How Joe Biden would fix income inequality in America

Former vice president Joe Biden is worried about the hollowing out of the middle class, income inequality and the lac...

Posted: May 9, 2018 11:28 AM
Updated: May 9, 2018 11:28 AM

Former vice president Joe Biden is worried about the hollowing out of the middle class, income inequality and the lack of opportunity that Donald Trump tapped into to win the White House - and he has some ideas on how to make things better.

In a speech at Washington-based think tank the Brookings Institution Tuesday, Biden proposed a number of solutions that have been floated by the Democratic party's most progressive members, like offering free college to everyone and banning tactics used by employers to keep workers from being paid higher wages.

But he stopped short of pitching some of the more sweeping proposals emanating from the party's left flank. Instead, he offered up more mainstream ideas, like providing more federal funding for infrastructure projects and making the tax code less friendly to investors while expanding tax credits for low-income families.

Biden is just the latest Democrat to pitch a plan to help close the ever widening income gap. Since the 2016 election, the party's rising stars like Senators Kirsten Gillibrand of New York and Cory Booker of New Jersey, have floated a variety of potential initiatives to address the problem: A universal basic income payment for all Americans, for example, and a government-funded jobs program that would guarantee employment to everyone willing to work.

Related: California ruling puts pressure on gig employers

Biden's language, however, contrasts sharply with the class-war rhetoric of some of his Democratic colleagues.

"I love Bernie, but I'm not Bernie Sanders. I don't think 500 billionaires are the reason why we're in trouble," he said, referring to the Vermont senator and 2016 presidential candidate. "I get into a lot of trouble with my party when I say that wealthy Americans are just as patriotic as poor folks."

Nonetheless, Biden recognized that growing inequality is creating frustration and hopelessness that ultimately undermines American democracy.

"This gap is yawning," he said. "And it's having the effect of pulling us apart. You see the politics of it. And the country's not going to stand for it forever."

While offering only a few details on the mechanics of his proposed solutions, Biden is building out a platform on the middle class on his Biden Foundation web site.

The plan to make higher education free, Biden said, could increase the number of people in college to 9 million. He estimated the measure would cost $6 billion annually, which he said could be paid for by eliminating the "stepped-up basis loophole" that allows heirs to reduce the capital gains taxes they pay on inherited assets.

That proposal appears similar to one offered by President Obama that would have made two years of community college free to all with the help of participating states, at an estimated cost of $61 billion over a decade. Obama had also proposed closing the same tax loophole to fund a number of priorities.

Noting the surprising prevalence of employment contracts that prevent low-wage workers from moving from one job to another, as well as efforts by employers to silence discussion of wages at work, Biden also proposed banning non-compete agreements.

Related: The case for raising the minimum wage keeps getting stronger

"Give me an economic reason why a sandwich maker has to sign a non-compete clause," Biden said. "Tell me, other than to drive down wages, why you're not allowed to tell the man or woman next to you what you make without violating a contract. I call it greed."

Biden's speech was a clear departure from the mainstream conservative solutions for issues like wage stagnation. White House economists say the main problem for poor wage growth is the decade-long slowdown in worker productivity, which they would remedy by encouraging businesses to invest in equipment and technology that could help each worker accomplish more.

Biden pointed to statistics showing that wages stopped growing in tandem with productivity in the late 1970s. He noted that the two measures remain far apart - which means other solutions are necessary to drive wages up.

"The bargain has been broken," Biden said. "Folks in the middle class are in trouble. It's not just their perception."

The impact of automation and technology on jobs, for example, will only deepen that inequality, Biden said, and demands a policy response.

He related a story about a childhood friend whose son became a truck driver and was worried about losing his job in five years when trucks may be able to drive themselves.

"These folks aren't stupid," Biden said. "They listen. They understand. And they're scared to death."

Indiana Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 750432

Reported Deaths: 13764
CountyCasesDeaths
Marion1031991782
Lake556411007
Allen41662691
St. Joseph36974564
Hamilton36561417
Elkhart29390459
Tippecanoe22886225
Vanderburgh22549400
Porter19348325
Johnson18432388
Hendricks17608317
Clark13206193
Madison13139344
Vigo12608253
LaPorte12415221
Monroe12188175
Delaware10954198
Howard10285225
Kosciusko9619119
Hancock8562145
Bartholomew8164157
Warrick7856156
Floyd7781180
Grant7232179
Wayne7160201
Boone6939103
Morgan6746141
Dubois6214118
Marshall6208116
Cass6000109
Dearborn589578
Henry5895109
Noble580787
Jackson508975
Shelby500896
Lawrence4738122
Gibson444593
Clinton441455
Harrison441073
DeKalb439485
Montgomery436390
Whitley406343
Huntington402481
Steuben399759
Miami393169
Jasper387454
Knox375890
Putnam372160
Wabash360683
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Jefferson335785
White331553
Daviess3033100
Wells295181
Decatur289992
Greene286885
Fayette284864
Posey273835
LaGrange273072
Scott270156
Clay266448
Washington245234
Randolph244783
Jennings235349
Spencer234431
Starke227958
Fountain220348
Sullivan214343
Owen211658
Fulton202142
Jay200932
Carroll193420
Orange188155
Perry187137
Rush175826
Vermillion174644
Franklin170335
Tipton166146
Parke149316
Pike138234
Blackford136232
Pulaski120547
Newton113736
Brown104043
Crawford102316
Benton101414
Martin91615
Warren83815
Switzerland8118
Union72810
Ohio57811
Unassigned0420

Ohio Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 1108146

Reported Deaths: 20122
CountyCasesDeaths
Franklin1286421460
Cuyahoga1157382208
Hamilton813551248
Montgomery525311041
Summit48395999
Lucas43343818
Butler38951604
Stark33318929
Lorain25658504
Warren24580303
Mahoning22355603
Lake21166387
Clermont20111253
Delaware18841135
Licking16660222
Fairfield16570204
Trumbull16537482
Medina15603271
Greene15272247
Clark14233306
Wood13287198
Portage13242214
Allen11910239
Richland11601211
Miami10843224
Wayne9130222
Columbiana9029230
Muskingum8906135
Pickaway8658122
Tuscarawas8643248
Marion8641138
Erie8056164
Ashtabula7147179
Hancock6996132
Ross6943161
Geauga6834150
Scioto6534105
Belmont6155174
Union584549
Lawrence5726102
Jefferson5675158
Huron5544122
Sandusky5439125
Darke5415129
Seneca5347126
Washington5318109
Athens523660
Auglaize501887
Mercer487385
Shelby476595
Knox4570112
Madison444065
Ashland435597
Putnam4336103
Defiance432298
Fulton432072
Crawford4036110
Brown402461
Logan387577
Preble3848104
Clinton379166
Ottawa373581
Highland359665
Williams348078
Champaign344258
Guernsey324853
Jackson318154
Perry297350
Morrow291840
Fayette285450
Hardin274965
Henry273367
Holmes2699101
Coshocton268960
Van Wert247264
Adams243156
Pike242835
Gallia240750
Wyandot234556
Hocking220162
Carroll197148
Paulding176542
Meigs148240
Monroe136344
Noble136039
Harrison114138
Morgan109624
Vinton85517
Unassigned03
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