Yellen says Treasury focus to help nation reeling from virus

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Vice President Kamala Harris participates in a swearing-in ceremony with Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen and Yellen's husband George Akerlof, Tuesday, Jan. 26, 2021, at the White House in Washington. The Treasury building stands behind. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

WASHINGTON – Janet Yellen, sworn in Tuesday as the nation's 78th Treasury secretary and the first woman to hold the office, said in a message to the department's 84,000 employees that they would play a major role in addressing the country's biggest economic challenges.

“In addition to the pandemic, the country is also facing a climate crisis, a crisis of systemic racism and an economic crisis that has been building for fifty years,” Yellen said in her message. “I believe our department can play a major role in addressing each of these crises.”

She was sworn in by Vice President Kamala Harris, the first woman elected to the position, at a ceremony performed outside on the East Wing entrance to the White House in view of the department Yellen will now lead. Yellen’s husband, George Akerlof, winner of the 2001 Nobel prize in economics, and their son Robert, also an economist, were present for the brief ceremony.

In her message to Treasury employees, Yellen said she would be conducting a virtual listening tour in the next few weeks to meet with employees to get their views on how the department can do a better job of addressing the crises facing the country.

“We must help the American people endure the final months of this pandemic by making sure they have roofs over their head and food on the table,” Yellen said. “Then, we must assist them in getting back to work safely.”

Yellen said it will be important to then turn to addressing what she called a K-shaped economy where some people have done very well with “wealth built on wealth while certain segments of the population fell further and further behind."

Treasury said that Yellen spent her first day on the job meeting virtually with her advisers and career employees as well as getting an update on President Joe Biden's $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief plan.

Yellen became the third of Biden's Cabinet nominees to win Senate approval on a vote of 84-15 late Monday. All of the no votes came from Republican senators.