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During the three years I led Vice President Biden’s White House economic team, economic conditions changed and so did the focus of Washington policy debates — from budget deals and government shutdowns to housing costs and tax reform. But one thing stayed exactly the same — Vice President Biden viewed every issue through the same lens: what would it mean for everyday workers and America’s middle class.
When meetings with Cabinet members or senior officials veered into the weeds of policy details, the Vice President would often interject with a story about a worker he had met on a plant visit or something from his past, like when his own father had been turned down for a loan to send him back to college. He wanted a reality check to make sure we remembered what each course of action meant for the middle class.
When I traveled with him, often to the Midwest, he would linger after roundtables or events to make sure he heard from everyday workers. The numbers showed that auto sales were back up, but he wanted to know what that meant in the daily life of an autoworker on the job. Lending conditions were easing, but what about for the family in an area where housing prices had seen the sharpest decline?
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Vice President Joe Biden talks with workers in Oakland after a speech on workforce development and investing in job-training with Oakland mayor Libby Schaff.
In 2014, President Obama asked the Vice President to lead a government-wide effort concerning workers’ skills. He dove in, along with Cabinet Secretaries Tom Perez, Penny Pritzker, Arne Duncan, and National Economic Council Director, Jeff Zients, and their talented teams. They met with business leaders, community college presidents, governors, and academic experts.
Traveling the country, the Vice President saw countless examples of solutions that were working, such as a successful apprenticeship program in South Carolina and an Iowa community college system that had partnered with local employers to train workers for high paying manufacturing jobs. He joined the United States Chamber of Commerce to celebrate Urban Alliance, a program that pairs high school seniors in disadvantaged neighborhoods for internships and training with employers. Urban Alliance has been growing and refining its program for years and has even had a rigorous independent study conducted that demonstrates it is improving outcomes.
Then, the Vice President released a report outlining dozens of actions the Administration and the private sector were taking to help assure training led to quality jobs. Foundations, cities, and businesses came together to launch new coding boot camps and the White House launched TechHire, partnering with employers to help train and place workers in tech jobs.
How fitting that the Biden Institute has begun by focusing on the dignity and the future of work. How fitting that its first meeting brings together leaders from across the spectrum; labor and government, a leading CEO, and leading advocate for worker training.
There are real challenges ahead. Technological advances are changing the economy and work in ways we are only beginning to understand. There is no one solution — no single answer or algorithm — that will prepare us. The good news that is there are already many businesses, non-profits, and community leaders — Republicans and Democrats alike — that are rolling up their sleeves and making progress. The work of the Biden Institute can help leverage and scale the efforts.
As the Vice President always reminds us, we must chart a path forward with a relentless focus on what it means for America’s middle class. They deserve the opportunity to get the skills to get ahead and steady jobs that reward hard work.
Sarah Bianchi served as Deputy Assistant to the President and Director of Economic and Domestic Policy for the Vice President in the White House from 2011 to 2014.
Follow Sarah on Twitter @SarahABianchi