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Signe-Mary McKernan
Vice President, Labor, Human Services, and Population
Center on Labor, Human Services, and Population
  • Profile
  • Outside Affiliations
  • We all need public and private safety nets to help us in tough times and to get ahead. Big changes are needed to reduce inequality and improve safety nets, but even small steps can create real improvements for today’s struggling families. I believe in the importance of nonpartisan research and love collaborating with the hundreds of Urban Institute experts to inform policy, programs, and the public. Wealth isn’t just for the wealthy. Wealth is where opportunity lies.

    Signe-Mary McKernan is vice president for labor, human services, and population at the Urban Institute. She is a national wealth and financial well-being expert with two decades of experience researching access to assets and credit and the impact of wealth-building programs and policies on family well-being. She coedited the book Asset Building and Low-Income Families, coauthored a chapter in the Oxford Handbook of the Economics of Poverty, and advised the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau in setting up its research unit.

    Before joining Urban in 1999, she was lead economist on credit issues at the Federal Trade Commission. She has been a visiting professor at Georgetown University and served on the US Financial Health Pulse Advisory Council, the SafetyNet CUNA Independent Advisory Board, and EPIC’s Consumer Debt Advisory Board.

    McKernan has extensive experience leading large projects and using rigorous econometric methods, randomized controlled trials, and administrative and survey data. Her research has been published in books, policy briefs, reports, and refereed journals including the Journal of Public Economics, American Economic Association Papers and ProceedingsDemography, and Review of Economics and Statistics. She has testified before Congress and the District of Columbia Council and been cited in media outlets such as the New York Times, the Washington PostForbes, and Time.

    Her consumer finance research includes credit health during the COVID-19 pandemic, debt, wealth disparities and solutions, matched savings accounts, financial products and services, and the alternative financial sector. She has a bachelor’s degree from the University of California, Berkeley, and a doctoral degree in economics from Brown University.

    Research Areas
    Wealth and financial well-being
    Social safety net
    Race and equity
    Taxes and budgets
    Economic mobility and inequality
    Inequality and mobility
    Community and economic development
    Racial barriers to accessing the safety net
    Asset and debts
    Credit availability
    Economic well-being
    Families with low incomes
    Family credit and debt
    Family savings
    Financial knowledge and capability
    Financial products and services
    Financial stability
    Racial and ethnic disparities
    Racial wealth gap
    Wealth inequality
    Financial Well-Being Data Hub
    Featured Work

    Outside Affiliations
    Financial Health Network
    US Financial Health Pulse Advisory Council
    Kijakazi Fellowship (NASI and Policy Academies)

    Urban experts are permitted and empowered to work and affiliate with outside organizations, whether serving on boards, volunteering their time, or providing advice and counsel. And Urban welcomes visiting scholars, nonresident or affiliated fellows who work for other organizations. These outside affiliations enrich our perspectives and our learning environment. We also require all paid and unpaid experts to disclose their affiliations to Urban leadership and follow rules governing their engagement to ensure transparency for audiences and independence of experts.