 book (with Morgan Reynolds), Public Expenditures, Taxes, and the Distribution of Income: The United States, 1950, 1961, 1970, provided the first detailed look at income inequality over time that took into account the benefits and burdens of government expenditures and taxes at all levels. His other publications analyzed homelessness, measures of poverty, discrimination against minorities, immigration and poverty, and the challenges of childcare, family work policies, and low incomes in working families. 
Geno was much beloved by his students, fellow faculty, and other personal and professional colleagues for his humor, decency, and wisdom. He was elected a fellow of both the National Academy of Social Insurance and the National Academy of Public Administration. He was vice president of the International Institute of Public Finance, and editor of the Journal of Human Resources. He was an advisor to numerous organizations, including the World Bank, the U.S. Social Security Administration, the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare, and the National League of Cities. 

RSF president Sheldon Danziger says of Smolensky, “I was one of scores of young scholars whose careers were influenced by Geno’s mentorship. He was kind, critical, modeled academic integrity, and helped me publish my first journal article when I was a postdoc at the Institute for Research on Poverty. We went on to publish about 20 articles together. His humorous comments, concern for the future of social science and devotion to policy-relevant research will be missed.”
Smolensky received his BA from Brooklyn College and his Ph.D. in economics from the University of Pennsylvania. He was predeceased by his beloved wife, Natalie Joan Rabinowitz Smolensky, and is survived by children Paul Smolensky and Beth Smolensky; daughter-in-law Géraldine Legendre; grandson Josh Legendre Smolensky and spouse Megan Ulsh Smolensky; nephew Matthew Rabin; and great-grandaughters Chloe Noelle Smolensky and Claire Natalie Smolensky. RSF extends its deepest sympathy to Smolensky’s family for their loss.

Read Smolensky’s obituary at U.C. Berkeley’s Goldman School of Public Policy


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