Janet Yellen Accepts Nomination as First Woman Treasury Secretary: “It’s Essential We Move With Urgency”

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In nominating Janet Yellen to be the next treasury secretary of the United States and tasking her to oversee the biggest economy in the world, President-Elect Joe Biden named the first woman ever appointed to the position.

Yellen joined Biden and Vice President-Elect Kamala Harris on Dec. 1 to accept her nomination in a moving speech:

“The value of work always stuck with me. So much so that I became an economist because I was concerned about the toll of unemployment on people, families and communities. And I’ve spent my career trying to make sure people can work and achieve the dignity and self-worth that comes with it,” Yellen said

Yellen spoke of the importance of her role, particularly the timing—in light of the coronavirus pandemic inducing what many are calling the “worst economic crisis of our lifetimes.”

“The pandemic and economic fallout fit together have caused so much damage for so many and have had a disproportionate impact on the most vulnerable among us. Lost lives, lost jobs, small businesses struggling to stay alive or closed for good. So many people struggling to put on the table and pay bills and rent.

“It’s an American tragedy and it’s essential that we move with urgency. Inaction will produce a self-reinforcing downturn causing yet more devastation. And we risk missing the obligation to address deeper structural problems, inequality, stagnant wages, especially for workers who lack a college education.”

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She also lamented the intersectional nature of the pandemic’s impacts: “Racial disparities in pay, job opportunities, housing, food security, and small business lending that deny wealth building to communities of color. Gender disparities that keep women out of the work force and keep our economy from running at full force. It’s a convergence of tragedies that is not only economically unsustainable, but one that betrays our commitment to giving every American an equal chance to get ahead.”

Yellen pledged to “work every day towards rebuilding that dream for all Americans,” in which each citizen has equal opportunity to meet their full potential.

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Yellen was the chair of the Federal Reserve under the Obama administration, having previously served as vice chair. Her experience as chair of the Council of Economic Advisers during Bill Clinton’s presidency makes her the first person, man or woman, to hold all three aforementioned leadership roles. She has also taught economics as a UC Berkeley professor for four decades.

Having led the Federal Reserve during recovery from a tragic recession, the Biden team has faith that she is well-equipped to confront the COVID-induced economic crash. In her speech, Yellen stressed alleviating unemployment as a primary goal for once she takes office.

Her ideology and ambition led Biden to deem her “one of the most important economic thinkers of our time.”

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Sophie Dorf-Kamienny is a junior at Tufts University studying sociology and community health. She is a Ms. contributing writer, and was formerly an editorial fellow, research fellow and assistant editor of social media. You can find her on Twitter at @sophie_dk_.