Vice President Joe Biden’s 5 ideas for helping America’s middle class

Vice President Joe Biden speaking at a Brookings-Biden Institute event, May 8, 2018 (Paul Morigi photos)
Editor's note:

In April 2019, former Vice President Joe Biden announced that he is entering the race for the 2020 Democratic Party presidential nomination. He spoke at Brookings in May 2018. This post highlights his remarks.

“A strong middle class breeds opportunity,” former Vice President Joe Biden said at a Brookings event on May 8, yet “if we have a weak middle class, we have a fractured country.” Vice President Biden delivered the keynote address at a forum co-sponsored by the Brookings Institution and the Biden Foundation to launch the institution’s new Future of the Middle Class Initiative.

Panels on defining the middle class and on barriers to middle class prosperity preceded the vice president’s remarks. You can watch the entire proceedings here. Below are highlights of Biden’s remarks.

A strong middle class breeds opportunity

Vice President Biden said that a strong, aspiring, and growing middle class accounts for much of the stability in America over the last century. “When the middle class does well,” he said, “everyone does well.”

“The middle class is not a number,” Biden said, “it’s a value set.”

It’s about being able to own your home and not have to rent it. It’s about being able to send your kid to a park and you know they are going to come home safely. It’s about being able to send your kid to a school, a public school, and if they do well enough they can go on after high school, and if they qualify to go on after high school you can figure out how to pay for it. And in the meantime you can take care of your geriatric mom after your dad passed away and you hope your kids will never have to take care of you.

A yawning income gap is pulling Americans apart

The first of five ideas he proposed was to address income inequity, a “yawning” gap that is “having the effect of pulling us apart.” One way to do this is to address a tax code that, he said, is “wildly skewed” in the way it favors investors over workers.

The US needs a better-educated workforce

“We’ve got to educate our people,” Biden said, the second of his five themes. Quoting his wife the former Second Lady Dr. Jill Biden, “any country that out-educates us will out-compete us.” The former vice president called for free community college paid for by eliminating the stepped-up basis tax expenditure in the tax code.

He also added that “every state university should be free. We can afford it.”

American workers must be empowered

Biden’s third idea is to empower workers and remove barriers to fair pay, including non-compete clauses. He pointed out that 40 percent of all U.S. workers, including those in the fast-food sector, have to sign a non-compete clause.

We’ve got to rebuild America’s infrastructure

“We’ve got to rebuild the nation’s infrastructure,” Biden said, the fourth of his themes. “We need highways, we need transit, [and] we need lightning-fast broadband. It’s an absolute necessity.”

Innovation and entrepreneurship AT HEART OF US ECONOMY

Vice President Biden’s fifth theme address innovation and entrepreneurship, which he characterized as “at the heart of the American economy.” But, “so many Americans are being left out” because, among other reasons, three-quarters of venture capital goes to four U.S. cities. He proposed, for example, a race-to-the-top plan that would induce states more friendly to investors.

Watch the full event here.