In 2018, Jerome Powell took office as the 16th Chair of the Federal Reserve. Despite being nominated to the position by President Trump, the two rarely see eye to eye, especially when it comes to Trump’s insistence that interest rates should be lowered. But despite not being flavor of the month in the White House, the Fed Chair’s decisive actions in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic have seen his approval ratings with the US public soar. Find out more with these ten fast facts.
1. Childhood and Education
Powell was born in 1953 in Washington, D.C. as one of 6 children to Patricia and Jerome Powell. After graduating from Georgetown Preparatory School, Powell was accepted by Princeton University, graduating with a Bachelor of Arts in politics in 1975. He subsequently earned a Juris Doctor degree from Georgetown University Law Center in 1979.
2. Family Matters
Powell has been married to his wife, Elissa Leonard, since 1985. The couple shares three children and resides in Chevy Chase Village, Maryland.
3. Member of the Board
Outside of his day job, Powell sits on a number of charitable and educational boards, including the public charter school, DC Prep, the Bendheim Center for Finance at Princeton University, and The Nature Conservancy. He is also a founding member of the Center City Consortium.
4. Million-Dollar Man
It probably comes as little surprise to learn the Powell is one very wealthy man… even if he did once work for a salary of $1 per year during his period with the Bipartisan Policy Center (a think tank established to look into the United States debt-ceiling crisis). As the Wall Street Journal reports, Powell is the richest member of the Federal Reserve’s Board of Governors, earning an annual salary of $203,500 (compared to the $183,000 per year received by the other Governors). Reports of the exact extent of his personal wealth vary; according to his 2017 personal finance disclosure, his net worth is somewhere between $19 million and $55 million.
5. Making History
In December 2011, Powell, a registered Republican, made history when he, along with Jeremy C. Stein, became the first member of the opposition nominated to the Federal Reserve Board of Governors by a president since 1988. Strangely enough, he’s also the first Chair of the Federal Reserve since 1987 not to hold a Ph.D. in Economics.
6. Chair of the Federal Reserve
They may not be on the best of terms now, but in 2017, Powell and Trump had enough mutual respect for the president to nominate Powell for the position of the Chair of the Federal Reserve. Powell’s nomination was approved by the Senate Banking Committee in a 22–1 vote, with Senator Elizabeth Warren being the only dissenting voice. After his nomination was confirmed in January 2018 with an 84–13 vote, Powell officially took the Chair on February 5, 2018.
7. Conflict with Trump
Despite being nominated to his position by Trump, Powell and the president have fallen foul of each other on multiple occasions over the past two years. The driving wedge between the two is interest rates, with Trump calling Powell’s decision to dismiss the possibility of adopting negative interest rates “insane”. The tension between the president and fed chair started as early as 2018, with Trump telling The Wall Street Journal that he “maybe” regretted throwing his nomination behind Powell, complaining that he “almost looks like he’s happy raising interest rates.” The tension has continued ever since, with Trump saying “Here’s a guy, nobody ever heard of him before. And now, I made him, and he wants to show how tough he is … He’s not doing a good job.”
8. Sky High Approval
Trump might not think Powell is doing a good job, but the public clearly doesn’t agree. As Business Insider reports, Powell’s approval rating has leapt up over the past few months, with confidence in the Fed Chair now at its highest level in 15 years. Much of his success can be linked to his response to the COVID-19 plight, and the actions taken by the Fed to fight the subsequent economic fallout. According to an April 1-14 Gallup Poll, 58% of US citizens have faith that Powell is doing, and will continue to do, the ‘right thing’. In contrast, Trump’s approval rating is sat at a comparatively dismal 43%.
9. The Doomsayer
You can’t fault Powell for foresight. Long before coronavirus had unleashed its devastating effects on the US, the Fed Chair was warning that the virus, which at that point was believed to be a Chinese concern only, would have far broader, global consequences than others were suggesting. “We are closely monitoring the emergence of the coronavirus, which could lead to disruptions in China that spill over to the rest of the global economy,” he told House Financial Services Committee members in February. Three months later, and it’s only too clear he was on the right track.
10. Sobering Thoughts
As reported by Reuters, Powell issued a sobering speech on 13th May in which he outlined his hopes and fears for economic recovery as the US begins to emerge from lockdown. “It will take some time to get back to where we were,” Powell said during a webcast interview with director of the Peterson Institute for International Economics, Adam Posen. “There is a sense, growing sense I think, that the recovery may come more slowly than we would like. But it will come, and that may mean that it’s necessary for us to do more.” “The reversal of economic fortune” that resulted from the pandemic “has caused a level of pain that is hard to capture in words,” he went on to say, noting “the scope and speed of this downturn are without modern precedent, significantly worse than any recession since World War II.” He also went on to make the stark warning that the crisis would result in an “extended period” of low growth that could leave lasting economic damage. “It will take some time to get back to where we were,” he concluded.