Janet Yellen and fellow leaders have called for more government intervention and a stronger safety netJoe Biden’s incoming economic team is filled with firsts. The lineup that the incoming president introduced this week will, if approved, place women and people of color at the controls of the US economy during one of the darkest periods in recent history.While the team is historic, it also faces a historic challenge. Unemployment has fallen dramatically since the early days of the coronavirus pandemic. It fell to 6.7% in November. But it remains 3.2 percentage points above its level before Covid-19 struck, jobs growth is slowing sharply, long-term unemployment is growing and people of color are still suffering hardship at far higher levels than white Americans.The pandemic has also exacerbated already worrying levels of income inequality, and across the US, shocking lines are forming at food banks as the country’s already frayed social safety net collapses.Congress has been deadlocked on a new round of stimulus money for months. A compromise now seems to be in the works but will come too late for many.The future looks difficult too. The US now has a $21.2tn national debt – up from $14.4tn on the day Donald Trump was inaugurated. Republicans, who helped fuel that enormous rise, are now talking about the need for fiscal responsibility.Biden’s team is strong on progressive talk. Its members have championed the need for more government intervention, greater equality and a stronger safety net. A look at the team’s own words shows just how ambitiously they are thinking.Whether they can achieve those goals looks set to hang on two crucial Senate races in Georgia in January that will decide who controls the Senate. Janet Yellen, treasury secretaryThe first woman to head the Treasury if confirmed, Yellen has had a long and distinguished career and was the first woman to head the Federal Reserve.This week Yellen called the pandemic recession “an American tragedy” and said: “It’s essential that we move with urgency.”An expert on labor markets, she has long highlighted income inequality and its disproportionate impact on people of color in the US. “There really is a new kind of recognition that you’ve got a society where capitalism is beginning to run amok and needs to be readjusted,” she told Reuters recently.In a 2014 speech, she said: “The extent of and continuing increase in inequality in the United States greatly concern me.” Yellen noted: “The distribution of income and wealth in the United States has been widening more or less steadily for several decades, to a greater extent than in most advanced countries.”But her long-term views on the nation’s debts have some progressives worried that she may look to cut welfare programs once Covid-19 is, finally, behind us. “The US debt path is completely unsustainable under current tax and spending plans,” she said in February. Neera Tanden, head the Office of Management and Budget (OMB)The president of the left-leaning Center for American Progress will be the first woman of color to head the OMB if she is confirmed. But Republicans, angered by her partisan tweets, have said she stands “zero chance” of being approved if they keep control of the Senate.> Imagine a world where Mitch McConnell is not in the Senate. Now let's go make that happen. https://t.co/iOwO3GgDf1> > — Neera Tanden (@neeratanden) February 13, 2019Her India-born mother, Maya, relied on food stamps and other government programs to raise her children after her divorce and Tanden is a strong supporter of a better social safety net.“I’m here today thanks to my mother’s grit, but also thanks to a country that had faith in us, that invested in her humanity, and in our dreams,” she said this week.The OMB is the largest office within the executive office of the president and oversees the development and implementation of the federal budget. Her priorities are unmistakable.“Budgets are not abstractions,” Tanden said. “They are a reflection of our values. They touch our lives in profound ways and sometimes they make all the difference.” Adewale ‘Wally’ Adeyemo, deputy treasury secretaryIf confirmed, Nigerian-born Adeyemo will be the first Black person to serve as deputy Treasury secretary.“Public service is about offering hope through the dark times and making sure that our economy works not just for the wealthy, but for the hard-working people who make it run,” he wrote on Twitter this week.Like Yellen he has emphasized the need to address income inequality. “In California’s Inland Empire, where I had grown up in a working-class neighborhood, the Great Recession hit us hard,” he said this week. “We were one of the foreclosure capitals of the United States. The pain of this was real for me.”But his work as a senior adviser to BlackRock, the world’s largest asset manager, and past positions calling for “avoiding protectionism” and asserting the need to join the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal are likely to cause problems with progressive Democrats and even many Republicans in the post-Trump era. Cecilia Rouse, chair of the Council of Economic AdvisersAnother first, Rouse will be the first Black chair of the Council of Economic Advisers if she is confirmed.Currently dean of the Princeton School of Public and International Affairs, Rouse is another expert in labor markets. Among her most famous research papers is a study of sexism in auditions and hiring for symphony orchestras.An expert on the impact of education on the labor force and long-term unemployment, Rouse has also championed paid sick leave. Last year, nearly 34 million workers – about a quarter of the US workforce – lacked paid sick leave.While supportive of the private sector, she recently wrote that the pandemic had exposed “a ‘Franken-system’ of support that is inadequate, costly, unnecessarily bureaucratic, and ultimately not trusted by many Americans”.