From Gatton Graduate Student to Principal Economist at the U.S. Census Bureau

Transform Magazine Alumni Feature

In the fast-paced world of economics, there are stories that can sometimes stay under the radar. One such story belongs to Charles Hokayem, a dedicated applied microeconomist whose journey from graduate student to principal economist in the Center for Economic Studies at the U.S. Census Bureau is nothing short of inspiring.

In 2011, we introduced Hokayem as a promising PhD graduate student in our magazine. As a junior economist, he was passionately pursuing his interests in labor economics, applied econometrics, and poverty & inequality measurement. During his time at Gatton, his work and research for the University of Kentucky’s Center for Poverty Research was influential.

While an administrator with the Census Bureau, Hokayem also managed the Kentucky Research Data Center, part of the Federal Statistical Research Data Center network, which is housed inside the Gatton College of Business and Economics. This experience further enriched his knowledge and expertise, providing him with a broad understanding of federal data and how it can be used for research.

In 2021, while the world pandemic was looming, he was promoted to the chief of the Income Statistics Branch for the Census Bureau. That year, Hokayem led the team that puts together the income section of the Income and Poverty in the United States Report, a report that serves as the official source of national income, inequality, and poverty statistics. That report covered income from major assistance programs the government implemented during the pandemic, including the stimulus package households received.

“Most people don’t realize but the Income and Poverty Report, now two separate reports, is the most downloaded Census Bureau report. It garners the attention of a wide audience ranging from the general public to the national media and even the White House. The report really helped federal and state governments understand the impact of employment and income policies during the pandemic. For example, the first two rounds of stimulus payments lifted 11.7 million people out of poverty during the pandemic in 2020.”

Last year, Hokayem was promoted to principal economist in the Center for Economic Studies. He now leads projects joint with the IRS that are responsible for producing statistics on the use of two major federal tax programs — the Earned Income Tax Credit and Child Tax Credit. His work plays a pivotal role in providing the most current information for understanding the types of families participating in these programs and how to better shape policies so that the most number of people can benefit from them.

Throughout his time as a Census Bureau employee, he has maintained an active research agenda working collaboratively with Gatton Economics faculty members Chris Bollinger and Jim Ziliak. Their research has provided foundational knowledge on the integrity of household earnings information collected by the Census, and has been published in leading journals in economics and statistics.

Hokayem has not only lived up to the potential we saw in him, but exceeded it. In the realm of economics, his dedication to the field, his role in shaping U.S. income statistics, and his commitment to education reflect his unwavering passion for economics.


See the entire edition of Transform Magazine HERE