Janet Yellen, the first woman to chair the US Federal Reserve, is set to achieve another first, becoming the country’s first female treasury secretary.
The 74-year-old economist is expected to be named as President-elect Joe Biden’s choice on Tuesday.
Yellen will take the job during one of the most trying economic times in modern history.
US unemployment hit a postwar record in April, in the first wave of the coronavirus pandemic, and while the jobs situation has improved, the recovery has slowed in recent months as rates of infection have increased.
Millions remain out of work, and women and people of color have been hit disproportionately hard by the downturn.
Congress has struggled to reach agreement on a new round of economic spending, the US national debt is at record levels, and relations with the US’s major trading partners are frayed after the Trump administration’s trade wars.
Donald Trump declined to reappoint Yellen to the Fed chair after his election in 2016, making her the first central bank chief not to serve two terms since the Carter administration. During his campaign Trump said Yellen should be “ashamed” of her policy actions and accused her of keeping interest rates low in order to bolster President Barack Obama’s legacy.
Cautious and carefully spoken Yellen has made few comments about Trump although when asked last year if she thought Trump “had a grasp” of macroeconomic policy she said: “No I do not.”
Yellen has recently advocated for more federal spending from Congress to tackle the economic devastation caused by the virus.
“There is a huge amount of suffering out there. The economy needs the spending,” Yellen said in a September interview.
Yellen, professor emeritus at the University of California at Berkeley, a former assistant professor at Harvard and a lecturer at the London School of Economics, is an expert in labor markets who has highlighted the economic impact of uneven growth in the jobs market.
She is married to the Nobel-winning economist and frequent co-author George Akerlof.
Progressives had been hoping Senator Elizabeth Warren, a staunch critic of Wall Street, might get the job. But with control of the Senate still in the balance, Yellen is a safer pick. After the news broke Warren called Yellen “an outstanding choice.”
Janet Yellen would be an outstanding choice for Treasury Secretary. She is smart, tough, and principled. As one of the most successful Fed Chairs ever, she has stood up to Wall Street banks, including holding Wells Fargo accountable for cheating working families.
— Elizabeth Warren (@SenWarren) November 23, 2020
Biden said last week that his Treasury nominee would be accepted by both the progressive and moderate wings of the Democrat party. Yellen has also in the past attracted bipartisan support, receiving 11 Republican votes for her 2014 confirmation as Fed chair, including the backing of three sitting Republican senators.
She is also one of the best-connected economists in the world, leading the Fed from 2014 to 2018 after a long career in economic policymaking.
If appointed, Yellen will not only be the first female Fed chair and treasury secretary, but the first person to have headed both organizations and the White House council of economic advisers.