Remarks by President Biden on the Economy
Cuyahoga Community College
2:23 P.M. EDT
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you, all. Thank you. Thank you. Please, please, please, please sit down.
Shilaah, thank you very much for sharing your story; it’s impressive. Dr. Johnson, everyone at Cuyahoga Community College, thank you for being here and having me here.
And, by the way, to all the elected officials: You know what we call this in my business? We call this a “busman’s holiday” — (laughter) — to have to come and ride a bus again with another guy. You’re awful nice to be here. The only thing worse for an elected official when the President shows up is to say — the worst sentence in the English language is, “I’m at the airport.” (Laughter.) And so — so — thank you all so much.
You got some really great friends here, starting with Marcy. Anyway, Mr. Mayor, thank you. Dr. Johnson, thank you very much and — for letting me borrow, by the way, Marcia Fudge to serve as Secretary of Housing and Urban Development. (Applause.)
You know, certain places, just by chance and circumstance, can become markers in the course of your life or of a na- — of the course of the nation. And for me, Tri-C is one of those places.
Just a little over a year ago, March 10, 220- — in 2020, I came to Cleveland as a candidate running for President to rally — hold a rally here at the community college. Upon unloading, we got word that Governor DeWine — he did the right thing — wanted large indoor events to shut down because of the growing concerns over the virus and — spreading all across America.
There would be no rally that night, and life in America had changed. And a long, dark year was about to descend upon all of us.
Fourteen months later, we finally made it to campus. And from a year of darkness, we’re now emerging into the light. And I said from the very beginning: There’s no chance — no chance for this economy to come back unless we beat the pandemic.
I remember Congressman Ryan and I talking about that a lot on the campaign trail. You had to beat the pandemic to bring the economy back. And so that’s what we set out to do with the help of a lot of the people that are right here.
And after administering 271 million doses of vaccine in the first 120 days — and we have — the cases are down now from January from — they’re down 83 percent — COVID cases — down. The number of deaths has fallen by 85 percent.
Schools are reopening. Businesses are reopening. Restaurants are reopening. I hear that, as last night’s vaccine lottery, Ohio has a new millionaire. (Laughter.) I tell you what: Who woulda thunk it? A million bucks for getting the vaccine. (Laughter.) But it’s working.
Now, 56 percent of Ohioans have had at least one shot. We got to get to 70 percent. That’s the goal.
We’ve turned the tide on the once-in-a-century pandemic. We’ve turned the tide on a once-in-a-generation economic crisis. And families are beginning to be able to breathe just a little bit easier.
We still have work to do, but our future today is as bright and as wide open as it ever has been. And now we’re faced with a question: What kind of economy are we going to build for tomorrow? What are we going to do?
I believe this is our moment to rebuild an economy from the bottom up and the middle out, not a trickle-down economy from the very wealthy. That has never benefited people who are at this college or any other place where they’re trying to make a living.
To build an economy that rewards work, not just wealth. An economy that works for the backbone of this country — the people who get up every single day, work hard, raise their families, pay their taxes, serve their country, volunteer in their communities — just looking for a little bit of breathing room.
My dad used to say, “Just a little bit of breathing room, honey.” And Tim has heard me say this a thousand times — my dad used to say, “Joey, a job is about a lot more than a paycheck. It’s about your dignity. It’s about respect. It’s about your place in the community. It’s about being able to look your kid in the eye and say, ‘Honey, it’s going to be okay.’”
The last few months have demonstrated what that economy can look like. When — when our event here was canceled in March, our economy was on the brink of collapse. My mom used to have — especially say, “You know, the greatest gift God gave mankind was the ability forget. Because if it didn’t do that, every woman would only have one child.” (Laughter.)
But all kidding aside, the good news is we forget the bad times. That’s the good thing about we Americans: We’re always optimistic. But 10 months — 10 months ago, we were in trouble.
When I was sworn in, there were 10 million fewer jobs in America, and a lot here in Ohio. But in my first three months in office, the economy has added back 500,000 jobs per month. In fact, we’ve created — with the help, again, of the members of Congress that are here today — 1.5 million jobs, more jobs than have ever been created in the first three months of any presidency in the history United States.
