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In Building Economic Team, Biden Faces Tug From Left and Center

WASHINGTON — If he wins the presidency, Joseph R. Biden Jr. will inherit an economy struggling to recover from its steepest plunge in decades. His economic team will need to help workers and businesses survive a pandemic winter, while developing policies to address the racial and income inequalities the crisis has exacerbated in the labor market.

Assembling that team would force Mr. Biden to balance competing impulses. He wants to surround himself with aides who have experience battling past downturns — a talent pool that is overwhelmingly white, male and centrist. But he also wants to stock his administration with advisers who represent the racial, gender and ideological diversity of the nation and his party better than previous administrations.

Allies inside and outside Mr. Biden’s sprawling network of informal economic advisers say there are signs that, even as Mr. Biden looks to familiar names from his White House years with President Barack Obama, his potential administration is on track to include far more economists of color, women and progressive economic thinkers than Mr. Obama’s initial team, which was stocked with establishment white male economists.

“You’d like a team that has kind of been to war,” said Stephanie Kelton, an economics professor at Stony Brook University who served on a task force when Mr. Biden became the nominee but is not currently an adviser to the campaign.

But Ms. Kelton, an increasingly important voice on the progressive side of the party, said it’s important to find people who realize that mistakes were made after the 2008 recession, because “it took seven years to claw back the jobs that were lost. We can’t afford that again.”

Robert E. Rubin, a former Treasury secretary under President Bill Clinton, who remains a leading voice among centrist Democrats, said Mr. Biden would be facing “the most daunting set of challenges that any president has faced since F.D.R. He needs people who are experienced, who are well equipped to deal with that.”

The nation is mired in a so-called K-shaped recovery in which some people and businesses have thrived as companies shifted to remote work and consumer demand skewed toward goods over services. Other workers have fallen into prolonged unemployment and a wave of small businesses have shuttered or are close to doing so. Mr. Biden’s allies have stressed that he will need to address that damage should he win the presidency.

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“What I think is important is to recognize that this is not your grandfather’s type of recession,” said Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon, the top Democrat on the finance committee. “There are two economies — Main Street getting hammered, Wall Street sky high.”

Perhaps the most important economic role to fill will be that of Treasury secretary, since that person will serve as a conduit between the White House, the Federal Reserve and Congress, along with playing a key role in diplomacy and financial regulation. During the financial crisis, the Treasury secretary played an outsize role in steering the response, first under Henry M. Paulson during the George W. Bush administration and then under Timothy F. Geithner during the Obama years.

Mr. Biden appears likely to tap a woman for the job — which would be a first in the Treasury Department’s 231-year history. Lael Brainard, a Federal Reserve governor and former Treasury official, tops many Biden advisers’ lists of possible future secretaries. Ms. Brainard, who served as the Treasury’s under secretary for international affairs during the Obama administration, has extensive recent experience in financial regulation and a proven track record of working well with the Fed chair, Jerome H. Powell.

Still, her background in trade could prove to be a liability with more progressive members of the party. While at the Treasury, Ms. Brainard was reluctant to take a hard line on currency manipulation, for instance when it came to the weak Chinese yuan in the early 2010s. That was an unpopular stance among some left-leaning senators worried about the competitive threat cheap imports from abroad posed to domestic manufacturers.

Other women also make the unofficial lists circulating, including Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, who enjoys a lot of support among progressives. Sarah Bloom Raskin, formerly at the Treasury and Fed, is frequently discussed, as is Janet L. Yellen, the former Obama-era Fed chair.

Another name floating around the Biden camp is Roger W. Ferguson Jr., a former Fed vice chairman who is now president of the financial manager TIAA. Mr. Ferguson, the only Black person to ever serve in that high-ranking Fed position, has experience confronting crises — he played the central role in the Fed’s response to the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks because its chair, Alan Greenspan, was out of the country at the time.

Mr. Biden will also need to tap White House economic advisers who, along with the Treasury secretary, will help develop whatever stimulus package his administration tries to push through Congress. Perhaps as important as whom he chooses is whether they can align on a plan to save the economy. Disagreements among Mr. Obama’s top economic advisers in 2009 led to a smaller stimulus package than might have otherwise been put forward during the Great Recession, in part because of concerns about the impact on the federal deficit.

Among the top contenders for senior economic roles are Heather Boushey, co-founder of the Washington Center for Equitable Growth, and Jared Bernstein, who served as Mr. Biden’s top economic adviser during the Obama administration and is now at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

Both have advised the Biden campaign from the outside, as part of a small group of economists Mr. Biden turns to for daily briefings and policy recommendations. That group includes Ben Harris, an economist at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management who succeeded Mr. Bernstein as Mr. Biden’s chief economist, and who now plays a sort of clearinghouse role in economic policymaking for the Biden campaign. He could land a White House job as well.

Several other veterans of the Obama years also appear to be in the running for top economic jobs. Most of them are white men, including Austan Goolsbee, a former chairman of Mr. Obama’s Council of Economic Advisers; Gene Sperling, who led the National Economic Council for Mr. Obama and Mr. Clinton; and Jeffrey Zients, who succeeded Mr. Sperling and who is a co-chairman of Mr. Biden’s transition team.

People in the Biden orbit are also eyeing veterans of the White House or the Fed who are not white men, including Lisa D. Cook, who served as chief economist for the Council of Economic Advisers under Mr. Obama; Raphael Bostic, who heads the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta, making him the first Black person to ever hold a regional Fed presidency; and Mary C. Daly, the president of the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco.

Mr. Biden may also have an opportunity to add staff to the Fed, which will continue to play a key role in supporting the labor market and economic recovery, potentially in close collaboration with the Treasury. While President Trump has nominated Judy Shelton and Christopher Waller for the two open slots, it is unclear whether they will win confirmation before the congressional term ends in January. Another Fed governor slot could open if Ms. Brainard is moved to the Treasury.

Mr. Biden would also need to make decisions about the Fed’s top spot, though not immediately. Mr. Powell’s tenure as head of the central bank does not end until early 2022. The Fed’s vice chair for supervision, a powerful position that influences banking regulation, will be up for replacement in October 2021.

Across the various roles, labor groups and the progressive wing of the Democratic Party are pushing Mr. Biden to elevate economic thinkers who are more liberal, and more focused on racial inequality, than previous Democratic administrations — citing the outsize damage the pandemic recession has dealt to women and to Black and Hispanic workers. They also want advisers who are not afraid to spend money on programs to help bring about economic equality — even if it means adding to the budget deficit.

“He’s going to have to have some people who are very good and credible at handling all of the extreme forms of inequality we’ve seen pop in from this, and can get the labor market back up and can especially undo the harm that’s been disproportionate on women and minorities,” said William E. Spriggs, the chief economist at the A.F.L.-C.I.O., who was part of a group of several hundred economic policy experts who prepared policy recommendations for Mr. Biden’s campaign this year.

“I think they get it,” Mr. Spriggs said. “But you know, personnel are chosen sometimes on the basis of other things.”

Ana Swanson contributed reporting.

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