A Strong Middle Class Blog

  • Strengthening an Emerging Industry While Helping Families Save Money

    Download Video: mp4 (404MB) | mp3 (39MB)

    Last fall, the Middle Class Task Force and the Council on Environmental Quality released a report called Recovery Through Retrofit, which identified the key barriers standing in the way of strong and sustainable home energy-efficiency industry.  For the past year, we have been working with our partners across the federal government to address these barriers, and today, the Vice President announced three new initiatives that will grow this industry and help middle-class families save money on their energy bills. 

    First, homeowners don’t have access to clear and reliable information about their home’s energy performance and how to improve it.  So today, the Department of Energy announced a program called Home Energy Score.   Using a new software tool, trained contractors will be able to go through a house in an hour or less and generate a report with two critical components:

    • First, an easy to understand graphic showing where the home’s energy performance rates on a scale of 1 to 10 and how that score compares to other homes in the area.   It’s like a miles-per-gallon label for your house.  
    • Second, a customized list of recommended improvements, with information on how much the homeowner’s energy bill would be reduced by each change.

  • New Report Highlights Administration’s Support for Women and Families

    At the beginning of this Administration, the President tasked Vice President Biden with chairing the Middle Class Task Force to identify and push through measures to help get middle-class families back on their feet.

    From day one, the Middle Class Task Force has focused on supporting women in all of the work they do – as caregivers to our nation’s children and the elderly, as leaders in business and increasingly as co-breadwinners in households across the country.  With more women entering and remaining in the workforce and more households than ever dependent on two incomes, this work is critical to helping middle-class families regain and maintain their financial security.

    Yesterday the National Economic Council released a report, Jobs and Economic Security for America’s Women, which provided even more evidence for why this work is critically important.

    The report lays out that in almost two-thirds of families women are either the primary or co-breadwinner in their household. Many women are sole breadwinners. As of December 2009, 2.1 million women whose husbands were unemployed were working as the sole breadwinners for their families. An additional 6.1 million women are single mothers and the sole breadwinners for their families.

    As women’s income and employment gains increasing importance in family budgets, their other roles do not disappear. Women are still playing substantial roles as caregivers to their children, parents and family members with disabilities. That means it is more important than ever to support women as they seek to balance these responsibilities.

    The report highlights some of the initiatives the Middle Class Task Force championed in the 2011 Budget to provide families with more options as they try to navigate this increasingly delicate juggling act. These aren’t just women’s issues; they are issues of vital importance to every family’s economic security.

    Some of our 2011 Budget Proposals:

    • A near-doubling of the Child and Dependent Care Tax Credit for middle-class families.  This would result in a $900 increase in the maximum credit available to many middle class families.
    • $100 million for the Caregiver Initiative at the Department of Health and Human Services, which would help an additional 200,000 caregivers better balance their responsibilities and support one million additional hours of adult day care and three million rides to critical daily activities, taking the strain off women and their families.
    • $50 million for the State Paid Leave Fund at the Department of Labor, which will provide competitive grants to help cover start-up costs for states that choose to launch paid leave programs.

    These are just some of the Administration’s efforts to support women and the middle-class families they support as they seek to regain their footing. To read the report and learn more about the Administration’s efforts to support women and middle-class families, click here.

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

  • A Path Forward for Communities Affected by the GM Bankruptcy

    Over the past year, the Vice President and Middle Class task Force have visited revived auto plants, clean energy manufacturers, and other factories where Americans are making things to drive this economy forward.  And he’s always stressed how important these plants are to their communities.

    One difficult challenge these communities face is how to move old and abandoned properties back into productive use. Too often, a combination of insufficient resources, uncertain environmental liabilities, and inadequate commitment from responsible parties puts shuttered facilities in a devastating limbo for years or even decades.  Empty buildings and chain link fences not only represent lost opportunities but have the potential to create a vicious cycle, driving down property values increasing crime and keeping communities from moving their economies forward.

  • Taking On Black Lung

    Last week, the attention of the entire world was focused on the historic rescue of 33 miners in Chile. It was a moment of triumph for the miners and for the international team that helped plan and execute the rescue.

    In the midst of our excitement at their rescue, it is important to remember that many, many more miners lose their lives each year, not just to accidents at mines, but also to the greatest threat to American miners: black lung disease.

    Sadly, because deaths from this painful disease don’t have the sudden, devastating impact or bring the media attention that mine explosions generate, black lung has gotten less attention than it deserves.

  • Giving You the Information You Need to Make Good Retirement Choices

    Every working American deserves access to the information he or she needs to make good decisions about how to save for retirement.  It’s that simple.

    That’s why we here at the Middle Class Task Force are excited that today, the Department of Labor is announcing new rules that will help make this principle a reality by requiring 401(k) providers to disclose key information to plan participants about their fees and expenses.  It also makes sure that plan providers present investment options in a clear, apples-to-apples way that will help the 72 million participants in 401(k)-style retirement plans make better choices.  It’s a common-sense step toward improving the retirement security of American workers, and it’s one we should all be able to get behind.

    Retirement security has been one of the Middle Class Task Force’s top priorities since day one.  When the President created the Task Force less than two weeks after he took office, retirement security was one of the topics he explicitly assigned us to focus on.

    So we’ve been working on ways to strengthen the retirement security of American workers ever since.  When we released our first annual report earlier this year, we wrote about a number of retirement security proposals, including an idea for helping workers automatically save money in Individual Retirement Accounts; an improved tax credit for retirement savings; and a set of new regulations to improve the transparency and reliability of 401(k)s.

    The fee disclosure rule that our Administration is announcing today is one key piece of that agenda.  By requiring 401(k) providers to disclose their fees and expenses to the workers who use their products to save for retirement, this rule will bring more transparency to the system and make sure workers know what they’re getting.

    And by giving workers the information they need to be better-informed consumers of retirement savings products, the rule will help ensure that their retirement savings aren’t eroded by high fees and expenses, so they can get the most out of every dollar they put away.

    We’ll keep working on new ways to strengthen retirement security for American workers.  But today, we’re happy that this Administration is taking one more step to give you the tools you need to make informed choices about how to save for the retirement you deserve.

    Jared Bernstein is Chief Economic Advisor to the Vice President

  • The American Opportunity Tax Credit and the President's Event Today

    The President just finished meeting with a group of college students and their families in the Oval Office.  They discussed the American Opportunity Tax Credit (AOTC), which is worth up to $2,500 a year for four years and covers tuition, fees and textbook expenses.  This credit was created by the Recovery Act but it is scheduled to expire at the end of this year.  Today, President Obama called on Congress to permanently extend the AOTC.  Why is this so important?  Check out this Department of the Treasury report that was released today. 

    The report finds that more than 12.5 million students and their families benefited from a tax incentive for higher education last year, including over 8 million students who received the AOTC.    They got an average tax credit of $1,700, which is about 75% more than the average recipient of college tax credits received in 2008, before our Administration established the AOTC.   The AOTC replaced and expanded the Hope Scholarship credit, which had a lower maximum benefit, was only available for two years, and could not be used to cover the cost of textbooks and other course materials.  Because of the AOTC, higher education tax incentives increased by 90% between 2008 and 2009 – that translates into $8.7 billion in the pockets of middle class families.

    Making college more affordable is a core priority of the Middle Class Task Force and we highlighted the importance of permanently extending the AOTC in our Annual Report.  We hope that Congress will heed the President’s call to action.

    Brian Levine is Deputy Domestic Policy Advisor to the Vice President