COMMENTARY: We all have a stake in a strong middle class

I’ll tell you what the middle class is to me. It looks like America. All of America. It is a set of values. A code of conduct. A belief in the possible. It embodies hard work, dignity, grit, pride, principle, and hope.

It’s not a number. It’s not a graph. It’s not a chart. Simply put, it’s being able to own your home. It’s not lying in bed awake at night wondering what will happen to the family if you get sick. It’s raising your children in a safe neighborhood. It’s sending them to a good school, where if they do well, they can continue their education at a university or vocational school. It’s being able to take care of your parents if they need help. And it’s being able to put aside enough money so that your children won’t have to take care of you.

But today, the middle class is threatened.

An era of rapid change has caused deep-seeded anxiety among American workers. Automation. Globalization. The gig economy. The loss of worker protections. A tax code that isn’t fair. The cost of education getting further and further out of reach for so many families.

Joseph R. Biden Jr.

We’ve lived through eras of upheaval before. And each time, we have risen to the challenge. We have shaped these changes to our benefit. And we will do it again.

There used to be a basic bargain in this country. That those who contributed to the growth and profits of an enterprise got to share in the benefits. That’s what built the middle class.

This fundamental bargain has been broken. Workers who used to prosper along with their company’s success no longer see a benefit. It’s time to restore that bargain and the sense of opportunity, possibility, and fairness that came with it.

We must deal the middle class back in. And no one can be left behind. Because when the middle class does well, the wealthy do very well, and the poor have a ladder up.

With a strong middle class, there are no limits to what we can achieve. Our country is better positioned than any other nation to lead the 21st century. American workers are more productive than any of our competitors. North America is the epicenter of global energy production. And we will continue to lead on innovation thanks to our research universities that are the envy of the world.

I was raised in neighborhoods like Scranton and Claymont and Wilmington where I saw ordinary people do extraordinary things. If there’s one thing I’ve learned, it is that whenever given a fair shot, the American people have never, ever let this country down.

That’s what the Biden Forum is about.

The Biden Forum is a new online conversation devoted to the American middle class and those working hard to get there. You’ll hear diverse viewpoints from labor leaders, business owners, teachers, politicians, entrepreneurs  —  and most importantly, from everyday Americans, including new graduates, new parents, and experienced workers learning new skills. You’ll get to listen in on the conversations happening around our country, from kitchen tables to factory floors to the halls of power. You’ll hear ideas you agree with and some you don’t. And you’ll get to share your story, too.

Join the conversation at http://bidenforum.org. And, to submit an idea to the Biden Forum, please e-mail forum@bidenfoundation.org.

This forum is for you. We all have a stake in a strong middle class. In our democracy, the middle class determines the stability of our economy, our politics, and our society. It’s the fiber that holds us together.

I am more optimistic now about our country’s prospects than at any point in my career. Never have we had so many innovative ideas or better ways to share them. My hope is that this forum makes it a little easier to hear one another, to listen to one another, and to move forward together.

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EDITOR’S NOTE: Joseph R. Biden Jr. represented Delaware in the U.S. Senate for 36 years and is the 47th vice president of the United States.

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