A Strong Middle Class Blog

  • The Third Task Force Meeting: College Affordability for the Middle Class

    The first two meetings of the Middle Class Task Force were focused on Green Jobs and the Recovery Act, both of which will create a fundamental shift in our economy and the way it affects and lifts up the middle class here in America.  The Green Jobs meeting featured experts explaining how what was once an abstract concept is now being translated into bread on the kitchen table, while the Recovery Act meeting discussed how that legislation will help middle class families, town by town and community by community.
    For any family that has sent a child off to college and faced tuition costs that rivaled the total costs of their mortgage, the topic of the third meeting needs much less explanation.  On Friday April 17th, the Task Force will hold its next meeting at the University of Missouri St. Louis. The meeting, titled "Making College More Affordable for our Families," will also be attended by Dr. Jill Biden, who has been an educator for 28 years and is currently at Northern Virginia Community College with a focus on English and writing.  It's an issue that often gets overlooked in the midst of staggering job losses and stock prices plummeting – but it’s a critical one to the middle class and it will get its proper attention this Friday.

  • Task Force Meeting 2: A New Perspective on the Middle Class

    The second meeting of the Middle Class Task Force, dealing with the Recovery Act and the middle class, concluded this afternoon. The staff report (pdf) issued as the meeting was set to begin is an insightful document, explaining how over the past decade, and to degree the last three decades, media family income has become decoupled from productivity in the broad economy. The report then goes on to explain how the Recovery Act goes beyond simply providing a generic stimulus to the economy, and instead provides countless avenues by which to correct that underlying disconnect. The Recovery Act is primarily focused on providing a foundation for the long-term health of the middle class and providing a structure for the middle class to be a full stakeholder in the economy’s success again. The report concludes:
    There are, of course, many other ways that ARRA helps to offset the economic stress that so many families are experiencing today. Some of these are hard to quantify. For example, the expansion of broadband technology into areas that currently lack internet access could have many positive benefits, ranging from greater access to information and entertainment to the ability to job hunt across greater areas. Folks who take advantage of ARRA’s weatherization subsidies to better insulate their homes could save hundreds of dollars per year on energy costs. Someone who loses his or her job and at the same time loses his or her health insurance coverage can benefit from a 65% subsidy to COBRA, a program that allows former employees to keep their health coverage for a period of time after they are laid off.  Thanks to the ARRA expansion of Trade Adjustment Assistance, a service worker laid off due to trade competition will soon receive help that was previously reserved for manufacturing workers.10 And state fiscal relief is already helping to prevent teachers from being laid off in public schools, a benefit that means a lot to families with kids in these classrooms.
    In other words, there are many ways this comprehensive legislation will help middle-class families as they struggle to deal with a period of great economic turmoil. Yet the President and Vice President recognize that helping families make it through these hard times is just one part of their agenda for lifting up the middle class. They also are acutely aware of the disconnect between growth and middle-class incomes that persisted even in good times. They know, therefore, that an economic recovery is necessary, but not wholly sufficient to lift the fortunes of the middle class and to correct the economic imbalances that held them back in recent years.
    In this regard, future meetings of the Middle Class Taskforce will tackle those policy matters that taskforce members believe will help create the policy "glue" to reconnect growth and middle-class prosperity. In April, for example, we plan to tackle an issue of pressing concern to so many middle-income families with children: college affordability.
    Vice President Biden speaks at the town hall
    (Vice President Joe Biden answers a question at a Middle Class Task Force Town Hall Meeting at New Flyer of America Bus Company, in St. Cloud, Minnesota, Thursday, March 11, 2009.  Also in attendance were Secretaries Shaun Donovan, Arne Duncan, Ray LaHood, Tom Vilsack, and Senator Amy Klobuchar.  Official White House Photo by David Lienemann)
    Here is some of what the press reported out of today’s meeting, which happened at the New Flyer of America Co. in Minnesota, a leader in transit innovation and low-emission, alternative fueled vehicles:
    Vice President Joe Biden and four members of President Barack Obama’s cabinet brought their best sales pitch for rebuilding America’s middle class to St. Cloud today.
    "The goal is basic," Biden told a crowd of more than 400 gathered at a town hall forum inside the New Flyer of America bus assembly plant. "Getting the vast majority of people feeling enough confidence to say to their children, ‘Work hard, play by the rules, love your country and look out for others, and there’s nothing you can’t do. I’m absolutely positive we can restore that."
    Biden and U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn, along with Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, Education Secretary Arne Duncan, Housing and Urban Development Secretary Shaun Donovan and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, flew into St. Cloud Regional Airport this morning, before heading to the forum.
    A full house was on hand for the Vice President's town-hall style meeting in St. Cloud. 

