Yang in 2019
Andrew M. Yang
January 13, 1975
Schenectady, New York, U.S.
|Education||Brown University (AB)|
Columbia University (JD)
|Awards||Champions of Change (2012)|
Presidential Ambassadors for Global Entrepreneurship (2015)
Vilcek Prize for Excellence in Public Service (2021)
Andrew M. Yang (born January 13, 1975) is an American entrepreneur, philanthropist and former presidential candidate. Originally a corporate lawyer, Yang began working in startups and early stage growth companies as a founder or executive from 2000 to 2009. In 2011, he founded Venture for America (VFA), a nonprofit organization focused on creating jobs in cities struggling to recover from the Great Recession. He then ran as a candidate in the 2020 Democratic presidential primaries.
The son of immigrants from Taiwan, Yang was raised in New York. He attended Brown University and then Columbia Law School. Dissatisfied with his work as an attorney, Yang began working for startups during the dot-com bubble before spending a decade as an executive at test preparation company Manhattan Prep. In 2011, Yang founded VFA, which recruits top college graduates into a two-year fellowship program at startups in developing cities across the United States. The Obama administration selected him in 2011 as a "Champion of Change" and in 2015 as a "Presidential Ambassador for Global Entrepreneurship." Yang left VFA in 2017 to focus on his presidential campaign. In 2018, he authored The War on Normal People, which outlines several of his campaign's central ideas.
On November 6, 2017, Yang filed with the Federal Election Commission (FEC) to run for President of the United States in the 2020 election. Yang's campaign largely focused on responding to the rapid development of automation, which is increasingly leading to workforce challenges and economic instability in the United States. His signature policy was the "Freedom Dividend," a universal basic income (UBI) of $1,000 a month to every American adult as a response to job displacement by automation, one of the primary factors that he claims led to Donald Trump's election in 2016. Considered a dark horse candidate throughout much of the primary, Yang received significant popularity online, with The New York Times calling him "The Internet's Favorite Candidate." News outlets described Yang as the most surprising candidate of the 2020 election cycle, going from a relative unknown to a major competitor in the race. Yang qualified for and participated in seven of the first eight Democratic debates, and has been credited with elevating discussions on UBI, automation, and autism to the national level, as well as for engaging Asian Americans in presidential politics.
Yang's campaign was noted for its happy-go-lucky and "tech-friendly" nature. His supporters, informally known as the "Yang Gang", included several high-profile celebrity endorsements and were noted for their ideological and political diversity. Yang suspended his campaign on February 11, 2020, shortly after the New Hampshire primary, pledging that he and his movement are "just getting started." On February 19, Yang joined CNN as a political commentator. On March 5, Yang announced the creation of the nonprofit organization Humanity Forward, dedicated to promoting the ideas he campaigned on during his run.
Yang was born on January 13, 1975, in Schenectady, New York. His parents emigrated from Taiwan to the U.S. in the 1960s, and met while they were both in graduate school at the University of California, Berkeley. His father graduated with a PhD in physics and worked in the research labs of IBM and General Electric, generating over fifty patents in his career. His mother graduated with a master's degree in statistics before becoming a systems administrator at a local university, and later an artist. Yang has an older brother, Lawrence, who is a psychology professor at New York University. Yang's father, uncle, and cousin also became professors.
Yang grew up in Westchester County, New York, first in Somers, then in Katonah. Yang was one of the few children of East-Asian descent in his hometown, and he later described being bullied and called racial slurs by classmates while attending public school, in part because he was one of the smaller kids in his class after skipping a grade. In The War on Normal People (2018), he wrote, "Perhaps as a result, I've always taken pride in relating to the underdog or little guy or gal." When Yang was 12 years old, he scored a 1220 out of 1600 on the SAT, qualifying him to attend the Center for Talented Youth--a summer program for gifted kids run by Johns Hopkins University--which he attended for the next five summers. Yang later attended Phillips Exeter Academy, an elite boarding school in New Hampshire. Yang was part of the 1992 U.S. national debate team and competed at the world championships in London. Yang graduated from Exeter in 1992. He enrolled at Brown University, where he majored in economics and political science, and graduated in 1996. He then attended Columbia Law School, earning a Juris Doctor in 1999.