Before I took office, the average initial claims for unemployment insurance were over 830,000. This morning, we learned that number has fallen below 460,000 — cut in half the — and we’re at the lowest level we’ve seen since March 2020 when the pandemic first struck.
Before I took office, almost 24 million Americans were going hungry. Marcy has heard me say this before: Did you ever think you’d see people lined up for miles and miles and miles, going into a stadium to get someone to put a box of food in their trunk? People who never ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever thought they’d need that kind of help.
Well, that number of hungry Americans — food-starved Americans — has dropped by 30 percent. Still too many, but there’s clear progress.
Before I took office, independent experts were projecting that our economy would grow at 3 to 4 percent in the year 2021. But they’re now projecting that growth will be 6 percent or higher in 2021 — the fastest growth in this country in 40 years.
To sum it up: COVID cases are down, COVID deaths are down, unemployment filings are down, hunger is down, vaccinations are up, jobs are up, growth is up, people gaining health coverage is up, small business confidence is up. Put it simply: America is coming back. America is on the move. (Applause.)
And that wasn’t an accident. It wasn’t luck. It happened for two reasons. First, we made the vaccine program a priority. As my friends in Congress will tell you, I got a lot of heat for just focusing on the vaccine. It goes back to what we all talk about. You’ve got to fix the pandemic before you can fix the economy.
We were able to, with a lot of hard work, get 600 million doses of the vaccine — enough for every single solitary American.
We didn’t have enough vaccinators, so we went to FEMA, the United States military, went to the AMA and got retired docs and nurses to come out of retirement — got thousands and thousands of additional people to administer the vaccines that we didn’t have before.
We created more places to get vaccinated, hitting my target to ensure that 90 percent of all Americans would have a vaccination site within five miles of where they live. And now, 50 percent of all of America — more than any other country — is fully vaccinated. (Applause.) Seventy-five — seventy-five percent of seniors — Black, white, Hispanic — across the board are fully vaccinated.
We’re getting lives back. The American economy is coming back. And that’s the second reason we’re on the move. I committed to an approach of building an American economy, a re- — a different economy to build back better, not just build back — build back better. That approach recognizes that we do — all do better when we all do well. And the best way to grow our economy is from the bottom up and the middle out.
You know, I don’t have any anything against — against anybody in Wall Street. I don’t have anything against anybody making a million bucks, but Wall Street did not build this country. (Applause.) The middle class built this country, and unions built the middle class. (Applause.) That’s a fact.
An approach that recognizes that this time when we rebuild the middle class, we have to bring everybody along, regardless of their background, regardless of their religion, regardless of their race. That’s the approach reflected in the American Rescue Plan, which my friends in the Congress helped get passed.
Because of that law, more than 167 million Americans got a rescue payment of $1,400 that’s gone out helping families pay their rent, pay their bills, buy their groceries — and maybe most important, gives them, for the first time, some hope — a little bit of hope.
Hope goes a long, long, long way. Those checks matter. Small businesses, restaurants are getting — were getting killed. Now we’re delivering the loans and support they need to reopen and stay open.
Schools were struggling to reopen, so we made targeting vac- — teachers to get the vaccine as a priority. We delivered schools much-needed support. State and local governments — and you know, Mr. Mayor — a lot of them had to lay off their employees — cops, firefighters, first responders — because you have to balance your budget.
Well, now they’re coming back, thanks to the Rescue Plan. Beginning this summer, families with children will get tax relief — tax credit — the Child Tax Credit — which is going to deposit money directly into their banks every month until that money is paid out.
By the way, we had no problem passing a $2 trillion tax plan that went to the top 1 percent that wasn’t paid for at all; it just increased the debt $2 trillion. Every time I talk about tax cuts for working-class people, it’s, “Oh my god.” (Laughter.) “What are we going to do?” Well, we’re going to take back some of that 1 percent money and make them pay for it. (Applause.)
And thanks in part to a part of the Rescue Plan named for an Ohio labor leader, Butch Lewis, championed by Sherrod Brown, who — I don’t think Sherrod is here today — hundreds of thousands of retirees and workers across Ohio and millions more across the country can trust that their pensions they work so damn hard for and sacrificed to secure will be there for them, unlike my dad who busted his neck his whole life, and when the company went under, he lost his pension completely.
