A Strong Middle Class Blog

  • A Living-Room Discussion with Middle Class Families

    Yesterday, Vice President Biden visited the home of Bob and Lorie Cochran in Manchester, New Hampshire for a discussion on the economy and other issues that are important to middle class families. The Cochrans were kind enough to host a small group of their neighbors and other families from Manchester.  You might have seen the President leading similar discussions over the last few weeks – it’s all about hearing directly from the American people about how things are going on Main Street and the concerns they’re facing as they sit around their kitchen tables.  We’ve been calling these events “backyard discussions,” but the weather didn’t cooperate yesterday.  It started raining as soon as we arrived in New Hampshire, so we all had to move inside to the Cochrans’ living room. 

    Vice President Joe Biden attends a Middle Class Task Force Event at the Home of Lorie and Robert Cochran in Manchester, New Hampshire

    Vice President Joe Biden attends a Middle Class Task Force event at the home of Lorie and Robert Cochran in Manchester, New Hampshire, September 27, 2010. (Official White House Photo by David Lienemann)

    Fortunately, the grim weather didn’t put a damper on our conversation.  After some brief opening remarks by the Vice President, we launched right into a great discussion, with the audience asking about the steps we’re taking to create jobs and get our economy moving again.  The Vice President took the opportunity to discuss our agenda for creating jobs, including more tax cuts for small businesses that want to expand and hire, infrastructure investment to build on the momentum of the Recovery Act, preserving tax cuts for the middle class, making college more affordable, and reducing health care costs while protecting health care consumers.

    As you’d expect in a political season in a highly politically engaged state, other questioners asked about the upcoming midterm elections.  And on that subject, Vice President Biden stressed the stark choice voters will face on November 2: will we continue moving forward, building on our economic progress, making sure that insurance companies and banks are playing by the new rules of the road, and pursuing a policy agenda focused on the prosperity of the middle class?  Or will we hit reverse and go back to the failed, discredited economic policies set that got us into this mess?  Will we rescind and repeal the progress we’ve made to end abuses by insurance companies and big banks, stop rebuilding America’s vital infrastructure, and go back to slashing taxes for millionaires and billionaires with no regard for the fiscal consequences?

    From where we stand, the choice is clear.  Vice President Biden ended the conversation by stressing just how high the stakes are, and how important it is that every American citizen stays engaged in this debate in the weeks ahead.  From what I could tell as I looked on from the kitchen, no one disagreed.

    Jared Bernstein is Chief Economic Advisor to the Vice President

  • Keep Putting Them on the Job!

    It’s hard to get more clear-cut about the right thing to do for the economy than the opening of this story from the New York Times this weekend:

    Tens of thousands of people will lose their jobs within weeks unless Congress extends one of the more effective job-creating programs in the $787 billion stimulus act: a $1 billion New Deal-style program that directly paid the salaries of unemployed people so they could get jobs in government, at nonprofit organizations and at many small businesses.

    In rural Perry County, Tenn., the program helped pay for roughly 400 new jobs in the public and private sectors. But in a county of 7,600 people, those jobs had a big impact: they reduced Perry County’s unemployment rate to less than 14 percent this August, from the Depression-like levels of more than 25 percent that it hit last year after its biggest employer, an auto parts factory, moved to Mexico.

    If the stimulus program ends on schedule next week, Perry County officials said, an estimated 300 people there will lose their jobs — the equivalent of another factory closing.

    The American economy has been growing now for the past four quarters, and private-sector employers have added jobs every month this year.  But the economic hole left by the Great Recession remains very deep, and creating jobs remains the administration’s top priority.

    With that in mind, when one of our programs is effectively and efficiently creating hundreds of thousands of jobs for workers who need them, the last thing we should do is shut the program down.

    But unless Congress acts quickly, that’s exactly what’s going to happen to the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) Subsidized Jobs program.  This program is a proven success – more than 30 states are already using the program to put folks back on the job, and if we let it end prematurely, this highly effective job creation infrastructure that’s been created at the state level will go to waste.

    Sadly, Republicans in Congress are playing politics with the future of this program at precisely the time we can least afford to shut it down.

    We’ve been talking about what a great program this is for months now, because it’s been extremely effective.  It lets states use Recovery Act dollars to help employers pay for the cost of hiring unemployed workers, and by lowering hiring costs, it encourages employers to hire more workers and create more jobs.  And because many of these workers are being hired at private-sector businesses, the program is not only creating jobs, but also helping American businesses expand and grow.

    Unfortunately, the program is scheduled to expire just a few days from now, at the end of September, even though the workers who have been placed through the program still badly need these jobs.  That’s why we’ve been fighting so hard to get this program extended.

    The good news is that the program is getting more and more well-deserved attention, like the New York Times article above telling the story of some of the workers and communities that depend on this program and the jobs it’s providing.  And outside of Washington, the program has gotten strong bipartisan support from figures like Haley Barbour, Mississippi’s Republican governor.