After graduating from law school, Yang began his career as a corporate attorney at Davis Polk & Wardwell in New York City. He quickly grew dissatisfied with the work, finding it grueling and unfulfilling. Yang later described the job as "a pie-eating contest, and if you won, your prize was more pie." He began to desire a career where he would get to "build something." He left the law firm after five months, which he has called "the five worst months of my life."
In February 2000 Yang joined his office mate, Jonathan Philips, in launching Stargiving, a website for celebrity-affiliated philanthropic fundraising. The startup had some initial success, but folded in 2002 as the dot-com bubble burst. Yang became involved in other ventures, including a party-organizing business. From 2002 to 2005, he served as the vice president of a healthcare startup.
After working in the healthcare industry for four years, Yang left MMF Systems to join his friend Zeke Vanderhoek at a small test preparation company, Manhattan Prep. In an appearance on the podcast Freakonomics, Yang said he "personally taught the analyst classes at McKinsey, Goldman Sachs, JPMorgan, and Morgan Stanley" during the 2008 financial crisis. In 2006, Vanderhoek asked Yang to take over as CEO. While Yang was CEO, the company primarily provided GMAT test preparation. It expanded from five to 69 locations and was acquired by Kaplan, Inc. in December 2009. Yang resigned as the company's president in early 2012. Yang later said it was during his time at Manhattan Prep that he became a millionaire.
In September 2019 testimony before the New York City Commission on Gender Equity, former employee Kimberly Watkins testified that Yang had fired her because he felt that she would not work as hard after getting married. Yang has denied the allegations, saying, "Kimberly Watkins' facts about her break from Manhattan Prep are inaccurate. During my more than a decade as CEO, I have worked with many women, married and otherwise, and value their work and dedication as important to the success of any institution." In an appearance on The View, Yang said, "I've had so many phenomenal women leaders that have elevated me and my organizations at every phase of my career, and if I was that kind of person I would never have had any success."
In November, a former employee of Yang's at Manhattan GMAT filed a lawsuit against him for allegedly paying her less than her male co-workers and subsequently firing her for asking for a raise. Yang and another female employee at the company disputed the anonymous woman's claim that she was in an equivalent position to the male co-workers she cited.
Following Kaplan's acquisition of Manhattan Prep in late 2009, Yang began to work on creating a new nonprofit fellowship program, Venture for America (VFA), which he founded in 2011 with the mission "to create economic opportunity in American cities by mobilizing the next generation of entrepreneurs and equipping them with the skills and resources they need to create jobs." VFA was launched with $200,000 and trained 40 graduates in 2012 and 69 in 2013, sending them to Baltimore, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Detroit, Las Vegas, New Orleans, Philadelphia, and Providence. VFA added Columbus, Miami, San Antonio and St. Louis in 2014, with a class of 106.
VFA's strategy was to recruit the nation's top college graduates into a two-year fellowship program in which they would work for and apprentice at promising startups in developing cities across the United States. Yang's book Smart People Should Build Things (2014) argues that the top universities in the country cherry-pick the smartest kids out of small towns and funnel them into the same corporate jobs in the same big cities. VFA's goal is to help distribute that talent around the country and incentivize entrepreneurship for economic growth.
After 2011 VFA grew, reaching a $6 million annual operating budget in 2017, and operating in about 20 U.S. cities, adding Kansas City, Atlanta, Baltimore, Birmingham, Charlotte, Cleveland, Columbus, Denver, Miami, Nashville, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, San Antonio, and St. Louis. VFA began running a "startup accelerator" in Detroit and launched a seed fund and an investment fund for fellows.
VFA quickly received national attention, including from the Obama administration. In 2011, Yang was selected as a "Champion of Change, a program "[recognizing] ordinary Americans across the country who are doing extraordinary work in their communities. In 2015, Yang was recognized as a "Presidential Ambassador for Global Entrepreneurship.
In 2014, Yang published Smart People Should Build Things, which emphasized the importance of intelligent people becoming entrepreneurs and engaging in the startup economy, rather than pursuing more traditional careers.Generation Startup, a documentary film about six startups in Detroit launched through the VFA program, was released in 2016. It was co-directed by Cynthia Wade and Cheryl Miller Houser.