Even my Republican friends in Congress, not a single one of them voted for the Rescue Plan. I’m not going to embarrass any one of them, but I have here a list — (laughter and applause) — of how, back in their districts, they’re bragging about the Rescue Plan.
They touted the re- — the Restaurant Revitalization Fund. They touted the fact that we’re in a situation where the — dealing with — touted grants to community healthcare centers, touted — I mean, some people have no shame. (Laughter.)
But I’m happy. I’m happy they know that it’s benefited their constituents. That’s okay with me. But if you’re going to try to take credit for what you’ve done, don’t get in the way of what we still need to do. (Applause.)
The bottom line — the bottom line is this: The Biden economic plan is working. We’ve had record job creation. We’re seeing record economic growth. We’re creating a new paradigm — one that rewards work, the working people in this nation, not just those at the top.
We did a study: 85 percent of my Jobs Plan — or 95 percent of my Jobs Plan, you don’t need a bachelor’s degree; 75 percent, you don’t even need a degree that’s a community college degree — it helps, but guess what? The bottom line is that people are going to be going back to work. There’s a new bargain: Everyone is — is going to be in on the deal this time.
Now, as our economy recovers, there’s going to be some bumps in the road; we know that — of course there will be. You can’t reboot a global economy like flipping on a light switch. There’s going to be ups and downs in jobs and economic reports. There’s going to be supply chain issues, price distortions on the way back to a stable and steady growth.
In the coming weeks, my administration will take steps to combat these supply pressures, starting with the construction materials and transportation bottlenecks, and building off the work we’re doing on computer chips. We’re also announcing new initiatives to combat anti-competitive practices that hurt small businesses and families.
Fixing those problems can help build a more dynamic, innovative economy, and we’re going to have a lot more to say about that in the days ahead.
But this — this is already clear: We’re on the right track. The American Rescue Plan laid a strong foundation for a new economy that brings everybody along, but it’s just a first step. We’re going to build on the incentive and incredible progress that we’ve made and set America on a sustainable path to a faster, more inclusive economic growth. We have to start investing in ourselves again and the American people again.
Consider this: Three decades ago, the United States was number one — and some would argue number two — in the world for R&D spending — research and development — as a share of our economy. You know where we are now in the international competition? We’re number nine. Nine.
Meanwhile, China was number eight in their overall spending in research and development three decades ago; they’re now number two. Number two.
This past year, Japan, Canada, Italy, France, and the EU have announced significant infrastructure spending. China has announced that they’re increasing their research and development spending dramatically. Japan is making huge investments in reducing carbon emissions and building out the digital capacity they have. The — the European Union as well.
We’re in a race to see who wins the 21st century. Now if I could hold just for a second here — one of the things I’ve found — I’ve s- — you know, I’m supposedly — they’d always announce me in the past as an expert in foreign policy. Well, let me tell you something: Economic policy is harder than foreign policy. You know what the basis of foreign policy is in our stature in the world? One thing: our economic prowess. Our economic prowess.
We must be number one in the world to lead the world in the 21st century. It’s a simple proposition. (Applause.)
And the starting gun has already gone off. We can’t afford to fall any further behind. Now is the time to build the foundation that we’ve laid — to make bold investments in our families, in our communities, in our nation. We know from history that these kinds of investments raise both the floor and the ceiling of the economy for everybody.
Like, when we brought electricity to every household in the country in 1930s or we connected the country through the Interstate Highway System in the ’50s. They created millions of jobs, good-paying jobs. They set the economy up to grow more quickly and share prosperity more broadly for decades to come. Those electrical poles and wires still help power rural communities 80 years after they were built, and it’s time now to rebuild them.
A quarter of all the miles Americans travel on roads are on the Interstate Highway System built 60 years ago — 60 years after we build it. These are generational investments. Private sector does not make these kind of investments. We’ve neglected that kind of public investment for much too long.
The pandemic exposed just how badly we need to invest in the foundation of this country and the working people of this country. That’s why I proposed the American Jobs Plan and the American’s Family Plan — the generational investments we need today to succeed for tomorrow.
You know, as my wife Jill, who’s been a teacher for a long time — she used to be about 10 years younger than me; now she’s 30 years younger than me — (laughter) — and she is in every way, God love her. (Laughter.) She’s the only First Lady ever to work full time — full time. She teaches 15 credits at a community college — 15 credits. She’s a remarkable person. And she’s out in Missouri right now and Kansas [City] doing other things — nothing to do with her job as a teacher.
