Opinion Columns & Blogs

Editorial: With knowledge and compassion, Yellen is a strong choice to lead Fed

Because of what is in her heart as well as her head, Janet Yellen is the right person at the right time to be our nation’s top banker.

Yellen’s experience is broad and her knowledge deep. Nominated on Wednesday by President Barack Obama to be the next head of the Federal Reserve, Yellen has been vice chairwoman for the last three years and was president of the Federal Reserve Bank in San Francisco for six years. Before that, she served as the U.S. Labor Department’s chief economist and the top economic adviser in the Clinton White House.

Just as importantly, Yellen has compassion for Americans who work in factories and stores – an all-too-rare quality for those in Washington and Wall Street circles. Her academic career, including 14 years at UC Berkeley, focused on jobs and labor markets. That understanding is crucial because one of the most pressing issues with America’s economy is the growing gap between the rich and the rest of us.

While critics are already trying to distort her record and views as somehow soft on inflation, Yellen has demonstrated that she is fully aware that declines in purchasing power hurt everyone, not just big investors.

The major economic threat now, however, is not inflation, but persistent unemployment amid a painfully slow recovery. While the latest annual inflation rate is 1.5 percent, the official jobless rate was 7.3 percent in August. That’s 11.3 million Americans, including 4.3 million out of work for six months or more; another 7.9 million were working only part-time because their hours had been cut or they couldn’t find full-time jobs.

For such a powerful post, Yellen should, of course, be thoroughly vetted and should face tough questions during her Senate confirmation hearing. She is so clearly qualified, however, that the fact that some Republicans are already signaling that they will vote against her shows how blinded by ideology they truly are.

Yellen gives every indication she will be a strong Fed chief and merits swift confirmation. She would be the first woman in the job, still symbolically significant since many women are still trying to break the glass ceiling into corporate boardrooms. She is far preferable to Obama’s apparent first choice – former Treasury Secretary Lawrence Summers, whose prickly personality, close ties to Wall Street and past support of over-deregulation made him unsuited for such a sensitive position.

An increasingly important part of the job is to clearly communicate with everyday Americans. In the latter part of his tenure, outgoing Chairman Ben Bernanke made a point of being more transparent, holding the central bank’s first press conference in April 2011. Yellen has already indicated she will continue that positive direction, saying this year: “I hope and trust that the days of ‘never explain, never excuse’ are gone for good, and that the Federal Reserve continues to reap the benefits of clearly explaining its actions to the public.”

Job one for Yellen, however, is to boost the economic recovery. The American dream is fading for too many, and she can be a strong voice to help them.