In March 2017, Yang stepped down from his position as CEO of VFA, but continued to advise startups aligned to his signature policy of universal basic income throughout his presidential campaign.
On March 5, 2020, following the suspension of his presidential campaign, Yang announced that he was creating the nonprofit organization Humanity Forward, dedicated to promoting the ideas he campaigned on during his run, such as UBI and data privacy. Humanity Forward will also seek to engage and activate new voters while supporting like-minded down-ballot candidates, following the model of the pro-Bernie Sanders 501(c)4 Our Revolution. Yang also announced that the organization would give away $500,000 in UBI to the residents of Hudson, New York to demonstrate UBI's benefits.
In mid-March, several prominent Democrats and Republicans advocated for basic income in response to the coronavirus pandemic. After the Trump administration said it was considering a form of basic income in response to the pandemic, Yang announced that he had been in touch with the White House and had offered his team's services. On March 20, CNN reported that Humanity Forward would soon spend $1million on $1,000 monthly payments to 500 low-income households in the Bronx during the crisis. Yang tweeted that the number of households was expected to double with additional funding. On August 3, Yang announced that his organization was partnering with The $1K Project, an online network which helps to identify families in need, who will be awarded three months of $1,000 payments. One of the network's founders describes the program as "a bridge to reemployment or other kinds of support."
Media outlets have provided several estimates of Yang's net worth: $1 million according to Forbes, between $834,000 and $2.4 million according to The Wall Street Journal, and between $3 million and $4 million according to Newsweek.
On November 6, 2017, Yang filed with the Federal Election Commission (FEC) to run for President of the United States in 2020. The campaign began with a small initial staff working out of an apartment owned by Yang's mother. He ran on multiple slogans, including "Humanity First", "Make America Think Harder (MATH)", and "Not Left, Not Right, Forward." Initially considered a longshot, Yang's campaign gained significant momentum in February 2019 following an appearance on the popular podcast The Joe Rogan Experience. He has since appeared on numerous other podcasts and shows, including The Breakfast Club,The Ben Shapiro Show, and Real Time with Bill Maher. By March 2019, Yang had met the polling and fundraising thresholds to qualify for the first round of Democratic primary debates. In August 2019, he met the higher thresholds to qualify for the second round of Democratic debates. Later, he also qualified for the third, fourth, fifth, and sixth Democratic debates. Yang was unable to qualify for the January 2020 debate due to not having met a polling threshold in enough DNC Certified national polls. He did qualify for the February 2020 debate.
Yang's campaign focused largely on policy, in what Reuters described as a "technocratic approach." Yang regularly called Donald Trump a symptom of a wider problem in the economy, rather than the problem itself. According to The New York Times, Yang was known for doing interviews with conservative news outlets, and "although [Yang] tweets often, he almost never tweets about Mr. Trump." This approach was exemplified by one of Yang's campaign slogans: "Not Left, Not Right, Forward." According to a July 2019 YouGov poll, Yang was one of two 2020 Democratic candidates, along with Senator Bernie Sanders, with double-digit support among voters who voted for Trump in 2016. Polling conducted by Business Insider in the fall of 2019 found that Yang had the highest net satisfaction rate among undecided 2020 general election voters, and a November 2019 College Pulse poll found that Yang had the highest crossover support among college students of any candidate in the 2020 race, with 18% of Republican college students saying they would support Yang over Trump in the general election.
Yang's campaign was known for its heavy reliance on Internet-based campaigning. The campaign was also known for its popularity online, with The New York Times calling Yang "The Internet's Favorite Candidate." His campaign supporters, known informally as the Yang Gang, brought attention to his campaign on Reddit, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and other social media platforms, through memes and viral campaigning. Several news outlets called Yang the most surprising candidate of the election cycle, going from relative obscurity to a national contender who outlasted several well-known politicians.
Yang is at least the third American of East Asian descent to run for President of the United States, after Hiram Fong and Patsy Mink. According to BBC, he "is one of the first and most recognizable East Asian-Americans in history to run for president." He has said that he hopes his "campaign can inspire Asian Americans to be engaged in [politics]."
