New Federal Reserve Chair

By Justin Nalos

On January 6, the Senate confirmed Janet L. Yellen (ΦBK, Brown University, 1966) as the next chairperson of the Federal Reserve Board of Governors on a 56-26 vote. Yellen, who took office February 1, has been serving as the vice chairperson of the Federal Reserve Board. She succeed Chairperson Ben S. Bernake, becoming the first woman to head the Federal Reserve Board of Governors. 

A native of Brooklyn, New York, Yellen received her bachelor’s degree in economics from Pembroke College, the former women’s college of Brown University, in 1967. In 1971, she earned her Ph.D. in economics from Yale University. She began her teaching career at Harvard University as an assistant professor before teaching overseas at the London School of Economics and Political Science as a lecturer. After a brief stint as an economist at the Federal Reserve, Yellen continued her teaching career at the University of California, Berkeley in 1980. Yellen is now the Eugene E. and Catherine M. Trefethen Professor Emeritus of Business Administration at University of California, Berkeley’s Haas School of Business. 

In 1994, Yellen took leave from academia for five years. During this time period, she served on the Board of Governors for the Federal Reserve through February 1997; she left to serve as chairperson of the Council of Economic Advisers for the Clinton administration through August 1999. From 2004 to 2010, Yellen served as President and CEO of the Twelfth District Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco. In 2010, President Barack Obama nominated Yellen as vice chairperson of the Federal Reserve. She won her vice chairpersonship in a vote of 17-6. 

According to her biography for the Federal Reserve, Yellen specializes in macroeconomics with an emphasis on “the causes, mechanisms, and implications of unemployment.” 

When President Obama nominated Yellen in an October 2013 conference, he praised Yellen for her “good judgment” and called her “one of the nation’s foremost economists and policy makers.” President Obama also remarked that Yellen would become a role model as the first woman to lead the Federal Reserve Board in its 100-year history. 

During the conference, Yellen emphasized the importance of the Federal Reserve, “While we have made progress, we have farther to go. The mandate of the Federal Reserve is to serve all the American people, and too many Americans still can’t find a job and worry how they’ll pay their bills and provide for their families. The Federal Reserve can help if it does its job effectively. We can help ensure that everyone has the opportunity to work hard and build a better life. We can ensure that inflation remains in check and doesn’t undermine the benefits of a growing economy. We can, and must, safeguard the financial system.”

In regards to her personal life, Yellen is married to Nobel Prize-winning economist George A. Akerlof. Yellen and Akerlof met while they were both working at the Federal Reserve and married in 1978. Akerlof is the Daniel E. Koshland, Sr. Distinguished Professor Emeritus of Economics at University of California, Berkeley. Akerlof won the Nobel Prize in Economics Sciences with economists Joseph E. Stiglitz and Michael Spence in 2001. They have one adult son, Robert; he is an economist at the University of Warwick.

Justin Nalos is a senior at Howard University majoring in English. Howard University is home to the Gamma of the District of Columbia Chapter of Phi Beta Kappa.