Transcript: Janet Yellen on “Face the Nation,” February 7, 2021

The following is a transcript of an interview with Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen that aired Sunday, February 7, 2021, on “Face the Nation.”


MARGARET BRENNAN: We want to go now to the former Fed chairwoman and new Treasury Secretary, Janet Yellen. She joins us in Washington. Good morning to you, Madam Secretary.

TREASURY SECRETARY JANET YELLEN: Good morning and thank you so much for having me.

MARGARET BRENNAN: You know, the U.S. is still 10 million jobs short of where we were before this pandemic. Many people have stopped looking for work. Is the jobs market stalling?

SEC. YELLEN: Well, I’m afraid that the job market is stalling. We saw that in Friday’s employment report, just 6,000 private sector jobs created, 49,000 overall, and that’s after a month in which we actually saw job loss. So, yeah, we have 10 million people unemployed. Four million have dropped out of the labor market and another two million are working part time who really would like full time work. So we have- we’re in a deep hole with respect to the job market and a long way to dig out.

MARGARET BRENNAN: ¬†Specifically the unemployment rate for men and women is relatively similar. But the president’s economic adviser, Jared Bernstein, said this past week the number of women who’ve left the workforce is of “great concern” and unusual in a recession. (00:01:24)

What’s driving that and how do you get women back into the workforce?

SEC. YELLEN: Well, you know, women really are- many face just an impossible situation in which they have children they have to take care of who weren’t in school and would be facing increasing demands on the job. And many, over two million, have dropped out of the labor force because it’s so hard to manage that- that conflict. And the package, the American Rescue package that President Biden has proposed really addresses the problems that women face. It places huge emphasis on getting our schools open safely, getting children back into school, providing paid family and medical leave during this crisis so that women don’t have to leave their jobs when they’re faced with health issues or family issues that they have to address. There’s emphasis on providing more childcare and- and payments, tax credits expanded for children to help families address these needs. And I think this is really necessary to get women back to work. They’ve faced a- a disproportionate burden because of this crisis, especially low wage women and women of color.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Those emergency paid leave provisions would expire in September. During your confirmation hearings, you talked about the US needing to make these more permanent, essentially to stay competitive with the rest of the developed world. Is getting the US to adopt a legal mandate for expanded paid leave and childcare your ultimate goal?

SEC. YELLEN: Well, it’s certainly something that President Biden is interested in and, you know, the current package that he’s proposed, the American rescue package, is intended to deal with the immediate crisis, the economic crisis and the healthcare crisis. But beyond that, he looks forward to proposing ideas to- to address long standing challenges that our economy has faced. And leveling off or even decline in women’s labor force participation rate because they don’t have access universally in the United States to paid family and medical leave and childcare is certainly something he’s going to want to address. And he’d like to work with members of Congress to see if something can be formulated to address those needs.

MARGARET BRENNAN: That sounds like a yes in the future. Let’s talk about now.

SEC. YELLEN: Yes.

MARGARET BRENNAN: In this current rescue package, who- what should determine who is eligible for a stimulus check? Should it be your- your 2019 income level or your unemployment status?

SEC. YELLEN: Well, you know, President Biden wants to make sure that the- the payments that he’s proposed, $1,400 hundred payments to make good on the total $2,000 pledge, goes to families that really need it, that are struggling. And of course, it shouldn’t go to very well-off family- families that don’t need the funds and haven’t been hard hit by the crisis. But if you think about an elementary school teacher or policeman making 60 or $ 65,000 a year, it certainly seems appropriate that they can use that help to address the extra burdens from the pandemic. So he’s discussing the appropriate cutoffs and phase-ins with members of Congress and is open to negotiating on those. But there are a lot of families that are struggling with lower income and need- need those payments.

MARGARET BRENNAN: You know, sending people checks in the mail though, the criticism is that this is more about politics than economics. Some of your fellow economists have been very critical. Stanford’s John Cogan claims 70% of stimulus payments from last year were either saved or used to pay debt. Mark Zandi of Moody’s, who- who the President often references, said stimulus checks are not the most effective type of support and said much of it goes to households that don’t need the funds. Given that, how do you justify writing these checks?

SEC. YELLEN: Well, it has to go to people and households that do need the money and those are lower income households, and we need to make sure that the cut-offs are appropriate so that households that are doing really well maybe have seen their stock portfolios rise and make a lot of income and haven’t lost their jobs, those households shouldn’t be getting it. There is a lot more–

MARGARET BRENNAN: What’s your floor and ceiling on that?

SEC. YELLEN: –targeted relief also. Well, I- I don’t have specifics for you today. These are matters that President Biden is discussing with members of Congress and is open to reviewing what’s- what’s appropriate. But he is committed to providing the $1,400 of payments to those who qualify.

MARGARET BRENNAN: But there’s no jobs creation program in here.¬† The president says he wants that massive infrastructure bill to be next. And- and job creation is what we need to see. Don’t you risk spending your political capital now when you need to create jobs in this next bill?

SEC. YELLEN: Well, there will be another bill that addresses job creation through infrastructure development, through investment in people, in education and training, addresses climate change, improves the competitiveness of our economy and is designed to create good jobs with good pay that involve create- careers for people. But right now, this package will do a huge amount to create jobs. The spending it will generate is going to lead to demand for workers, help put people back to work, especially when we can get vaccinations and the public health situation to the point where the economy can begin to open up again. (00:08:21) And it provides support and relief. And, you know, I’d point out, it includes aid to state and local governments. We’ve seen already 1.3 million workers fired off state and local payrolls because of shortfalls that they have in revenues. And they have- have mandates to balance their budgets. And this plan provides funds for state and local governments to be able to re-employ and hang on to their first responders, policemen, firemen, other essential workers.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Quickly, before I let you go, there’s been some wild swings in the price of GameStop. Are markets functioning properly?

SEC. YELLEN: Well, you know, we really need to look in detail to understand what happened in those- in those stocks over the last couple of weeks. I- I called a meeting last week of top regulators. The S.E.C. has promised to produce a report that will give us a better factual understanding of exactly what happened. And I think we shouldn’t be drawing policy conclusions until we understand what happened. But I would say that the core infrastructure of the markets, the plumbing, ability to trade, clearing settlement, those infrastructures performed well. But we need to make sure that investors are adequately protected, that they understand the risks, and that we have fair and efficient markets. And we’ll be looking into all of that.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Madam Secretary, thank you for your time. We’ll be right back with a lot more FACE THE NATION. Stay with us.

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