On March 11, 2019, Yang announced that he surpassed the fundraising threshold of 65,000 donors, qualifying him to participate in the first round of Democratic primary debates. On June 28, he announced that he reached 130,000 donors, which met the fundraising criterion for the third round of debates.
In the first quarter of 2019, Yang raised $1.7 million, of which more than $250,000 came from "the last four days of the quarter." According to Yang's campaign, "the average donation was $17.92" and "99% of the donations were less than $200." In the second quarter, Yang raised $2.8 million. The campaign stated that 99.6% "of its donors were small-dollar donors [who] gave less than $200." On August 13, 2019, Yang's third-quarter fundraising reached $2.8 million, matching his total second-quarter fundraising. On August 15, he reached 200,000 unique donors. On August 17, Yang announced that among his campaign donors, "the most common jobs are software engineers, teachers, drivers, retail workers and warehouse workers" and the "biggest employer is the US Army." On September 1, he announced that the average donation was $25, and that the campaign had received no corporate political action committee (PAC) money. In the 72 hours after the third debate, Yang's campaign raised $1 million, suggesting that it "is on track to raise significantly more in the third quarter" than in the second quarter, according to Politico.
In the third quarter, Yang's campaign raised $10 million, representing a 257% quarterly increase--the largest growth rate among the fundraising numbers of all candidates. The average donation was around $30, and 99% of the donations were $200 or less.
In the fourth quarter, Yang's campaign raised $16.5 million. During his entire 2020 campaign, he received donations from about 400,000 unique donors, with 75% of donations coming from "small dollar" donors who gave $200 or less.
On multiple occasions, Yang's campaign and supporters have criticized media outlets, such as MSNBC and CNN, for their coverage of Yang. Incidents include cases of news outlets excluding Yang from lists of 2020 Democratic candidates. On August 29, 2019, Yang supporters prompted the hashtag #YangMediaBlackout to trend on Twitter after a CNN infographic displaying the results of a poll included candidate Beto O'Rourke but not Yang, even though the poll showed Yang polling three times higher than O'Rourke. Yang supporters also criticized media outlets for providing disproportionately low coverage of Yang, pointing out that according to The New York Times, Yang has received some of the least coverage in cable news among the candidates, even though he was polling better than most of the field.
In early September, Yang's lack of media coverage was reported by several media outlets, including CNN.Axios noted that while Yang polled in the top six of the Democratic primary and was "getting plenty of online attention", he was "being treated by the media like a bottom-tier candidate."Krystal Ball of The Hill observed that there was "a persistent pattern of ignoring Yang's candidacy" among media outlets such as CNN. She further noted that Scott Santens, one of Yang's supporters, "has been keeping track of the apparent slights via Twitter." On October 23, 2019, Santens released an article compiling the mainstream media's exclusions of Yang. In November 2019, Yang's campaign manager dismissed an apology by MSNBC for leaving Yang off an infographic, which according to Santens's compilation was the 15th time in the campaign cycle MSNBC or its related networks had wrongfully excluded Yang. On November 23, 2019, following the MSNBC-hosted November debate in which Yang received the least speaking time and was not called upon for the first 30 minutes of the two-hour debate, Yang publicly rejected a request to appear on MSNBC unless the network would "apologize on air, discuss and include our campaign consistent with our polling, and allow surrogates from our campaign as they do other candidates'". A Business Insider analysis found that Yang received significantly less speaking time at debates than would be expected given his polling numbers. In late December 2019, Yang ended his boycott of MSNBC, saying he preferred to "speak to as many Americans as possible." On November 22, 2020, former MSNBC producer Ariana Pekary tweeted that Yang was on a list of presidential candidates that the MSNBC show The Last Word with Lawrence O'Donnell was instructed not to interview.
Yang dropped out of the race on February 11, 2020, after a disappointing result in the New Hampshire primary. He announced to his supporters, "while we did not win this election, we are just getting started."Howard Wolfson suggested that he "would make a very interesting candidate" for the mayor of New York City; Yang said, "it's incredibly flattering to be thought of in that role.... We haven't ruled anything out at this point. I will say I'm more attracted to executive roles than legislative ones because I think you can get more done." On March 3, Yang reiterated his interest in the mayorship to BuzzFeed News.
