Janet Yellen: The first female U.S. Treasury Secretary
Jerome Powell succeeded Yellen as Fed chair in 2018
Janet Yellen, a battle-tested economist who helped navigate the U.S. recovery from the 2008 financial crisis as chairwoman of the Federal Reserve, has been confirmed as President Joe Biden's U.S. Treasury Secretary.
The Senate Finance Committee voted 84 to 15 making Yellen the first woman to lead the institution since it was established in 1789.
Yellen, 74, is no stranger to shattering glass ceilings: She was the first woman to serve as Federal Reserve chair, a role that she held from 2014 to 2018 after she was appointed by former President Barack Obama. She was confirmed to be Fed chair by a Senate vote of 56 to 26 (and 18 abstaining).
Before her time at the Fed, she served as the chair of the Council of Economic Advisors under former President Bill Clinton. Her appointment at Treasury makes her the first person to ever hold all three of the top economic posts in the Federal Government.
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During her tenure at the Fed, unemployment fell to 4.1% – a decline of 2.6 percentage points from when she started. Inflation remained below 2%.
A resounding majority of economists surveyed by the Wall Street Journal in 2017 gave her positive reviews, with 60% saying she deserved an "A" on her performance. Thirty percent gave her a "B."
After an early slip-up — during her first Fed press conference, she sent stock markets plunging when she said the U.S. might start raising interest rates six months after ending its bond purchasing program — she became known for always being prepared and carrying a thick binder of notes to news conferences.
Yellen also ushered in a new era of thinking about policy-making at the Fed. In 2011, when Yellen was serving as vice-chair of the U.S. central bank, inflation was well over the Fed's 2% target range — an occurrence that typically would have prompted policymakers to raise interest rates.
But with unemployment still high, Yellen encouraged the Fed to not overreact to what turned out to be a temporary blip.
In 2018, she was succeeded by then-Fed Governor Jerome Powell and would work closely with him in her new role, advising on the U.S. economic recovery from the coronavirus pandemic. She is the first Fed chair not to be reappointed after serving a first full term.
As Treasury secretary, Yellen will again face a colossal challenge as the U.S. attempts to rebound from the deadly coronavirus pandemic, which has killed close to 400,000 Americans, infected more than 24 million and triggered the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression. Employers cut more than 22 million jobs during the first two months of the pandemic; there are still about 9.8 million more Americans out of work than there were in February before the crisis began.
In prepared remarks to the Senate, Yellen will call on lawmakers to provide more stimulus to the nation's sputtering economy in order to avoid a deeper and longer recession. Last week, Biden unveiled a massive $1.9 trillion relief package that includes aid for state and local governments, a $1,400 stimulus check, boosted unemployment benefits through September and funding for vaccine distribution.
“Without further action, we risk a longer, more painful recession now — and long-term scarring of the economy later,” Yellen will say.
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Yellen sat on California's economic recovery task force and advised lawmakers in the U.S. House of Representatives via telephone about fiscal stimulus plans to offset the pain of the virus outbreak.
Born in Brooklyn, Yellen earned a Ph.D. in economics from Yale in 1971 before rising through the ranks of academia. She served as president of the San Francisco Federal Reserve Bank from 2004 through 2010.
*This story was updated following her confirmation.