Robert J. LaLonde, pioneering scholar, beloved colleague and mentor, 1958-2018

Robert J. LaLonde, AB’80, was a passionate scholar whose pioneering methods continue to impact public policy and economics. But colleagues will remember the professor at the University of Chicago Harris School of Public Policy as a beloved friend and mentor whose dedication and enthusiasm inspired faculty, students and alumni.

LaLonde, who died Jan. 17 at age 59 following a long illness, was a leading scholar in the fields of labor economics, econometrics and program evaluation, and made important contributions to research on workplace issues, education and the economic effects of immigration. A UChicago faculty member for three decades, LaLonde is perhaps best known as director of the PhD program at Harris Public Policy, serving on 21 dissertation committees at Harris, as well as committees for the Department of Economics and the Booth School of Business. 

“Bob left an indelible mark on this institution and the lives of so many people over the decades he spent at the University. Today, we grieve a beloved colleague, mentor, teacher and adviser,” wrote Dean Katherine Baicker in a note to the Harris community.  

LaLonde’s research spanned topics of program evaluation, education and training of the workforce, economic effects of immigration in the United States, costs of worker displacement, impact of unions and collective bargaining in the United States, and economic and social consequences of incarceration.

“Bob’s work changed the way we all approach research and how we understand the world. But more than that, he was the type of decent and kind person that parents want their kids to be when they grow up,” said Michael Greenstone, the Milton Friedman Professor in Economics, the College and Harris.

Deeply concerned about issues of inequality in America, LaLonde studied job training programs targeted toward the disadvantaged, the plight of women in Illinois prisons and their children, and the employment prospects of young men after they are paroled from prison.

“Bob was an integral part of the labor economics community at the University of Chicago. His work on the earnings losses of displaced workers has been hugely influential to both academics and policymakers,” said Erik Hurst, the V. Duane Rath Professor of Economics at Chicago Booth.

Hurst called LaLonde, whom he got to know on the Little League fields on the South Side, “an integral member of the Hyde Park community.” LaLonde’s commitment to community issues was reflected in his service on the board of Public/Private Ventures, a national nonprofit organization working to improve the effectiveness of social policies, programs and community initiatives.

“Bob LaLonde was my colleague, coauthor and loyal friend for over 30 years,” said Robert Topel, the Sidore Brown and Gladys J. Brown Distinguished Service Professor at Chicago Booth. “He was an outstanding economist, with a number of important contributions, but an even better husband and father. His service to the University, which became a struggle in later years, was unsurpassed.”

The far-reaching influence of LaLonde’s work has been chronicled by academic journals, most recently through a series of essays published in his honor by the Journal of Labor Economics. To honor his contributions to economics, a conference was held two years ago at the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago. LaLonde served as a fellow at the National Bureau of Economic Research and the Institute for the Study of Labor, as well as a senior staff economist at the Council of Economic Advisers from 1987-1988.

LaLonde is survived by his wife, Laura Skosey, a lecturer in the Department of East Asian Languages and Civilizations at UChicago; and their children, Elena Skosey-LaLonde, Eve Skosey-LaLonde and Julian Skosey-LaLonde; his father Robert T. LaLonde; his siblings and their familes: Judith LaLonde and Peter Bodine and children Adam, Daniel and Benjamin Bodine; Mary LaLonde and Dan Nourie and children Luke and Colette Nourie; Jane LaLonde and Steve Bottega; Suzanne LaLonde and Joe Romano and children Marc and Marie Romano; Jerome LaLonde and Melissa Young; Tom LaLonde and Julie Zito and children Kathryn and Alex LaLonde. He is also survived by his mother- and father-in-law, Connie and John Skosey, and brothers in-law and their families Lyle and Louise Skosey, Peter Skosey and Mellody Bose Skosey and children Nikki and Erik Bose, and Bryn Skosey. LaLonde was predeceased by his mother Suzanne D. LaLonde.

A spring service on campus is being planned. The family asks that anyone wishing to make donations in LaLonde’s honor to please consider CurePSP or UChicago’s College Fund.