Janelle Jones, 36, was born in North Dakota and raised in Lorain, Ohio. At a very young age, she fell in love with numbers. Mathematics became part of her upbringing as her dad would usually come home with mathematics books for her to study.
Jones would later leave Ohio for Spelman College, a historically Black women’s school in Atlanta. While in school, she got encouraged by her professor to study economics. After graduation, Jones volunteered for a nonprofit organization in Sacramento for a year.
She later went to Illinois State University for her master’s in applied economics. Afterward, Jones worked with artisans to market and sell their goods, and taught English as a volunteer with the Peace Corps in Lunahuaná, Peru for two years.
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A new life chapter opened for her after years of volunteer service. She landed a job as a research associate at the Center for Economic and Policy Research. In fact, she spent some 10 years in the think tank field.
Now Jones is in Washington’s circle of power, serving as President Joe Biden’s chief economist at the Department of Labour, the first African-American woman to be appointed into that position. In her new role, she would be expected to fix the U.S. labor market.
Although Jones’ position is little known, she influences the future of millions of Americans. She comes into the position at a time when the coronavirus pandemic has affected many businesses, particularly Black-led firms, in various sectors of the economy.
Also, figures from the Department of Labour show that 10 million Americans are unemployed and according to The Washington Post, the unemployment numbers are higher than the worst point of the Great Recession.
“There’s a lot of work to be done to make sure that we don’t just restore workers to where they were in January 2020 or four years ago,” Jones told Bloomberg. “We’ve seen workers take a huge hit over the past generation.”
Jones has for more than a decade focused on finding out why Black people perform poorly in the labor market during her days in government and research institutions. She came up with an economic ideology called “Black Women Best” to shed light on these issues and possible solutions while centering Black women in U.S. economic policy.
“If history has taught us anything, it’s that Black people, particularly Black women, are among the last to recover from economic recessions, and the last to reap economic benefits during periods of recovery or growth,” she writes. “In some cases, as in the early 1980s recession, Black women had an unemployment rate double that of white men.”
“Among demographic groups, Black women experienced the steepest drop in labor force participation and have had the slowest job recovery since January 2020. … We can course correct one of the worst economic downturns in U.S history for all by deliberately improving the economic outcomes of traditionally marginalized groups. We can’t resort back to business as usual.”
She tells BlackHer that if Black women are economically secure and have the dignity and space to lead their lives the way they want to, then everyone else is doing well.
The U.S. economy is projected to make full recovery in four to five years’ time due to COVID-19. For Jones, that would mean 10 to 12 years for Black workers. “My role here will be to think about those sorts of things, to give a lens to union workers, low-wage workers, different types of workers who aren’t usually centered,” she tells Bloomberg.