A Strong Middle Class Blog

  • Bringing High-Speed Rail to America

    Ed. Note: Read more from Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood on his blog.

    Download Video: mp4 (288MB) | mp3 (28MB)

    Imagine the last time you took a trip between two American cities.  Maybe you had to wait in line at a crowded airport; maybe you spent hours in traffic in a car or a bus.  Or maybe you made the trip on a train that had to slow down over and over because it was running on outdated tracks.

    Now think about the fact that over the next 40 years, the population of the US is projected to grow by 100 million, and consider how much that’ll increase the use of our roads, airports, and rail.  Now imagine what that same trip you took will be like if we don’t build the transportation infrastructure we need to accommodate those extra travelers.

    The fact is, those folks are going to travel one way or another.  But it’s up to us whether they travel on the infrastructure of the past, or whether they travel on new 21st century transportation infrastructure that’s fast, modern, efficient, and environmentally friendly.

    That’s why Vice President Biden traveled to Philadelphia today to announce a comprehensive plan to help the nation reach President Obama’s goal of giving 80 percent of Americans access to high-speed rail within 25 years.  The President is proposing to invest $53 billion over the next six years to continue construction of a national high-speed and intercity passenger rail network, which will create tens of thousands of private-sector jobs while helping to lay a new foundation for our economy.

  • Living Up To the Mine Act

    Today the Department of Labor proposed a new rule that would help better protect Americans with one of the most dangerous jobs: miners.

    For years, the Mine Safety and Health Administration has been overly restricted in its use of a powerful tool to protect the health and safety of our nation’s miners: putting a mine on a “Patterns of Violations” (or POV) status and using the additional enforcement tools that determination brings with it. The current system makes it much too difficult to identify such patterns -- too hard for both mine operators and the workers who need the protection this new rule would provide.

    In the 30 years since the Mine Act’s passage no mine has ever been placed on a POV. That means that mines we know are consistently putting workers in danger are allowed to continue bad practices without making the needed systemic changes to protect workers. The current regulatory interpretation of the Mine Act fundamentally undermines its intent: to provide MSHA with the tools it needs to protect workers.

  • Our Plan to Put One Million Advanced Technology Vehicles on America’s Roads

    Last night, President Obama set a goal of making the United States the first country in the world to put one million advanced technology vehicles on the road. This goal is part of the President’s plan to rebuild our economy by investing in innovation to create the jobs and industries of the future.

    Vice President Biden Greenfield 2

    Vice President Joe Biden tours the Ener1 Inc. battery factory with Director of Manufacturing David Hahn and worker Wendy Howard in Greenfield, Indiana, Jan. 26, 2011. (Official White House photo by David Lienemann) January 26, 2011.

    Today, Vice President Biden visited Ener1, Inc., a manufacturer of advanced batteries for electric vehicles, in Greenfield, Indiana to announce our plan to reach this one million vehicle goal by 2015. The facility that the Vice President visited would not exist if not for a $118.5 million grant from the Department of Energy, which was part of a $2.4 billion Recovery Act investment in electric vehicles . Ener1 added 120 jobs across the company in 2010 and the future looks bright. They expect to expand the manufacturing and assembly operation in Greenfield from 80 workers today to over a thousand by the start of 2013.

    The Vice President got a first-hand look at Ener1’s assembly line and had a chance to chat with several workers. The Vice President was introduced by Wendy Howard, a mother of three, who joined Ener1 after being laid off from her previous job. Wendy proudly said that she now makes "hi-tech batteries for electric cars that don’t disturb the environment and don’t drink up oil that we don’t have."

    Vice President Biden Greenfield 1

    Vice President Joe Biden tours the Ener1 Inc. battery factory with CEO Charles Gassenheimer and COO Richard Stanley and is shown a THINK City, an electric car that uses Ener1 batteries, in Greenfield, Indiana, Jan. 26, 2011. (Official White House photo by David Lienemann) January 26, 2011.

    Wendy and her co-workers at Ener1 will surely benefit from the three-part plan that Vice President Biden announced today, which will support electric vehicle manufacturing and adoption in the United States through generous new consumer rebates, investments in research and development, and a new competitive program to encourage communities to knock down regulatory barriers and invest in electric vehicle infrastructure, like public charging stations. You can learn more about the plan here.

    As the Vice President said today, Ener1 and other companies like it are "building a brighter, cleaner, and more prosperous American future."

    Brian Levine is Deputy Domestic Policy Advisor to the Vice President

  • Victories For Working Families and Jobs in the Agreement on Tax Cuts and Unemployment Insurance

    The President is committed to promoting a strong, growing economy – one that’s creating jobs, fostering a thriving middle class, and extending opportunity to all American workers. That’s why he fought so hard to ensure that the priorities of working families were advanced in the agreement introduced today in the Senate.

    Tax Credits Framework Chart

    December 10, 2010.

    As the chart above demonstrates, the bipartisan agreement we’ve forged delivers several key victories – victories that will give the average American family assurance that there will be more money to pay the bills each month:  

  • Helping Middle-Class Families Pursue Justice

    This morning, the Vice President spoke at a Middle Class Task Force Event that was co-hosted by the Department of Justice’s Access to Justice Initiative.  He announced new steps that our Administration is taking in partnership with the legal community to strengthen foreclosure mediation programs, help veterans cope with legal challenges, and make it easier for workers to find a qualified attorney when they believe their rights have been violated.

    First, the Department of Labor (DOL) and the American Bar Association (ABA) are launching a new partnership to help workers resolve complaints received by DOL’s Wage and Hour Division, such as not getting paid the minimum wage or overtime, or being wrongfully denied family medical leave.  DOL resolves more than 20,000 of these complaints every year, but because of limited resources, there are thousands more they are unable to pursue.  Starting next month, people whose cases cannot be pursued will be provided with a newly created toll-free number that will connect them with an ABA-approved attorney referral service so they can find a qualified lawyer to help with their claims.

  • The Importance of Equal Pay For Women

    Yesterday I picked up my Wall Street Journal and read an opinion piece “Washington’s Equal Pay Obsession” arguing that the Paycheck Fairness Act is unnecessary because, in a nutshell, women don’t face rampant pay discrimination. Instead, the author asserted, the wage gap exists because women are mothers. 

    So let’s break this down. 

    First, there is ample evidence that women – regardless of their parental status - do face pay discrimination.  Yes, part of the wage gap is a result of occupational choices and other factors. No one denies that. Most economists agree, however, that no matter how many variables you control for an unexplained wage gap between men and women persists. For example, Francine Blau and Lawrence Kahn did an excellent breakdown of the wage gap in 2007 and identified that 41% of the wage gap between men and women could not be explained by controlling for variables. Regardless of the precise percentage of the wage gap, we have a responsibility to ensure that no one in this country makes less as a result of his or her gender.

    Wage discrimination is real.