    The focus of the meeting today was the ways the middle-class can benefit from the $787 billion stimulus measure President Obama signed last month. 

    Local residents had a chance to speak directly to the Vice President and other officials. 

    The session was held at New Flyer of America Bus Company, which produces low-emission, alternative fuel vehicles. 

    More than 90 people were hired there last year. 

    It's 650 employees are working to fill a two-year backlog of orders. 

    Biden also said the stimulus will do more than create temporary, make-work jobs. "Built into the Recovery Act are jobs that will be maintained. It will lay the foundation for a new economy, an economy for the 21st century."
    "We'll measure our success, whether it's four years or eight years, by one thing: If we can raise the standard of living for middle-class people."
    The White House has described New Flyer of America as "a leader in transit innovation and low-emission, alternative fueled vehicles."
    Biden praised the company today and pointed to the fact that $8 billion will be available to local governments to buy new mass transit vehicles.
    Not incidentally, New Flyer also is adding jobs at the plant at a time when most of the nation's manufacturers are furiously shedding them.
    "We'll measure our success in these four or eight years based on one thing: whether or not we've been able to raise the standard of living for middle-class people," Biden said. "We've got to get this nation growing again."
    The forum at New Flyer of America Inc. was the second meeting of the Middle Class Task Force, a Biden-led group of Cabinet members and top administration officials. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., and the secretaries of Agriculture, Housing and Urban Development, Transportation and Education joined Biden on a stage surrounded by new electric hybrid buses manufactured at the plant.
    After giving an overview of programs that will get a boost from the economic stimulus and explaining how the middle class would benefit, Biden and the others fielded questions from an audience that included members of the public, students and teachers from local colleges, transit officials and New Flyer employees.
    Joyce Helens, president of St. Cloud Technical College, told Biden and the others that colleges are facing a funding crisis, and she asked what the federal government could do to help make sure colleges are still able to train workers.
    Biden said billions in financial aid will get more students in college and keep them there to finish their degrees. That potential boost in enrollment could help offset budget cuts while training workers for good-paying jobs, he said.

  • The Middle Class in Minnesota

    Today’s the day for the second meeting of the Middle Class Task Force, this time in St. Cloud Minnesota to discuss the Recovery Act as the beginning of a strengthened middle class in America. The Task Force has been taking your questions through the website and will be connecting the Recovery Act to the real day-to-day lives of working Americans. 

    [UPDATE: Read the full staff report (pdf)]

    A couple preview stories out this morning:

    Larry Bivins, Gannett newspapers – March 19, 2009
    The Middle Class Task Force road show rolls into St. Cloud today, with Vice President Joe Biden leading a cast of Cabinet chiefs and White House advisers.
    But they're not coming to talk so much as they're coming to listen, to hear how Minnesotans are handling the economy and how they want their government to help.
    "We're not just going to toot our own horn, we're going to hear how people are coping with this very tough economy," said Jared Bernstein, the task force executive director.
    In that sense, the town hall meeting at the New Flyer of America Inc. will be markedly different from the group's first meeting Feb. 27 in Philadelphia, where a group of experts sounded off on the merits of so-called green jobs in enhancing the economy.
    Thursday's meeting centers on how the $787 billion economic stimulus package can benefit the middle class.
    For example, the combination of job and tax initiatives will add $3,000 to the incomes of some middle-class families, "significantly offsetting their income losses over the recession," according to a draft of a task force report to be released today.
    Darlene Superville, Associated Press - March 19, 2009
    Middle-class families can look to the promise of new jobs, and rely on the economic recovery package for help getting through the recession, an Obama administration economist says.
    President Barack Obama has set up a task force to study ways to aid the middle class, and a town-hall style meeting set for Thursday in St. Cloud, Minn., offered people a chance to talk directly to Vice President Joe Biden and other officials. The session was to examine how middle-class people can benefit from the $787 billion stimulus measure Obama signed last month.
    "If you look at the benefits that the typical middle-income, working family yields from a better jobs outlook, along with some of the tax benefits that are in the package, you're talking about adding something in the neighborhood of $3,000 to the average income of middle-class families," said Jared Bernstein, Biden's chief economist and executive director of the Middle-Class Task Force.
    The legislation aims to save or create 3.5 million jobs by the end of next year and reduce unemployment, which hit 8.1 percent in February. A draft of a report to be released at the meeting says every 1 percentage point drop in unemployment raises family incomes by up to 2 percent, which could mean as much as an extra $1,300 for middle-class families.

