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Who is Janet Yellen?

Anastasia Santoreneos
·3-min read
Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen smiles at the Federal Reserve's ninth biennial Community Development Research Conference focusing on economic mobility in Washington April 2, 2015. More research is needed to understand what policies allow people to move up the economic ladder and what holds them back, Yellen said on Thursday, returning to a controversial topic for the U.S. central bank. REUTERS/Yuri Gripas
Who is Janet Yellen? Source: Getty

President-elect of the United States, Joe Biden, has picked former Federal Reserve chair Janet Yellen to be the US treasury secretary.

Yellen served as the first female chair of the Federal Reserve between 2014 and 2018, after serving more than three years as vice chair before that. She served out her full four-year term, but was not reappointed by President Donald Trump.

If confirmed by the Senate, Yellen will be the first woman in history to lead the US Treasury Department.

But who is Janet Yellen?

74-year-old Yellen was born into a Polish-Jewish family in New York, and she had academic rigour from the get-go.

She graduated from Fort Hamilton High School as valedictorian, and graduated from Ivy league college, Brown University, with an economics degree in 1967.

She then received a PhD in economics from Yale University six years later. Yellen has consistently maintained an active voice on unemployment issues, with her university dissertation actually titled Employment, Output and Capital Accumulation in an Open Economy. Throughout her career, her primary focus has continued to be labour markets.

Yellen also appeared on the Forbes’ Powerful Women and Powerful People list in 2016, coming in at 3rd and 6th respectively.

What has Janet Yellen done?

The Treasury secretary-to-be has been breaking the glass ceiling for decades.

President Obama picked her as the first woman to lead the Fed in 2014, but it wasn’t the first time politicians wanted her on side: Yellen served as head of the Council of Economic Advisers to the 42nd US President, Bill Clinton.

Under her term in the Fed, unemployment fell more than under any other Fed chair since World War II – it was 6.7 per cent when she began, and 4.1 per cent when she left. According to the Washington Post, former colleagues describe her as “Mary Poppins”; firm, but kind.

In a 1995 interview, Yellen, a self-proclaimed Democrat, said: “I consider myself a pragmatic, mainstream economist with a strong policy orientation.”

Before entering the governmental sphere, Yellen was a professor at the University of California from 1985 until 2006. During her time as professor however, she served as Federal Reserve Board Governor from 1994 to 1997, and again from 2010 to 2018.

“I have spent most of my professional life teaching and conducting research on labor markets and international issues in academic settings and also, for a time, as an economist in the Division of International Finance here at the Board,” she said.

What will she do as Treasury Secretary?

Yellen has been vocal about calling for more economic stimulus during the pandemic, telling the Washington Post in August that she was “particularly concerned about the fact that quite a few, especially low-income workers, stand to suffer permanent job losses”.

Policy strategist at US investment company Stifel, Brian Gardner, told clients in a note that Yellen was “a traditional left-of-center economist who will likely push for more stimulus”.

Regardless, it is clear that Biden is sending a strong message when it comes to equality in the workforce.

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