On February 19, Yang joined CNN as a political commentator. On February 22, he said that "Someone needs to pull an Andrew Yang" and drop out of the race, referring to Bernie Sanders' emergence as the front-runner and the remaining candidates competing to position themselves against him. In late February, it was reported that Michael Bloomberg's campaign had reached out to Yang concerning an endorsement. Yang said on CNN that "multiple campaigns have reached out, and it's flattering to be considered for a VP role or any role in someone's campaign," but said that he would be "much more enthusiastic about considering an endorsement" if a candidate made a commitment to the issues he had run on, including job automation and UBI.
On March 5, Yang announced his involvement with the nonprofit organization Humanity Forward. On March 10, the night of the Michigan Democratic primary, he endorsed Joe Biden. He said he understood Sanders supporters' frustration, but that beating Trump in the election was the most important objective. The same day, CNN accidentally called Yang the "Democratic presidential nominee" in a tweet.
On April 29, 2020, Yang announced that he was taking legal action against the New York State Board of Elections after the state election commission voted to cancel its presidential primary. The filing stated: "This unprecedented and unwarranted move infringes the rights of Plaintiffs and all New York State Democratic Party voters, of which there are estimated to be more than six million, as it fundamentally denies them the right to choose our next candidate for the office of President of the United States." In early May, the judge ruled in Yang's favor.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, Yang, through his organization Humanity Forward, launched The All Americans Movement, which works to help communities affected by racism related to the pandemic.
Initially left out of the list of confirmed speakers for the 2020 Democratic National Convention, Yang expressed his dissatisfaction on Twitter stating that he "kind of expected to speak" at the event. Yang's supporters urged the DNC to include him in the speaker lineup, and on August 13, Yang was added to the list. Yang spoke at the DNC on August 20, as the third speaker of the night.
In September 2020 Joe Biden's 2020 presidential campaign hired Yang as a member of its small business advisory council. In November 2020, Yang announced that he and his wife were moving to Atlanta to assist Raphael Warnock's and Jon Ossoff's campaigns in the January 2021 Georgia Senate runoffs.
Many of Yang's political views are based on his idea of "Human-Centered Capitalism." In April 2018, he published The War on Normal People, which focused largely on his domestic policies. More than 160 policies were listed on Yang's 2020 campaign website. Central to that campaign was the proposal of a monthly $1,000 "Freedom Dividend" to all U.S. citizens over the age of 18 (a form of universal basic income, or UBI) in response to worker displacement driven by technological automation. According to Yang, the Freedom Dividend's benefits include "healthier people, less stressed-out people, better-educated people, stronger communities, more volunteerism, [and] more civic participation. There's zero bureaucracy associated with it [because there is no] need to verify whether [people's] circumstances change." Citing forecasting by the Roosevelt Institute, Yang has said that the dividend "would create up to 2 million new jobs in [American] communities." However, the policies the Roosevelt Institute studied differ from Yang's Freedom Dividend in some significant ways. Yang has said that the dividend would be opt-in. For those receiving welfare benefits, opting in to the dividend would replace some benefits while stacking with others. Yang has said that he became a UBI advocate after reading American futurist Martin Ford's book Rise of the Robots: Technology and the Threat of a Jobless Future, which deals with the impact of automation and artificial intelligence on the job market and economy. He believes UBI is a more viable policy than job retraining programs, citing studies showing that job retraining of displaced manufacturing workers in the Midwest had success rates of 0-15%.
Yang has proposed a value-added tax to finance the dividend and to combat tax avoidance by large American corporations. He argues that automation-driven job displacement was the main reason Donald Trump won the 2016 presidential election, saying that based on data, "There's a straight line up between the adoption of industrial robots in a community and the movement towards Donald Trump." Yang's campaign slogan "Humanity First" called attention to his belief that automation of many key industries is one of the biggest threats facing the American workforce. On healthcare, he has said that while he supports "the spirit of Medicare for All", he "would keep the option of private insurance", with the ultimate goal to "demonstrate to the American people that private insurance is not what [they] need" and that Medicare for All is "superior to [their] current insurance." But his 2020 policy proposal did not commit to Medicare for All or contain a public option, focusing instead on reducing costs and eventually expanding coverage.
