Cecilia Rouse on Track to be First Black Chair of Council of Economic Advisers: “The Safety Net Has Frayed”

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President-Elect Joe Biden appointed Cecilia Rouse as next chair of the Council of Economic Advisers (CEA). In assuming Treasury Secretary-nominee Janet Yellen’s former title, she will be the first African American and fourth woman to fill the role since the Council was established 74 years ago. 

Rouse delivered a heartfelt acceptance speech on Tuesday, Dec. 1, following her nomination:

Rouse discussed why she feels compelled to accept Biden’s nomination and leave behind her work at Princeton University—largely due to the gravity of COVID-19’s economic impact:

“As every academic knows, when you’ve laid down roots at a school you love with incredible students and colleagues you’ve grown with, it isn’t easy to take a leave. It requires a rare combination of urgency and opportunity to pull you away. But that rare combination is precisely what our nation is facing right now,” Rouse said of her return to public service.

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“We are once again living through one of the worst job crises since the Great Depression. Millions of families have had their lives turned upside down. The safety net has frayed, leaving vulnerable Americans to slip through into hardship and hopelessness. And importantly, structural inequities that have always existed in our economy are being exacerbated like never before,” Rouse continued.

“This is a moment of urgency and opportunity unlike any we’ve faced in modern times. The urgency of ending a devastating crisis and the opportunity to build a better economy in its wake. An economy that works for everyone, brings fulfilling job opportunities and leaves no one to fall through the cracks.”

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Although Rouse currently works in education as dean of the Princeton School of Public and International Affairs, she served during the Obama administration as a member of the council she has now been tapped to lead. She was a special assistant to President Bill Clinton, and a member of his National Economic Council in the 1990s.

Biden introduced her as “one of the most distinguished economists in the country” and “an expert on labor economics and race, poverty and education.”

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Sophie Dorf-Kamienny is a Ms. Fellow and former Editorial Intern. She recently graduated high school and is completing a gap year before attending Tufts University.