Former Vice President Joe Biden issues new challenge to revitalize the middle class

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Alexis Carel/THE REVIEW
Former Vice President Joe Biden spoke on campus in support of revitalizing the middle class for the Biden Challenge.

BY
Senior Reporter


Academic scholars, researchers and students all gathered in Clayton Hall early Friday morning to hear former Vice President Joe Biden’s newest call to action.

After making an appearance Tuesday for National Voter Registration Day, Biden returned Friday to kick off a conference and “idea exchange” for the “Biden Challenge.” He posed a discussion regarding the stagnancy of the middle class and the issues that spring from it. The conference continued until 5:30 p.m. on Friday, with the following attendees expanding in detail on each scholar’s idea to revitalize the middle class.

Biden called revitalizing the middle class the single most important challenge of our time.

“If the middle class does well, everyone does well — the wealthy don’t do very, very, very, very well … and the poor have a ladder up — more than that, they have hope,” he said.

President Dennis Assanis and Maria Aristigueta, director of the School of Public Policy and Administration, introduced Biden, who gave the keynote speech to open the floor to the conference’s upcoming orators.

Assanis noted that the point of the conference was to issue a challenge to “craft the smart kinds of policies [to] revitalize the middle class” and was proud to announce that in theory, the forum was convened “because they have solved the Biden Challenge,” his request to make the middle class stronger in order to fix the long-standing inequality between the classes.

Aristigueta followed, recalling the events of the Network of Schools of Public Policy, Affairs, and Administration conference last year, quoting Biden in her introduction: “What has always set us apart from other nations is no matter where we begin in life, we believe there is a basic bargain — if we contribute to the welfare of the enterprise you’re involved in, then you get to participate in the outcome. That is not the case anymore; the social stability of our nation is at stake.”

Biden took the stage at 9:30 a.m. to deliver his speech, beginning with a statement affirming that he believes we are at an “inflection point in our country,” where we have the opportunity to either “really progress or regress.” This served as the crux of his argument that our nation is at a pivotal moment concerning the middle class.

The crowd was enlivened by Biden’s speech, as he described the issue as a “breathtaking opportunity,” not an “unsolvable problem.”

Nicole Kennedy, a freshman public policy major, was struck by this as well as many of Biden’s remarks.

“I feel like when Joe Biden speaks, he has so much wisdom in his words,” Kennedy said. “I was really invigorated by [them]. It’s encouraging to hear him say just how much he believes in all of us, and I just really feel a renewed purpose.”

Biden also spoke about what he believes is the underlying issue: that in today’s society, the middle class has no financial breathing room, and therefore, no license to dream. He discussed the social ramifications by asking the crowd to put themselves in the position of the “ordinary Americans,” many of whom have no significant savings and are without pensions.

Stating that workers aren’t getting their fair share, Biden brought up the problem of people not being paid their economic value. He touched on topics like the lack of wage transparency and how most workers are prevented from being able to discuss wages because of the possibility of blatant punishment from their employers.

He also spoke on the topic of mandatory arbitration — a contract clause that prevents a conflict from going through a judicial court. He ended his argument with a challenge to employers that misclassify their workers to prevent overtime pay. All this, is only put in place to depress wages, he explained.

He went further, questioning the audience: “Who’s talking about it?”

Biden quoted his father again to stress the importance of the relationship between a middle class American and their job: “A job is about a lot more than a paycheck. It’s about your dignity. It’s about your respect. It’s about being able to look your child in the eyes and say ‘Honey, it’s going to be okay,’ and mean it.”

Biden’s speech can be summed up in this statement from the conference: “Ordinary Americans can do extraordinary things given the chance. They have never ever, ever, ever let their country down.”

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