Biden challenges scholars to revitalize America’s middle class

Former Vice President Joe Biden speaks at a Biden Institute conference on revitalizing the middle class at the University of Delaware. On Tuesday, the university announced it has named its public policy department in his honor. (Mark Eichmann/WHYY)

Former Vice President Joe Biden speaks at a Biden Institute conference on revitalizing the middle class at the University of Delaware. On Tuesday, the university announced it has named its public policy department in his honor. (Mark Eichmann/WHYY)

Several hundred public policy leaders from around the country gathered at the University of Delaware’s Biden Institute to answer a challenge from former Vice President Joe Biden to revitalize the middle class.

Biden opened the conference in Newark, Delaware Friday morning presenting what he called an inflection point in U.S. history. The country is in a position to “really progress or regress,” Biden said. “I believe the problem is urgent. There’s families out there with two working parents who still can’t make a mortgage payment … It’s reality, these folks can’t work any harder.”

He urged those attending the conference to work to make sure the promise of middle-class opportunity remains a reality.

“The consequence of getting this right or wrong, I believe will be felt not only by the 100 million people sitting at their kitchen tables this morning, but on a global scale as well,” Biden said. He added ensuring middle class success is about more than economics. “Our aspirational character as Americans is all at stake. The very thing that make us who we are as a nation, that separates us from every other nation in the world.”

Public policy students and professors from a variety of schools including Georgetown, Rutgers, Cornell, Harvard, and the University of Pennsylvania spent the day discussing the challenges facing the middle class. Biden said the country has seen wage stagnation and a threat to the American promise that hard work will lead to success.

“There used to be a basic bargain in America. It said if you work hard and played by the rules, you got to share in the benefits that were created as a consequence of your help,” Biden said, describing the American dream. “When the middle class does well, everybody does well.”

Biden said the middle class is more than just an income a working family earns. “The middle class is an idea … It’s about having some breathing room, that gives you a license to dream.”

The challenges facing the middle class have many roots, Biden said as he turned the discussion over to the rest of the conference. “That’s why we need your collaborative, multi-disciplinary approach to fix it.”

Biden established the institute at UD’s School of Public Policy and Administration after he left office.

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