But my point is this, Jill has a constant refrain: “Joey, any nation that out-educates us is going to outcompete us.” It’s a simple proposition.
You know, think about this: One of the reasons that — that caused us to move ahead so significantly as a world leader — an economic leader in the world was that in the late 1800s, early 1900s, we were the first nation in the world to say, “We’re going to have 12 years of free — without any limitation — free education. Twelve years.”
Now imagine if — and the rest of the world has caught up with us, and they’ve now passed us in many cases. Imagine if we were sitting today and say, “We’re going to set up an education system.” Does anybody think 12 years of education is enough for us to compete in the world in the second quarter of the 21st century? I’m not joking. Just — just consciously think about that. Is it enough? It’s not.
And so, I’m proposing four additional years of education: two years of high-quality pre-K for three- and four-years-old — not in daycare, in school. The studies show that if you do that, those children have an opportunity of 56 better — 56 percent better chance of going through all 12 years of school and beyond without getting into any trouble, no matter what the background or the family they come from. No matter what. On the front end, those two years are important.
And then two years of free community college. Free community college — (applause) — to better prepare our people to get these good-paying jobs of the future — jobs I saw students training for throughout the Manufacturing Technology Center.
You know, we need to invest in transportation infrastructure. Drive anywhere and you can see why we’re rated 13th in the world in infrastructure. The United States of America is viewed to have the 13th-best infrastructure in the world. Come on. This United States of America, for God’s sake.
We need to invest in universal high-speed Internet, more seamlessly connect our businesses and their customers, expand the possibilities of job opportunities in every hometown in America, no matter how big or small.
And, by the way, if you’ll hold for a second — think about this. How many of you men and women have children who were doing remote learning? Think of all the children throughout the country, in inner cities and in rural areas, that had no Internet connection. It’s estimated that some of those kids are going to be pushed — although it’s only been one year — three years behind in their education.
Look, investment in high-growth industries like clean energy and electric vehicles — it’s not just we want to deal with the environment. We want to lead the world in exports of these new technologies instead of ceding the global market and job creation to the Chinese. They’re building 20 times as many electric vehicles as we’re doing now, and the technology that goes with that. What are we doing? It’s millions of jobs in China instead of here. It’s not that it’s the jobs we’re going to create here, but that we’re going to create to the export the technology. We used to be the net exporter of major technologies.
I also think and am pushing very hard to make major investments in medicines and cures of the future. Folks, diseases like Alzheimer’s, diabetes, cancer — they’re all on the cusp of being able to be dealt with. You know, if we don’t do something about Alzheimer’s in America, every single, solitary hospital bed that exists in America — as the nurses can tell you — every single one will be occupied in the next 15 years with an Alzheimer’s patient — every one — costing us in excess of a trillion dollars.
So what are we doing? I came up with an idea, and I think is going to get done. And that is that — you know, there’s a thing called DARPA, which is the Defense Applied Application Research — it’s an outfit that came up with the Internet in the Defense Department, it came up with geospacing and a whole range of things that are related to our security. I want to do the same thing at the NIH to focus on those diseases.
It’s estimated if we do spend — if we spend $5 billion a year on that research and development, focusing with — on insurance companies can’t — don’t have the money to focus on –we can make significant breakthroughs. We’re already doing that — already doing that.
If we invest, we can create millions of jobs rebuilding the foundation of a strong, fair, resilient, competitive economy, and save hundreds of thousands of lives.
And 100 percent of our investment is going to be guided by one principle: Make it in America. Make it in America. (Applause.)
If I can hold that for just a second, there is a law that was passed in the ’30s — doesn’t violate any trade principle — saying that whatever money — that whatever program that taxpayers are paying for, you can spend it all on American contractors. No one’s ever done it — though, I promise you, I signed an executive order. If in fact we’re building the new deck of an aircraft carrier — well, guess what? — I get, as President, to make — let contracts for over $600 billion a year.
I promise you, there’ll be no contract let to a foreign company or any of the product down the line. Right now, what can happen is you can hire an American company and they can sublet to — and they can — their downstream product can all be foreign. All you got to do is get that particular agency to say, “You got an exception. We can’t find that job here in America.”
