Open main menu

Middle Class Working Families Task Force (Biden)

Thank you, Mr. President. Thank you, Mr. President, for that generous introduction. It's a pleasure to see all of you here today, as we announce this task force on our -- on the middle class.

Folks, I want to thank the outstanding individuals, many of whom are in this room: members of Congress, members of labor, members of business, interest groups that are here representing non-profits. I want to thank you all for being here today. It's good to see so many of my friends from -- our friends from organized labor, as well. Welcome back to the White House. (Laughter and applause.)

You know, one of the things that all of us in this room know is those very leaders, Mr. President, of organized labor have dedicated their lives to the thing that this task force is about -- making the lives of working people better. I would argue there would be no middle class were there not a organized labor movement that started 150 years ago.

And I'm proud that this administration, with your leadership, Mr. President, will be allied in that effort. And I want to thank you for convening and empowering this task force, Mr. President. In doing so, I think you send a very, very clear signal to everyone in this country who goes to work every day without expecting acclaim or big bonuses -- the people that President Teddy Roosevelt referred to as the "doers of deeds," the men and women who teach our children, who protect our neighborhoods, who build our homes, who staff our hospitals, work on the line -- all those people.

To this, the great American middle class, you have simply said, we're on your side again. And it's just -- it's that basic, from my perspective.

And so for too many years we've had a White House that has failed to put the American middle class at the front and center of our economic policies. And even when our economy -- even when our economy was growing, there was a -- and it was very solid ground on which to build -- the middle class found itself slipping. Productivity went up almost 20 percent between 2000 and 2007, yet income for working families fell by $2,000 a year. And now with our economy struggling, the pain is significantly worse. Trillions of dollars in home equity, retirement savings, college savings, gone. And every day, more and more Americans are losing their jobs. And for many people, the work of a lifetime has literally disappeared. It's cruel, but it's also -- it's threatening to sap the spirit of the country.

Mr. President, you said it best in your inaugural address, in my view. You said -- and I quote -- "A nation cannot prosper long when it favors only the prosperous." Quite simply, a strong middle class, in our view, equals a strong America.

Clearly, our most urgent task is to stabilize the economy, which the President is well on his way to putting in place the building blocks to do that and to put us on the path to recovery. But on top of this urgent task, though, we have an important long-term task, as well. We need to make sure that the benefits of a strengthening economy, which we're looking forward to, reach the people responsible for generating that strength. That's why President Obama has asked me to lead this task force, to bring together those Cabinet members who have the greatest impact on the well-being of the middle class in our country, as well as seek the opinion and ideas of others in society as to how we can best accomplish these notions.

We'll be looking at everything from access to college at the Department of Education, to business development at the Department of Commerce, to child care and elder care with Health and Human -- excuse me, Health and Human Services, to restoring the balance in the workplace with the Department of Labor, and restoring labor's place with the Department of Labor.

And so this task force I think reflects a critical insight by President Obama that we have to bring together the knowledge, the talent and the skill from the people across the whole range of government to best tackle these problems, and as I said, and invite the private sector to offer the best ideas available to help us do that.

With this task force, we have a single, highly visible group with one single goal: to raise the living standards of the people who are the backbone of this country -- the middle class. Because when they, in fact -- their standard is raised, the poor do better. Every -- and by the way, the wealthy do better, as well. Everyone does better.

So today, with the signing of the President's executive orders, which he's about to sign, we begin the work of the task force. And I want to announce that our executive director will be Dr. Jared Bernstein, a man who has dedicated a substantial portion of his professional career and his writing and studying to the economic issues that most impact on the lives of middle class families.

We're also launching a website today. The website will be [astrongmiddleclass.gov]. Now, this website won't just be a source of information. Hopefully it will be a place for conversation, as well. We invite Americans to interact with us in the ideas that they have. It will be a place where people can find out not only what we're doing, but also share their ideas and experiences with us. We'll also be listening to people's stories, as we hold meetings all across the country and during the life of this task force as we prepare a final report.

And our first task force meeting will be held in -- on February 27th in Philadelphia. The focus of that meeting will be green jobs -- those jobs that pay well, can't be outsourced, and will help us move toward a cleaner, more self-sufficient energy future. Each month to follow, we will focus on a different concern in a different part of the country: how to make retirement more secure; child and elder care, how to make it affordable; improving workplace safety; getting the cost of college within reach of the vast majority of the American people; help weary parents juggle family and work; and create the jobs for the future.

At the end of the day, it will be our responsibility to offer to the President and to the nation clear and specific steps that we need to take to meet these and other concerns. This task force, I might add, which coming out of the Vice President's Office will be a bit unique, will be fully transparent -- totally transparent. (Laughter.) We are going to consult. We are going to consult -- (applause.) We are going to consult openly -- openly and publically with outside groups, who can help us develop the most far-reaching, imaginative solutions to help us solve these problems and create the outcome we're looking for.

And we'll put all the material from our meetings and any report we produce up on the website. None of this will happen behind closed doors. We want the American people engaged. We want them engaged in the outset.

There are some people who say -- that are somewhat down on the future economic prosperities -- prospects of the country, who say that we've entered an age when only a few people can prosper and everyone else has to fall behind. We do not accept that proposition. There has never been, and that has never ever been a part of America's story, at any part in our history. And the President and I are determined that it will not be any part of America's story today.

The American story is one of expanding opportunity and shared prosperity. It's a story about the future; it's never about the past. It's a story in which we put the middle class families that are the heart of the nation at the heart of our efforts, because it drives everything else. Where I grew up, as the President referenced, not only in Scranton but in Wilmington, Delaware, like many, many of you, there are an awful lot of proud women and men who still reside in those neighborhoods. They don't want the government to solve their problem. But at a minimum, they wanted the government to understand their problem -- to understand their problem, be cognizant of the problem. They just wanted leaders who not only understood their problem, but leaders who would offer them policies that gave them nothing more than a chance, nothing more than a chance to make it.

And I'm not exaggerating when I say that. I'm not -- you all know that, that's all they want, is a chance. They wanted leaders like you, Mr. President. They wanted leaders like those who are gathered here in this room. And they have wanted and want today a White House who's ready to say that the measure of our success will be whether the middle class once again shares in the economic success and prosperity of the nation.

And so, Mr. President, I thank you for giving me this responsibility. I look forward to working with the folks in this room and many others. And I also look forward, Mr. President, to you signing these executive orders as the first order of business. (Applause.)

This work is in the public domain in the United States because it is a work of the United States federal government (see 17 U.S.C. 105).