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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 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.