Well, guess what? They’re going to find the job here in America, I promise you, or they’re not going to get the contracts. These jobs will be good jobs — American jobs that deliver good wages and dignity.
And look, this is about choice. We can give — we can keep giving every break in the world to corporations and CEOs, or we can raise the corporate tax rate back to 28 percent. It was, by the way, 36 percent. It came down to 28 percent, which is still lower than it was at any point between World War One and 2017, and they’re making trillions of dollars.
I’m going to tell you this to the press again: In the 10-year period between ’14 and ’24 — excuse me, between ’10 and ’20 — 2010 and 2020, they made over a trillion dollars. I think that’s good. You know what they did with a trillion dollars? They went out and they bought back 56 percent of their stock. Because the more they buy back, the more valuable the stock, and that’s how CEOs get paid.
CEOs used to get paid 35, 36 times to the average employee, and they should get paid. Now it’s over 370 times more than the average employee. As my mother would say, “Who died and left them boss?” (Laughter.) No, I’m serious about it.
Now — so you got over 50 percent going to stock buybacks. And the other percent — I think it’s 42 percent — you get — let me see, 56 — it’s 40 — no, it’s 38 percent goes to dividends, which is reasonable.
But here’s the point. After all is said and done, that leaves 8 percent of that trillion dollars for research and development, salaries, new product, new enterprises, new initiatives — 8 percent.
I come from the corporate capital of the world, literally. More corporations are incorporated in the state of Delaware than in any place in America combined — all the rest of the corporate registrations combined don’t equal what’s in my state.
It used to be corporations felt they had responsibilities beyond their taxpayer — beyond their shareholders and beyond their executives. But what is it now? The average CEO becomes a CEO for six to seven years.
And by the way, capitalism has incentives. One of the worst votes ever made was during the Carter — the Clinton administration, to say a corporation could not deduct in tax — deduct from their taxes more than a million dollars of pay for any CEO. So guess what they start doing? Eighty-some percent of CEOs now get paid in stock options.
Why do you think they buy back the stock? To raise the price in — of the stock. They’re not bad guys. It’s just the incentives.
So if we just raised the corporate tax to 28 percent, which is still lower than where it was, as I said, between World War One and 2017, that generates 90 billion additional dollars into the Treasury for a year, per year. That could put hundreds of thousands of people to work to modernize our roads, our bridges, our ports, our airports, and pay for it — pay for it. (Applause.)
Put people to work to make sure every American has access to high-speed Internet so businesses can compete in the 21st century, kids in every community can get ahead. Another choice.
We can ask the top 1 percent of the taxpayers in America to get — pay the same tax rate they paid when George W. Bush was President. You know how much that would generate? That would generate $13 billion per year, allowing every student in America to go to community college for free.
When I was in the last administration that I was part of — Obama-Biden — the President asked me to find out what the major corporate entities thought was the most important thing they needed. We interviewed over 340 — I think it was 348 CEOs. You know what they said — everyone of them? A better-educated workforce.
But they’re not spending money to educate the workforce, so imagine what we’d do — corporate America benefits with a better-educated population. Do you want to give the wealthiest people in America another tax cut? I — by the way, I don’t begrudge them the money they made, just start paying your fair share, just a little bit.
In consequence, it would help every high school graduate earn an education like students here at Tri-C, one that puts people on a path to good-paying jobs in industries of the future.
Look, I know — I know you know what’s best for America. And by the way, better-educated public helps everybody. Look, my plan is — my plan is the right way to invest, spreading key investments over time so we limit the price pressure.
This is the right time to invest when we have historically low interest rates, investing now with a plan to pay for it. That is the fiscally responsible thing to do.
Of course, there are critics out there who want to stand still. By the way, some of those critics are the same people who said that money was no object when it came, as I said, to that $2 trillion tax cut that went to the wealthiest 1 percent of America, who hold 30 percent of all the wealth in the country.
But when we need to fix a road or a water system, or help millions of people return to the workforce by helping them afford childcare or eldercare, or help afford — attend — the ability to attend Tri-C, they think that’s — that’s a bridge too far.