Yang supports the implementation of "democracy dollars": $100 every year, "use it or lose it", for citizens to give to candidates. The policy aims to drown out corporate money resulting from political lobbying and Citizens United v. FEC. He supports ending partisan gerrymandering,ranked-choice voting, and lowering the national voting age to 16. Yang supports legalizing cannabis and decriminalizing opioids (including heroin) for personal use, but does not support legalizing or decriminalizing cocaine. He has cited Portugal's drug policy, which he believes to be similar, as evidence of the effectiveness of his policy. Yang has also advocated that police officers be trained in Brazilian jiu-jitsu, at least to the rank of purple belt. He supports a carbon tax and bringing the U.S. back into the Paris Climate Agreement, as well as investing in thorium-based nuclear power. He supports legislation banning discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, and has pledged to appoint pro-choice judges. Yang has proposed creating a department focused on regulating the addictive nature of media, appointing a White House psychologist, making Election Day a national holiday, and, to stem corruption, increasing the salaries of federal regulators but limiting their private work after they leave public service. He supports legalizing online poker in all 50 states, the "first legitimate candidate" to do so, according to Card Player.
Yang has said that Israel "is a very, very important ally." In regard to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Yang wants a "two-state solution that allows both the Israeli and Palestinian people to have sovereign land and self-determination." He has called Iran a "destabilizing force in the region", but supported Obama's Iran nuclear deal. Yang has criticized China's treatment of its Uyghur Muslim minority and China's "more aggressive stance throughout the region, whether towards Hong Kong, Taiwan, or in the South China Sea." He also voiced support for the 2019-20 Hong Kong protests. At the same time, Yang has warned against entering a "New Cold War" with China and stated: "We're not going to be able to address global threats like climate change and even collaborate on artificial intelligence if we don't have a certain level of cooperation between the US and China."
Yang has opposed U.S. military support for the Saudi-led military campaign in Yemen and has backed a more aggressive policy toward Russia, saying, "Russia is our biggest geopolitical threat, because they've been hacking our democracy successfully." Yang wrote to the Council on Foreign Relations: "Russian aggression is a destabilizing force, and we must work with our allies to project a strong and unified face against Russian expansionism. [...] we need to expand sanctions against Russia, and Putin and members of his government specifically through the Global Magnitsky Act, in order to pressure the country to play by international rules." Yang has said that the U.S. has tampered with foreign elections--just like Russia has--and that Russian interference "has to stop, and if it does not stop we will take this as an act of hostility against the American people."
In 2012, Yang was named a "Champion of Change" by the Obama administration. In 2015, he was named a "Presidential Ambassador for Global Entrepreneurship." In 2020, Yang received the 2021 Vilcek Prize for Excellence in Public Service, awarded by the Vilcek Foundation.Jan Vilcek, Chairman and CEO of the Vilcek Foundation, said, "The Vilcek Prize for Excellence... is a way for us to honor the work of individuals... whose experience and career contributions nonetheless exemplify or speak to our foundation's core mission and vision--to celebrate the multitude of immigrant experiences and how immigration enriches culture, society, and innovation in the United States."
Andrew Yang has been married to Evelyn Yang (née Lu) since 2011, and they have two sons. Yang has spoken about his older son who has autism, saying, "I'm very proud of my son and anyone who has someone on the spectrum in their family feels the exact same way."
Yang attends the Reformed Church of New Paltz with his family and has identified Mark E. Mast as their pastor. He considers himself spiritual. When speaking about his faith in an interfaith town hall at Wartburg College, Yang said he "wouldn't be the first to say that [his] own journey is still in progress."
The entrepreneur has said his plan supports the "spirit of Medicare for All," although it does not contain a public option.
Yang's plan stops short of offering the public option plan that even moderate candidates like former Vice President Joe Biden and South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg have committed to implementing.