    But unfortunately, here in the nation’s capital, politics are still triumphing over common sense as Republicans in Congress block action to extend this highly successful job creation program.

    Look, I understand there are differences of opinion about the best way to create jobs in this country, but there’s a time and a place for those disagreements.  We should all be able to agree not to shut down programs that are successfully putting workers on the job at private-sector businesses across the country.

    So I hope Republicans in Congress will rise above the politics and work with us to extend this program.  We only have a few days left to act.  Let’s keep helping businesses put these folks back on the job.

    Jared Bernstein is Chief Economic Advisor to the Vice President

  • Fighting to Protect Consumers

    Over the past several weeks, the President and I have had extensive conversations about the vital importance of consumer financial protection.

    The President asked me, and I enthusiastically agreed, to serve as an Assistant to the President and Special Advisor to the Secretary of the Treasury on the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.  He has also asked me to take on the job to get the new CFPB started—right now.  The President and I are committed to the same vision on CFPB, and I am confident that I will have the tools I need to get the job done.

    President Obama understands the importance of leveling the playing field again for families and creating protections that work not just for the wealthy or connected, but for every American. The new consumer bureau is based on a pretty simple idea:  people ought to be able to read their credit card and mortgage contracts and know the deal.  They shouldn’t learn about an unfair rule or practice only when it bites them—way too late for them to do anything about it.  The new law creates a chance to put a tough cop on the beat and provide real accountability and oversight of the consumer credit market.  The time for hiding tricks and traps in the fine print is over.  This new bureau is based on the simple idea that if the playing field is level and families can see what’s going on, they will have better tools to make better choices.

    If the CFPB can succeed at leveling the playing field,  we can go a long way toward repairing a gaping hole in the budgets of millions of families.  But nobody has ever thought or argued that the consumer bureau can fix everything.  Lost jobs, stagnant incomes, rising costs for college, dwindling retirement savings—there’s a lot of work to be done.

    When she was 16, my grandmother, Hannie Reed, drove a wagon in the Oklahoma land rush.  Her mother had died, so she was up front with her little brothers and sisters bouncing around in the back.  When I was growing up, she talked about life on the prairie, about marrying my grandfather and making a living building one-room schoolhouses, about getting wiped out in the Great Depression.  She was hit with hard challenges throughout her life, but the moral of her stories was always the same:  she would solve her problems one at a time by pulling up her socks and getting to work.

    It’s time for all of us to pull up our socks and get to work.

  • Keeping Taxes Low for the Middle Class and Small Businesses

    Vice President Joe Biden talks with local workers at Pete's

    Vice President Joe Biden talks with local workers and small business owners about the economy during a middle-class task force roundtable at Pete's New Haven Style Apizza restaurant in Washington, DC, August 25, 2010. (Official White House Photo by David Lienemann)

    Today the Vice President held a Middle Class Task Force roundtable discussion with workers and small business owners at Pete’s New Haven Style Apizza, a local restaurant that has benefitted from the small business provisions in the Recovery Act. 

    The discussion focused on tax policies—some already in place, others we’re fighting for—designed to help middle class families make ends meet and help small businesses invest and grow.

    Vice President Biden, the Chair of the Middle Class Task Force, emphasized the importance of preserving tax cuts for the middle class - cuts that mean more than $2,000 per year for an average middle class family.  He also stressed the need for Congress to pass legislation to give small businesses additional tax relief and access to capital so that they can continue to invest and create new jobs.

  • Lakes and Rivers: A Middle Class Task Force Visit to the Chrysler Toledo Assembly Complex

    When it comes to the auto companies, we often focus more on the lake than the streams and rivers.

    That is, much of the attention to how this critical sector is faring focuses on the end-of-the-line assembly plants, and less on the suppliers that provide the parts to be assembled. 

    You might think that’s because in employment terms, the end-of-the-line is most important.  But in fact, for every worker in the assembly plant, there are three workers in the supply chain. 

    So if you want to assess the health of the auto industry, you’ve got to look beyond the factories that build the cars and trucks and examine how the suppliers are doing.

    With that in mind, Vice President Biden traveled to Toledo, Ohio, today to hold a Middle Class Task Force event at the Chrysler Toledo Assembly Complex.  This state-of-the-art complex houses the main assembly plant producing the Jeep Wrangler, surrounded by three of the plant’s suppliers. 

  • Protecting Middle-Class Consumers from Unfair Business Practices

    As the American economy is starting to pull out of the deep recession that greeted us when we got to the White House, there are still far too many working people struggling to pay their bills and support their families. And the last thing we need at a time like this is deceptive, abusive business practices designed to take advantage of struggling middle-class Americans.

    That’s why Vice President Biden held a Middle Class Task Force meeting on Thursday to talk about stronger consumer protection to protect American households from deceptive practices.   The VP was joined by Jon Leibowitz, Chairman of the Federal Trade Commission, who came to our Task Force meeting to announce new rules that will protect consumers of debt relief services.