George E. Johnson, emeritus professor of economics, died March 30, 2010 at the age of seventy in Washington, D.C. Johnson attended the Babson Institute where he earned a Bachelor of Science in 1960. He then attended San Francisco State College and the University of California, Berkeley, where he earned his Doctorate in 1966. Professor Johnson joined the faculty at the University of Michigan as assistant professor in 1966 and was promoted through the ranks to professor in 1975. He was a visiting scholar at the Labor and Industrial Relations Section of Princeton University and also studied emerging labor markets as a visiting fellow at the University of Nairobi. While on leave from the University, Professor Johnson served as the Director of the Office of Evaluation in the U.S. Department of Labor in 1973-74, and as a Senior Staff Economist on the Council of Economic Advisers in 1977-78.

During his professional career, Professor Johnson wrote widely cited papers on a range of policy-related topics. His earliest work focused on labor unions, including important papers on strikes and on the effects of unions on the wages of both union members and other workers. He then studied returns to schooling, emphasizing school quality as well as number of years completed. Another series of papers looked at lifetime earnings among academics, and promotion patterns of female faculty. In other work, he assessed the potential impact of more sweeping affirmative action proposals and cautioned that standard estimates of the effects of job-retraining may overstate their true benefits. More recently, he turned his attention to the growing wage inequality and declining real wages of those at the bottom of the wage distribution, studying the consequences of both technical change and increased international trade. In recognition of his many contributions to the field of labor economics, he was elected a fellow of the Society of Labor Economists in 2006.

During his years at Michigan, Professor Johnson taught courses in macroeconomics, human resource policy, benefit-cost analysis and policy modeling, as well as graduate courses in labor economics and human capital. Several thousand undergraduates took his introductory course in macroeconomics, and many went on to major in economics. His wry sense of humor was always present and lifted the spirits of colleagues and staff and was especially appreciated on cloudy winter days.

-Linda Tesar, Chair, Department of Economics