On Thursday, Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen helped mark a milestone in US history when she held up a new $5 bill signed for the first time by two women.
Yellen’s signature will appear alongside that of U.S. Treasurer Lynn Malerba, the first Native American in that position.
Yellen joked during a layover in Texas about the poor handwriting of some of her male predecessors and said, “I’ll admit it, I spent some quality time practicing my signature.”
“Two women on the mint for the first time is really significant,” added Malerba, who traveled with Yellen to an engraving and printing office in Fort Worth to bring their signatures.
They solemnly signed new sheets of $1 and $5 bills and posed with samples to mark the historic moment. The new banknotes will be put into circulation next year.
Yellen made a name for herself as a stoic Federal Reserve chairwoman and shrewd forecaster, and is now at the forefront of wide-ranging efforts to use economic leverage to help stop Russia’s war in Ukraine. using tax policy to protect the planet from climate change and overseeing a massive effort to bolster the beleaguered IRS.
This puts her at the center of national and global politics, inviting new levels of pressure and questioning from friends and foes alike. She is tackling this challenge as the United States suffers from inflation that hit a 40-year high this summer and sowed fears of a coming recession.
Even as Yellen watched the new bills bearing his signature unfold at the Bureau of Engraving and Printing’s Western Currency Desk, his remarks focused on the policy achievements of the Biden administration rather than his status as the first woman to hold the position of Secretary to the Treasury.
Of the conflict in Ukraine sparked last February by Russian President Vladimir Putin, she said: “Along with more than 30 countries, we have deprived Russia of the income and resources it needs to wage its war.
As for the domestic economy, she said, pandemic relief and a new law aimed at boosting semiconductor production have positioned the United States “to capitalize on a wave of opportunity. economic benefits for the American people, including in often overlooked communities.”
Later, speaking to reporters, Yellen said she believed the United States could avoid a recession.
“Obviously there are risks facing the economy, but I think we are not in a price-wage spiral. Supply chain bottlenecks. are clearly starting to calm down. It’s helpful,” she said. “I think we are on the right track in terms of reducing inflation, and a recession is not inevitable.”
Now, two years into Joe Biden’s presidency, Yellen has shut down rumors that she may be ready to leave the administration early and is preparing for more economic – as well as political – battles to come.
In addition to managing the Treasury’s role in the war in Ukraine, she faces the Herculean task of revitalizing an IRS that is getting an $80 billion funding boost and enforcing an anti-money laundering effort. money that requires documenting the beneficial owners of tens of millions of American businesses in hopes of crushing corruption around the world.
It occupies an increasingly politicized role in which Congress and foreign governments matter as much as financial markets.
Its Treasury Department is seeking to shackle the Russian economy with an oil price cap, as House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy of California questions the level of US support for Ukraine. The Treasury is also rolling out tens of billions in tax incentives, to fight climate change, which have antagonized some European allies and proved controversial with Republicans. And wage gains in the latest US jobs report suggest the economy may have to endure more pain than expected to bring inflation back to the Fed’s target of 2% a year.
Along the way, Yellen hasn’t shied away from polemicizing or speaking out on issues that many Americans view only through a cultural lens.
When Sen. Tim Scott, R.S.C., at a congressional hearing in May told Yellen she was “tough” for speaking out about the positive economic impacts of abortion access for women , she replied, “It’s not hard, it’s the truth. She also challenged the view that the havens for hidden money are outside the United States, arguing instead that the United States has become the “best place” to hide illegally obtained money.
Yellen generated tension with the White House this year when she strayed somewhat from Biden’s insistence that his $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package was not helping the inflation. Republican lawmakers relied on the analysis of leading economists such as Harvard University’s Larry Summers to say the sum was excessive and triggered inflation. Global supply chain disruptions and soaring food and energy prices following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine have also helped push prices to uncomfortable levels, exposing the economy to an increased risk of recession.
Yellen admitted on CNN in May that she was “wrong then about the path inflation would take.” Biden said he was made aware of the possible risks of inflation when the relief package was put in place, but he told The Associated Press in an interview that “the idea that it caused inflation is weird”.
Yellen’s predictions to the Treasury on financial markets on other counts have proven accurate.
His warnings about the risks of a deregulated cryptocurrency market foresaw recent chaos. Crypto markets have seen at least two major crashes, dozens of scams, Ponzi schemes, and hundreds of billions of dollars made and evaporated overnight.
Yellen also used her platform as a senior government official to warn that despite progress for women in the workplace, a glass ceiling is keeping many out of the top jobs.
Yellen, the only person to ever head the Treasury Department, the Federal Reserve and the White House Council of Economic Advisers, is still criticized by members of both political parties for not being more dynamic and politically savvy at times and for being too direct at other times. .
Summers, Secretary of the Treasury under President Bill Clinton, said in a statement to The Associated Press that Yellen “is pursuing a distinguished career in economic policy at the US Treasury Department. No other Secretary of the Treasury has had a deeper commitment to social justice as a central objective of macroeconomic and financial policies.
The praise comes as Summers slammed the Biden administration for the extent of its coronavirus relief, saying its excesses have flooded the economy with money and driven up prices. He argued that the Fed must keep raising rates to reduce inflation, an action that could push the United States and other countries into recession.
Anusha Chari, an economist who chairs the American Economic Association’s Committee on the Status of Women in the Economics Profession, calls Yellen’s signing on the U.S. currency “an important step, but it also shows us how far we have to go”.
The Treasury Department was created in 1789, and until Yellen only white men had run it.
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