PPA Research Associate II Craig Van Vliet is a numbers guy. His quantitative skills include data management, survey design, and regression analysis. His number-crunching brings PPA clients a deeper understanding to how policies work, and whether they treat people equitably. His curiosity always presents him with new research questions to study. Mr. Van Vliet has a bachelor’s degree with a double minor in statistics and mathematics from Grand Valley State University, and a master’s degree in economics with an emphasis on econometrics from Wayne State University. His interdisciplinary work experience includes the areas of medicine, banking, research, sociology, and economics. We talked to him about his experience and interests.

How did you become interested in public policy?

I have always been interested in government and governance. Public policy impacts everyone and has its fingers in everything―a little bit of economics, politics, sociology, and anthropology. All the social sciences come together to meet at public policy. I like getting into the weeds of things and learning about the processes and mechanisms of how things work. There are a lot of weeds to get into with public policy research, tiny different levers you can pull that can make big impacts.

What appeals to you about quantitative research?

I am really particular about details. With quantitative research, there are a lot of ways you can slice the data, and it tells a story of its own with its own little details. I deal with administrative data, which comes from the source. It eliminates some of the bias that can exist in survey data, where people don’t always tell the truth. With administrative data, you get into what actually happened. Another thing I Iike about quantitative research are the ways we can adapt the scientific method. It is impossible to control for all the variables, but we can use mathematics and statistics to do our best to almost get to causal relationships.

What policy areas are you working on at PPA?

I work on everything other than criminal justice. The areas I mostly focus on right now are early education, child care, and workforce, but I have also worked on healthy communities and economic development. As PPA gets more and more housing projects, I’m getting involved in that, because it was a major emphasis in my graduate and undergraduate studies. I got my degrees in economics, but housing was a big focus in my thesis and course work.

What is the most interesting or rewarding project you have worked on at PPA?

I am wrapping up a project on the national usage of the child care subsidy. The federal government’s Child Care Development Fund is a giant pool of money that goes to the states, which distribute the money to subsidize child care payments for needy families. In this project, I had to create estimates for the number of children eligible in each state and each state has its own rules and regulations. In the past decade, there has been a shift in child care services from home-based providers to large child care centers. We are looking at whether that growth of child care centers has disproportionately hurt Black and Hispanic families, and families in poverty. We’re using a lot of complicated and advanced methods to try to measure this, and I find that technical aspect of the project highly rewarding.

What do you enjoy doing outside of work?

A friend described me as a project guy because I make a lot of projects for myself. My partner and I bought a house last year, so we have been doing a lot of work on that. I have a lot of musical instruments, and I like to do music projects, like making silly songs. I like messing with computers, so I have been working on a home server lately. I’m a huge math and data guy, so I’ve been doing stats projects. My partner and I go to a lot of movies, and it seems like every trailer lately has been a thriller. So, I got access to a movie database and am looking at trends in the types of movies being made. I also think data transparency and access is very important, so I’ve been trying to find take publicly available data that is hard to obtain or obscured and repackage it in a cleaner more accessible way.