Trying to Put 'Human Face' on Jobs Problem, Janet Yellen Highlights Workers with Criminal Records

Article excerpt

New Federal Reserve Chairwoman Janet Yellen appears to have stumbled into a controversial area in her efforts to humanize the ongoing weakness of the U.S. labor market.

In a speech Monday at a conference on community reinvestment in Chicago, Yellen relayed anecdotes about three workers struggling with long-term unemployment. While highlighting individuals is routine for politicians trying to project empathy on the campaign trail, it's unusual for central bankers to do so. More often, they speak of current events in academic terms.

Monday's speech shows one reason why central bankers normally shy away from specifics: Bloomberg reported that two of the three workers Yellen mentioned have criminal records -- one for felony theft, another for heroin possession.

Yellen knew about the workers' criminal records, the Fed told Bloomberg, but declined to mention them in detailing the obstacles they had faced in gaining employment.

Yellen has developed a reputation for trying to bring the workings of the economy to the personal level. Claudia Goldin, a Harvard labor economist and friend and contemporary of Yellen's, told the Washington Examiner that Yellen was able to "put a human face" on the cost of downturns when she was going through the nomination process.

That theme was part of Yellen's self-presentation during her nomination hearings and as she took office. During her ceremonial swearing-in, the long-time Fed official promised to "never forget the individual lives, experiences and challenges that lie behind the statistics we use to gauge the health of the economy. …