Jamaican American is first black woman to head a US federal reserve bank in 108 years
Jamaican-born DrSusan M Collins,Boston Federal ReserveBank president-to-be

Jamaican-born American Dr Susan M Collins, who, in July this year will become the first black woman to head a federal reserve bank in the US, was inspired to become an economist by observing social and financial hardships in the land of her birth.

Collins' appointment as president and chief executive officer of the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston, Massachusetts – one of 12 branches in the US — was announced earlier this month, drawing high praise for her qualification and leadership abilities.

“This is a brilliant appointment,” Lisa Lynch, a Brandeis University professor and former chair of the Boston Fed, was quoted as saying by ABC News. “She is a tested leader with the expertise and demeanour to be a strong voice at the Federal Reserve in Washington and the New England business community.”

Dr Christina Paxson, president of Brown University and chair of the Boston Fed board who led the search committee, said: “After an intensive search, we are thrilled to appoint this exceptionally well-qualified person to be the bank's president and a key leader in the Federal Reserve System.”

Collins, 63, graduated summa cum laude from Harvard University in 1980 and earned her PhD in economics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in 1984. She then returned to Harvard to teach.

She will also be a voting member of the central bank's powerful Federal Open Market Committee, whose mandate is to promote full employment and stable consumer prices.

Collins grew up in Manhattan, New York, after her social anthropologist father who worked at the United Nations and university librarian mother (now deceased) migrated from Kingston. She is married with two children.

Asked by an interviewer where were her favourite mountain and beach, she said Jamaica, boasting that there were mountains which met the beach on her Caribbean island.

According to the American Economics Association (AEA) on whose executive committee Collins served, she came to economics out of curiosity, from observing the poverty in Jamaica which she frequently visited with her parents to see relatives.

“Those summer visits raised all kinds of questions,” she told AEA newsletter. “Why were living standards so different? Even wealthier people in Jamaica suffered from water shut-offs or other hardships…

“It was clear to me very early on that contexts matter. If you grow up with these questions, it's no surprise to become an international economist,” Collins said, adding that her parents encouraged her to follow her curiosity.

“Jamaica has a tradition of really strong women and so high-powered careers were supported,” Collins who identifies as a Jamaican-American, told the newsletter.

According to AEA: “Her interest was really piqued, however, when her father would come home complaining about 'those damned economists'. In his view, they sometimes won the day even when they were wrong, because it was so hard to argue with them.”

Collins, explaining her choice as an economist said: “I wanted to win the day! And then I fell in love with the analytic rigour that could be used to understand and address societal challenges.”

Collins was quoted as telling the Boston Reserve Bank: “I'll note that a common theme throughout my career has been commitment to the mission of public service to improve lives — whether through education, research, or policy.”

Underlining the history-making appointment, director of the Center for Popular Democracy's Fed Up Campaign, Benjamin Dulchin lamented the length of time it had taken for a black woman to head a branch of the central bank system which was established in 1914.

“It's taken far too long for a black woman to be named to the top job at a regional Fed branch, said Dulchin. “This shouldn't be a historic achievement in 2022.”

Until her appointment takes effect on July 1, Collins will continue to serve as provost and executive vice-president for academic affairs at the University of Michigan where she has been since 2020.

After Harvard, moved to Washington, where her posts included senior staff economist at the President's Council of Economic Advisers in the first Bush administration; professor at Georgetown University; senior fellow in economic studies at the Brookings Institution, and visiting scholar at the International Monetary Fund. She also served for nine years as a director at the Chicago Fed.

Collins will oversee the Boston Fed's monetary policy and economic research, its operational role in the US financial payments system, bank supervision, and community development, according to a press release. The bank has 1,215 employees, and its district covers all of New England except for Fairfield County in Connecticut.

The announcement follows a rigorous search, selection by the eligible (non-banker) members of the Bank's Board of Directors, and approval by the Washington-based Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System, the Boston Fed said in a press statement.

“Dr Collins is deeply committed to serving the public, engaging with constituents, and advancing economic stability, opportunity, and prosperity for the region and nation through the work of the central bank,” said Dr Paxson.

“Susan has also advanced diversity, equity, and inclusion through her work with the American Economic Association, the Ford School, and the University of Michigan.”

Responding, Collins said: “It is an honour and an inspiration to serve as the Boston Fed's next president. I look forward to helping the bank and system pursue the Fed's dual mandate from Congress — achieving price stability and maximum employment.”

Dr Susan M Collins,economist
BY DESMOND ALLEN Executive editor – special assignment allend@jamaicaobserver.com

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