In speeches and during her confirmation hearing, Rouse has highlighted the uneven nature of the slump and said she will focus on not only rebuilding the economy and bringing jobs back but also trying to make sure the benefits are shared across the board.
“Too often economists focus on average outcomes instead of examining a range of outcomes,” Rouse said at her confirmation hearing before the Senate Banking Committee. “One of my priorities as chair will be to try to understand how policies will impact all in our country, as we strive to ensure the economy works for everyone.”
Rouse’s time as CEA chair will mark her third stint in the White House. She worked as a member of the same council during the Obama administration and at the National Economic Council during the Clinton years as a special assistant to the president.
She was most recently serving as dean of the Princeton School of Public and International Affairs before Biden tapped her for the CEA job, and much of her work has concentrated on the economics of education, including the benefits of community colleges and impact of student loan debt. She also focused during the Obama administration on issues surrounding long-term unemployment and manufacturing, both of which she worked on at times closely with then-Vice President Biden.
Rouse’s previous run at the CEA coincided with the Great Recession, but it was another unemployment crisis in the early 1980s that first drew her into studying the labor market as an undergraduate student at Harvard, when she began connecting lessons from her first economics class to the joblessness she saw around her.
“I wanted to know why this was happening,” Rouse said at her confirmation hearing last month. “Why had jobs disappeared — and what could be done to bring them back?”
This time around, she did not anticipate returning to public service, Rouse said at her nomination event in December. But she was pulled away from Princeton by what she called a “rare combination of urgency and opportunity.”
“This is a moment of urgency and opportunity unlike any we’ve faced in modern times,” she said at the time. “The urgency of ending a devastating crisis and the opportunity to build a better economy in its wake.”
Rouse will be joining a top economic team that includes NEC Director Brian Deese and Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen.
The CEA, unlike other Cabinet agencies, does not have rulemaking or enforcement authorities and serves more as “the president’s personal think tank,” said Austan Goolsbee, who served as a member of the CEA alongside Rouse and went on to become chair of the council.
In that way, the council’s influence is limited to how much Biden will be willing to listen to its policy recommendations. “Given that several of the most important aspects of the recovery are right in Ceci Rouse’s wheelhouse,” Goolsbee said, “I would think that they would be very interested.”
Her confirmation comes as Congress is gearing up to pass Biden’s $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan, which experts hope will shore up the economy for months and prevent worsening unemployment or a spiraling crisis. But the challenge awaiting her is that “in some ways, providing relief is the easy part,” said Jason Furman, another former CEA chair.
“To sustain a much better recovery is a much more complicated economic and political task,” Furman said, “and that’s what she will be intimately involved in.”