McCormack Speaks

Public Policy Graduate Studies Roma Experiences in Serbian Labor Market, Earns Dissertation Award


Marija Bingulac, PhD

Marija Bingulac, PhD

The Romani people face numerous challenges in Serbia including disproportionately high rates of unemployment, poverty, and discrimination. They are 8 times more likely than non-Roma to live in absolute poverty. More than 60% of the Romani people are unemployed. Some 65% percent live in settlements without access to safe drinking water and 77% are without a sewage system; 26% do not have access to electricity.

Recent McCormack graduate Marija Bingulac (PhD, Public Policy) conducted research focused on measuring labor-market discrimination and hiring practices that create major barriers to gainful employment for the Romani. “The policy suite that Serbia pursued over the past ten years failed to produce a desired level of educational inclusion or a rise in the economic situation of the Roma citizens. Roma deprivation persists, in large part, because labor-market participation barriers have not been sufficiently investigated or addressed,” Bingulac explains.

She was the first researcher to embark on quantifying a wage penalty for being a Roma person in Serbia. Before her research, the conventional wisdom was that Roma people chose to be poor and that discrimination does not exist. However, her research revealed and quantified a penalty in the labor market solely based on Roma race/ethnicity. She also found that, in addition to discrimination, health served as a major barrier to economic well-being, with low-income Roma experiencing multiple health issues at younger ages that rendered them incapable of working.

Bingulac’s research is key to inform proactive policy for advancing the well-being of the Romani people by bringing Roma voices back into the policy discussion at a crucial time in Serbia’s development.

Her dissertation co-chair Donna Haig Friedman agrees. “Marija’s research has immediate and long-term relevance for all these stakeholders and sectors of society and will no doubt have significant impacts in Serbia and elsewhere for Roma peoples who have been so excluded from and misunderstood by mainstream society.”

Our newly minted PhD notes, “Politically, the time is ripe for Romani inclusion to move from ineffective policy prescriptions to meaningful pathways to inclusion in Serbia. Namely, the European Union has especially large leverage on candidate countries, such as Serbia, to advance the plight of the Romani people.”

Chosen among 15 student peers, Marija Bingulac was awarded the Public Policy Dissertation Book Award at Commencement this year. Co-chairs Friedman and Erin O’Brien deemed her research as path-breaking and comprehensive, carried out with diligence, intelligence, and courage.

Bingulac was recently hired as the senior project manager of the On Solid Ground Coalition and a research associate at the Center for Social Policy where she works on participatory action research and projects related to poverty alleviation, cliff effects, and housing stability.

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