A Strong Middle Class Blog

  • Honoring 29 Miners

    The last few weeks have been filled with reminders of the dangers Americans face at work – from the 100th anniversary of the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire to today’s sad anniversary of the Upper Big Branch mine disaster, where 29 miners were killed. These tragedies remind us that preventable workplace accidents are still all too common in this country.  In 2010, 4,300 workers died on the job in this country.

    Improving workplace safety for miners and all workers has been a priority of the Administration’s Middle Class Task Force, chaired by Vice President Joe Biden. Over the last year, the Department of Labor’s Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) and the Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) have been working to enforce and improve our workplace safety laws. 

    MSHA initiated strategic “impact” inspections at mines it believes could be at risk for an explosion, have poor compliance histories or poor safety systems.  Since April 2010, MSHA has conducted 228 impact inspections, resulting in 4,200 citations and 396 orders. The Department of Labor has also taken steps to reduce backlogs and delays in enforcement by allowing quicker identification of mines with patterns of violations. 

    Because MSHA and inspectors can’t be at every mine all the time, the Department has proposed a rule that would require mine operators to regularly identify and correct violations of health or safety standards on their own, with MSHA inspectors regularly checking in on their progress.  Together, these actions have and will continue to make a real difference in the daily work of miners.

    OSHA has also been hard at work. In 2010, OSHA inspected the workplaces of over 5.9 million Americans and provided free on site compliance assistance to over 26, 000 businesses. The agency also launched a program to identify and concentrate resources on the most egregious and severe violators.

    Working with the Middle Class Task Force, OSHA and the Department of Justice have expanded the Worker Endangerment Initiative. Under the Initiative, DOL and DOJ work together to evaluate employers who repeatedly violate workplace safety laws in order to identify those that may also have violated environmental or other criminal statutes that carry stronger penalties. This kind of collaboration makes sure the full force of the law is brought in cases where workers are put in harm’s way.

    Even with all these efforts to increase enforcement and compliance, both OSHA and MSHA need better tools to effectively protect workers. That’s why we support Senate HELP Committee Chairman Tom Harkin and House Education and Workforce Committee Chairman John Kline in their efforts to strengthen our mine safety laws. 

    As the Vice President said at a memorial service for the 29 miners who lost their lives last year, “the men we remember today went into the darkness so that we could have light.  They embraced a life of hard work and a career full of peril.  It was dangerous – it was dangerous work and they knew it, but they never flinched. … Many of them loved it; some of them dreaded it.  But all of them, all of them approached it with dignity, resolve, and strength.”

    Today we honor their memory by continuing to make progress in improving the safety of our workplaces.

    Maureen Tracey-Mooney is Senior Policy Analyst in the Office of the Vice President.

  • A Call to Action on College Completion

    Vice President Biden Speaks at the Grad Nation Conference

    Vice President Joe Biden speaks at the Grad Nation Conference at the Marriott Wardman Park, in Washington, DC, March 22, 2011. (Official White House Photo by David Lienemann).

    College access and affordability has been a key area of focus for the Middle Class Task Force over the last two years.  On this blog, we have frequently updated you on our Administration’s commitment to expanding student aid through Pell Grants and the American Opportunity Tax Credit.

    Providing every American child with the opportunity to go to college is critically important, but we can’t stop there.  We need more American students to graduate from college.  The President has set a clear goal: By 2020, America will have the highest proportion of college graduates in the world.  Right now we are ninth.

    70 percent of students go on to pursue some kind of postsecondary education after high school, but less than half actually get a degree or certificate within 6 years.  Why is this so important? Because more than half of all new jobs created in the next decade will require a postsecondary degree.  And college graduates make more money and are less likely to be unemployed than individuals with only a high school diploma.  Ensuring that more students graduate from college is essential to maintaining a strong middle class.

    Today the Vice President challenged every Governor to host a state college completion summit, and promised that the Department of Education would help any state develop a plan to boost completion.

  • You've Got A Friend In the Trend

    On this first Friday of every month, the Bureau of Labor Statistics provides the nation with a close look at what’s been going on in the job market.   While you don’t want to put too much weight on any one month of data, the report is bursting with valuable info on stuff that matters a lot to real people, like job growth, unemployment, and earnings.

    One useful thing to do with these data is to average over a few months, to smooth out some of the jumpiness in the monthly numbers.  And when you apply this smoothing to private sector job growth, a promising pattern emerges.

    The figure below takes an average of monthly job growth in the private sector over the past three months (Dec, Jan, Feb), and compares that to the same average last year and two years ago.

    Private Sector Jobs, 3 Month Period

    Two years ago, when President Obama took office, we were hemorrhaging jobs at a rate of over 700,000 per month.  Our Administration attacked the problem, first with the Recovery Act, and later with a broad set of initiatives to put more money in family budgets, free up credit for small businesses, and most recently, boost paychecks with a temporary payroll tax cut.

  • Labor and Management Working Together For Student Success

    School reform is often portrayed as an unavoidable conflict between labor (teachers) and management (superintendents and principals).  Well, earlier this week I joined a conference of local teachers’ union presidents, school district superintendents and school board presidents that are working together to make important inroads against that conventional wisdom.

    These educators represent 150 school districts, and they came together to talk about how to use labor-management collaboration to improve student achievement and transform schools. Each participating district was required to bring each of these kinds of leaders, so that all the decision makers were at the table. Even more, in order to be selected each team had to commit to continuing this work beyond just a few days in Denver, pledging to address tough issues like evaluation, professional development and top to bottom accountability.

  • What Have You Learned from ARRA, Dorothy?

    The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act turns two years old today, thus prompting the Tin Man’s question: what have we learned from the implementation of the economic stimulus?

    Some interesting and provocative answers to that question can be found in a new report out today, entitled A New Way of Doing Business: How the Recovery Act is Leaning the Way to 21st Century Government.

    Now, I understand that implementation of government programs is not a topic that immediately grips the attention of a normal person.  But even if you’re not a propeller-beanied policy wonk, this report is worth a look.

    Why?  Because it presents a chapter in the story of rebuilding faith in the ability of the Federal government to get things done effectively and efficiently. 

  • A Budget that Meets Two Goals

    On Monday, the Administration released the President’s Budget for Fiscal Year 2012.  It’s a Budget that meets two goals: it makes tough but necessary cuts that put our nation on a sustainable fiscal path.  And it’s a budget that invests wisely to ensure economic opportunity for working Americans.

    As the President said Monday, this is a budget designed to help America win the future by out-innovating, out-educating, and out-building our global competition.  But in order to afford those investments, the government needs to start living within our means.  So we’re proposing over $1 trillion in deficit reduction, of which two thirds comes from spending cuts.

    Yet we cannot abandon the needs of working families at this point in our economic recovery.  Yes, our cuts have involved tough choices, and they will require sacrifices from many Americans.  But there’s also a lot in this budget to help middle-class families get back to work, afford college, to protect them at work, and strengthen their retirement.

    A few examples: