WASHINGTON–Jennifer Powell chartered a bus in Richmond, Virginia, filled it with 40 teachers and rode nearly two hours to Washington — quite an effort to learn more about the U.S. economy.
But when you’re learning from Federal Reserve Chairwoman Janet Yellen, it’s a ride worth taking, the Armstrong High School personal finance and economics teacher believes.
“We’re dealing with lower socioeconomic students, and it’s hard for them to understand all of the big words about economics,” Powell said. “I don’t want them to fall back on not having the money and knowledge they need to succeed.”
In a short speech, Yellen schooled teachers on the history and primary functions of the Federal Reserve, and said that economic growth starts with education. She did not mention interest rates or the economic outlook for 2017.
“It’s important for people to understand when we adjust interest rates we’re not trying to advance one group of savers or borrowers or another,” Yellen said. “What we’re trying to do is keep the economy strong.”
After her speech, the audience of about 60 educators at the Federal Reserve headquarters and remotely asked Yellen questions on topics ranging from President-elect Donald Trump’s promise to repeal the Dodd-Frank Act to the underrepresentation of women in economics.
“A lot of people were critical of Dodd-Frank. Community bankers feel the burden of regulation is very great. I really feel strongly that we should be looking for ways to mitigate the regulatory burden, particularly for smaller institutions,” Yellen responded.
But, she said, “I certainly wouldn’t want to see [Congress] roll it back.”
Yellen also said she’d like more women to become economists.
Nationwide, about 30% of economics majors in college are women, she said, suggesting a lack of role models as well as an implicit bias as reasons for women’s apparent disinterest in the field. She said research shows women economists receive less credit than men for co-authoring academic papers, especially when the co-author is a man.
“It’s something that I do hope will change over time, and may even make a difference in how public policy is conducted,” she said.
Yellen is the first woman to head the nation’s central financial institution, and attendee Michelle Emond views the Fed chair as a celebrity and positive role model for women.
The 29-year-old teacher rode the metro a hour from Queen Anne’s County High School in Maryland to hear Yellen talk about how Federal Reserve decisions affect individuals.
“Whenever there’s an opportunity to be the student, I try to take advantage,” Emond said.