Joe Biden has reportedly picked Janet Yellen, the former chair of the Federal Reserve Board, to be the next Secretary of the Treasury, a choice that will make history. There have been 77 Treasury Secretaries in the history of the United States, from Alexander Hamilton to Steve Mnuchin. None before Yellen has been a woman.
The news was first reported by The Wall Street Journal and then confirmed by several other news outlets.
Yellen is a well-known labor economist who taught at both Harvard and the University of California, Berkeley. She was also chairwoman of the White House Council of Economic Advisers during the Clinton administration, president of the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco, a Fed governor, Fed vice chair, and then, finally, the first woman to chair the Federal Reserve.
If confirmed, Yellen, 74, would also be the first person to have held the three key economic positions in the U.S. government: Fed chair, the head of the White House Council of Economic Advisers, and now Secretary of the Treasury.
Neither Biden nor Yellen have commented publicly on her appointment.
Biden disclosed to reporters last week that he would name a new Treasury Secretary around Thanksgiving, saying, “[You’ll] find it is someone who I think will be accepted by all elements of the Democratic Party, progressives through the moderate coalition.” From the beginning, Yellen was a leading contender for the job, along with another woman, Federal Reserve Governor Lael Brainard. Other leading candidates were said to be Sarah Bloom Raskin, a former Fed governor, and Raphael Bostic, president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta.
Yellen resigned from the Fed in 2017 when, breaking with decades of tradition, President Trump did not re-appoint her for a second term, instead naming Jerome Powell as the new chair. In letter of resignation to Trump, Yellen said she was “gratified that the financial system is much stronger than a decade ago,” and that the economy had improved substantially under her watch. Also in the letter, she pointed out that 17 million jobs had been added since the financial crisis and that the Fed was close to achieving it goals of “maximum employment and price stability.”
Since her resignation, Yellen has been a Distinguished Fellow in Residence with the Economic Studies program at the Brookings Institution, the Washington think tank. Over the course of the 2020 campaign, she was also an economic adviser to Biden and his running mate, Kamala Harris, the vice president-elect.
According to The New York Times, Yellen was born in Brooklyn in 1946 and raised in Bay Ridge, a middle-class neighborhood near the waterfront. Her mother was a teacher who stayed home to raise Yellen and her brother, and her father was a family doctor. She was both valedictorian and newspaper editor at her high school. She attended Brown University and went on to get a doctorate from Yale. She met her husband, George A. Akerlof, now a Nobel laureate, while working in a research position at the Fed in 1977. As The Times noted, “The economic powerhouse pair have completed influential research on labor market dynamics together.”
In a 2001 biographical essay, Akerlof wrote of the couple, “Not only did our personalities mesh perfectly, but we have also always been in all but perfect agreement about macroeconomics. Our lone disagreement is that she is a bit more supportive of free trade than I.”