The real people behind the statistics

By guest author Jyoti Thottam, Deputy Op-Ed Editor at New York Times

Janet Yellen, a former chair of the Federal Reserve, does something rare among economists. She draws on experience from ordinary life and uses it to test economic theory against reality.

In 1996, soon after she was first appointed to the Fed, she explained to its chairman, Alan Greenspan, that some employers might want to pay more than the prevailing wage to keep good employees — and she used her experience of hiring a babysitter to make the point, a story told vividly by my colleague Binyamin Appelbaum in his recent book, “The Economists’ Hour.” In 2014, she argued that the Fed should do more to reduce unemployment, using the stories of three people in Chicago, “the real people behind the statistics, struggling to get by.”

Since leaving the Fed in 2017, Yellen has kept a fairly low profile, but this year she has been vocal about the urgent need for the Fed to act. In March, she pushed for decisive action to stabilise financial markets. In July, she testified before Congress, praising the effectiveness of the extended unemployment insurance benefits and Paycheck Protection Program. But those programmes have ended and the money for many families is running out.

In her piece this morning with Jared Bernstein, a senior fellow at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, Yellen forcefully makes the case that the Fed has done everything it can within its powers, but it can’t send stimulus checks to families or save them from eviction. “These are jobs for Congress and for the Trump administration,” they write.

How well has the administration done its job? That will be a question for this week’s Republican National Convention, as the party makes its appeal to the “real people behind the statistics.” And today, more than a dozen of our writers have shared their thoughts on how the party tackled that and other questions on the first night of the R.N.C.