  • Your role in the Middle Class Task Force

    People have had a lot of good questions about the Recovery Act - this week's meeting of the Middle Class Task Force aims to address them.
    As mentioned here on Saturday, the meeting will be held as a town hall in St. Cloud, Minnesota on Thursday. Vice President Biden has now opened www.AStrongMiddleClass.gov for your questions, and the Task Force will be addressing some of them at the Town Hall on Thursday.   Take your best shot.

  • MCTF Meeting 2: The Recovery Act and the Middle Class

    Having held an amazing first meeting in Philadelphia around green jobs, the Middle Class Task Force has announced their second official meeting. It will be held on March 19th in St. Cloud, Minnesota as a town hall, titled "Road to Recovery: Building a Strong Middle Class Starting with the Recovery Act."
    The town hall format will be a shift from the first meeting which focused on expert panels and presentations, and will have a focus on questions, concerns and ideas from average citizens. You will be able to submit your questions through www.AStrongMiddleClass.gov, and audience members coming together at the New Flyer Bus Company in St. Cloud –- a low-emission mass transit company that has flourished even as the economy declined -- will have their shot as well.

  • More from the inbox: teachers, green jobs, interaction

    Jared Bernstein here again, the Executive Director of the task force and Chief Economist and Economic Policy Advisor to the Vice President. In the last month, thousands of you visited astrongmiddleclass.gov and shared your thoughts with the Middle Class Task Force on how we can get the American middle class back on its feet.  You shared with us your own personal hardships, and you shared your ideas to address them.  I want to go through again and highlight a few posts that struck me as I was reading through your responses.  
    Many of you wrote to us about your concern regarding the state of American education. Many people said, and I agree, that education is one of the keys to making America competitive in the world economy, and revitalizing the American middle class. 
    Karen from Newell, AL wrote "I am a school teacher in this very rural place…. This economic crisis is really hurting this little place. We will lose 7 teachers at my school which translates to increasing my class size from 15 to 20. This may not seem like much but it makes a big difference to students who need a lot of individual help. This is the only extra help some of my first graders get."  Karen, thank you for all the work you do to educate our children and provide them with new opportunities.  The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act is the largest investment in education in our nation’s history---to prevent teacher layoffs, make key education improvements and help make college affordable.  It will help prevent devastating cuts to education like the one Karen described by providing $53.6 billion to states and school districts to prevent layoffs and cuts in critical education services and $25 billion in support for educating at risk students and those with special needs. In some places, that’s already happening.  We need to prepare our children to succeed in a 21st century economy, and that starts with education.  
    Joyce from Lake Forest Park, WA wrote "I am concerned about how President Obama's stimulus package will help people in construction industries.  New green jobs will be created, but how will this help engineers and architects keep and expand their businesses?"
    This is a great question.  The creation of green jobs is extremely important and will play a part in creating a sustainable future for ourselves and our children.  Just this morning the Vice President swore in another member of our Task Force, Labor Secretary Hilda Solis, who has been one of the greatest champions of green jobs in the country for years. The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act will create or save 3.5 million jobs in America—75,000 in Joyce’s state alone.  What we’re doing is making sure that state and local governments have the money to fund job-creating projects, like building and reinforcing roads, dams, and bridges; making public housing more energy efficient; and making improvements to affordable housing.  These jobs won’t solely provide work for construction workers, they’ll also create more demand for engineers and architects to design the projects.
    When the money is distributed at the state and local levels, we plan for it to be put to use where your community needs it most, whether you need teachers, firefighters, cops, paramedics, or bus drivers.  President Obama put my boss, Vice-President Biden, in charge of overseeing the distribution of the funds that, among many things, will create jobs that will restore the prosperity of the middle class. 
    Finally, several people, like Keith from Sitka, Alaska suggested that the Task Force have something with "average, middle-class Americans in an open forum to listen to what problems they face and what solutions they can offer."  Keith, at our next meeting in March, that’s exactly what we will be doing, listening to your stories and taking questions.  I look forward to continuing this dialogue both in our task force meetings and here on the web.