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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: 944708

Reported Deaths: 15343
CountyCasesDeaths
Marion1287051987
Lake634321097
Allen53759760
Hamilton43980448
St. Joseph42010590
Elkhart33651491
Vanderburgh30486449
Tippecanoe26872250
Johnson23685417
Hendricks22354341
Porter21799347
Clark17493231
Madison17439384
Vigo16209284
Monroe14515191
LaPorte14350239
Delaware14134222
Howard13921273
Kosciusko11448135
Hancock10886166
Warrick10715177
Bartholomew10589169
Floyd10471206
Wayne10020226
Grant9165204
Morgan8895160
Boone8417111
Dubois7748123
Dearborn764990
Henry7648130
Noble7435101
Marshall7384128
Cass7209117
Lawrence6999153
Shelby6616111
Jackson659186
Gibson6177107
Harrison606286
Huntington603195
Montgomery5830105
DeKalb578391
Knox5506104
Miami545788
Putnam540568
Clinton535965
Whitley526553
Steuben499768
Wabash486292
Jasper481860
Jefferson472892
Ripley456077
Adams445568
Daviess4209108
Scott407965
White392957
Clay392857
Greene390592
Wells388784
Decatur385996
Fayette377278
Posey361541
Jennings354356
Washington333747
LaGrange323575
Spencer319536
Fountain317955
Randolph314889
Sullivan308449
Owen284863
Starke281464
Fulton280054
Orange276859
Jay256338
Perry252552
Carroll244929
Franklin240538
Rush235630
Vermillion234450
Parke221020
Tipton210555
Pike209539
Blackford169634
Pulaski165551
Crawford146718
Newton145245
Benton143516
Brown135546
Martin129317
Switzerland126210
Warren115516
Union97711
Ohio80111
Unassigned0479

Ohio Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 1373275

Reported Deaths: 21596
CountyCasesDeaths
Franklin1527821560
Cuyahoga1349902327
Hamilton979751320
Montgomery674391141
Summit564421047
Lucas51165863
Butler47623655
Stark41836976
Lorain31748532
Warren30182331
Mahoning27127639
Clermont25753292
Lake24662417
Delaware22415145
Licking20587241
Fairfield20543221
Greene20436272
Trumbull19983509
Medina19884287
Clark17992328
Richland16428234
Portage16225229
Wood15771208
Allen14196256
Miami13889253
Muskingum12762152
Wayne12044238
Columbiana11800241
Tuscarawas11064269
Marion10797148
Pickaway10519129
Scioto10394127
Erie9784171
Ross9502176
Lawrence8809125
Hancock8514141
Ashtabula8376185
Geauga8196156
Belmont8180187
Jefferson7589172
Huron7476128
Union736651
Washington7245120
Athens701765
Sandusky6885134
Darke6789136
Knox6724122
Seneca6422137
Ashland5989113
Auglaize590488
Shelby5774101
Brown568571
Mercer560290
Defiance5511101
Crawford5477114
Madison546771
Highland545081
Fulton536283
Clinton529280
Logan514282
Preble5033110
Putnam4859106
Guernsey474764
Williams462282
Perry456452
Champaign448864
Ottawa439084
Jackson429562
Pike392643
Morrow389051
Coshocton381666
Fayette378453
Adams363575
Hardin362069
Gallia349856
Henry327368
Holmes3273108
Van Wert316170
Hocking305169
Wyandot282658
Carroll264752
Paulding243543
Meigs217442
Monroe190849
Noble171140
Morgan168129
Harrison159340
Vinton139318
Unassigned05
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