Investing in America again is going to create growth and more jobs, but there’s something else we have to do to ensure the high-quality jobs exist. We must restore the connection between the success of our economy and the people who produce that success — hardworking Americans. The connection has been severed.
You all remember — it used to be the case in this country when you were a part of generating success of a company, you got to share in the benefits. That’s long since gone — not a joke.
And by the way, I — I’m a capitalist. But here’s the deal: From 1948 after the war, to 1977 — I think it was 1977 — ’79 — productivity in America grew by 100 percent. We made more things — productivity. You know what the workers’ pay grew? By 100 percent.
Since 1979, all that changed. Produc- — productivity has grown four times faster than pay has grown. The basic bargain in this country has been broken. If you work hard and contribute to the success of enterprise, you get to share in the success — that’s not the case anymore — so you could carve out your place in the middle class.
That’s how it happens. That’s how it works in healthy capitalist economies. But along the way, we started seeing the stock market and corporate profits and executive pay as the sole measure of our economic success.
Let me tell you something. My sole measure of economic success is how working families are doing, whether they have jobs that deliver dignity. That means we have to focus on wages like we used to.
When it comes to the economy we’re building, rising wages aren’t a bug; they’re a feature. We want to get — we want to get something economists call “full employment.” Instead of workers competing with each other for jobs that are scarce, we want employees to compete with each other to attract work. We want the — the companies to compete to attract workers.
That kind of competition in the market doesn’t just give workers more ability to earn a higher wage, it gives them the power to demand to be treated with dignity and respect in the workplace. And it helps ensure that America — when you walk into work, you don’t have to check your right to be treated with respect at the door.
“Full employment” also means more options and opportunities for workers — including Black, Hispanic workers, Amer- — Asian American workers, women — who’ve been left behind in previous economic recoveries when the labor market never tighten- — tightened up enough.
Look, this isn’t just good for individual workers, it also makes our economy a whole lot stronger. When American workers have more money to spend, American businesses benefit. We all benefit. Higher wages and more options for workers are a good thing.
A lot of companies have done extremely well in this crisis, and good for them. Good for them. The simple fact is, though, corporate profits are the highest they’ve been in decades, and workers’ pay is at the lowest it has been in 70 years.
We have more than ample room to raise workers pay without raising customer prices. Soaring corporate profits and stagnant wages aren’t the American Dream, and they aren’t the American deal.
Look, I’m not looking to punish anyone or to say business shouldn’t be able to make a significant profit. I understand the risk and challenges businessowners face, and they should be rewarded for the success and the risks they take. I just think, after decades of workers getting a raw deal, it’s time they be given a fair shake. (Applause.)
Well, wait until you see what happens when employers have to compete for workers. Companies like McDonald’s, Home Depot, Bank of America, and others — what do they have to do? They have to raise wages to attract workers. That’s the way it’s supposed to be.
And we got to do two more things. Congress should raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour. (Applause.) No one — no one should work 40 hours a week and live in poverty, live below the poverty level. And we ought to pass the Protect the Right to Organize — the PRO Act — supported by union workers. (Applause.)
Look, let me close with this. You know, it’s an overused phrase these days, but it’s still accurate: We’re at an inflection point in American history. It happens every several generations. We have a chance to seize the economic momentum of the first months of my administration not just to build back, but to build back better.
And this time, we’re going to deal everyone in — everyone that has been left out — and breathe new life into the middle class and new hope into those struggling to break into the middle class.
We have a chance to make investments that Moody’s — not a liberal think tank — Wall Street, Moody’s — says my plan will increase the size of our economy by $4.5 trillion — Moody’s — $4.5 trillion over the next decade, and create well over 16 million new good-paying jobs.
If we make these investments now, in 50 years, people are going to look back — and not even that long — your children or grandchildren will look back and say this was the moment when America won the future. Won the future.
Folks, I’ve said it a thousand times — I mean it from the bottom of my heart: There is not a single thing America can’t do when we do it together. Never. We’re the only country in the world that has — when we set our mind to something, that has never ever, ever, ever failed.
This is an opportunity for the wealthy to stay wealthy, the poor to have a shot at the middle class, and the middle class to be able to breathe more easily. That’s what this is about. But this time, bring everybody along — everybody.
Thank you. And God bless you. And may God protect our troops. Thank you. (Applause.)
3:02 P.M. EDT