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Article by Ann Manser Photos by Evan Krape
From offering universal, lifelong education that targets in-demand job skills to rebuilding Americas infrastructure to focusing the political will on innovative policies, the Biden Challenge conference on Friday Sept. 28 at the University of Delaware produced a wealth of ideas for restoring the middle class.
All those ideas were proposed in response to the challenge issued last year by former Vice President and UD alumnus Joe Biden. Addressing the Network of Schools of Public Policy, Affairs, and Administration (NASPAA) annual conference, Biden charged them with developing policy solutions to ensure America a growing and thriving middle class.
The proposals came from the scholars and nonprofit executives who spoke at the conference, but also from the diverse group of attendees who participated in open idea-exchange sessions throughout the daylong event at Clayton Hall, which was organized by the Biden Institute and the UD School of Public Policy and Administration (SPPA).
When the middle class does well, everybody does well, Biden told the audience during his opening remarks. Revitalizing the middle class is the single most important challenge of our time.
He cited the social stability that comes from a strong middle class, noting that access to the middle class offers a ladder to a better life for low-income individuals and families, who can realistically hope to own a house, send their child to college and save for retirement.
UD President Dennis Assanis opened the conference by welcoming the speakers and the audience, and encouraging everyone to meet the challenge of finding ways to revitalize America's middle class.
"It is the backbone of society, and it is the backbone of democracy," Assanis said of the middle class.
Biden told the crowd that income inequality has eroded the middle class, as workers fail to get their fair share of the nations overall economic growth. Biden called the current situation an enormous opportunity to determine whether the United States moves forward or backward.
Before turning the conference over to the scheduled speakers, panelists and audience members, Biden encouraged everyone in attendance to think about their own ideas for addressing the challenge. He said higher education can play a key role.
We know that universities do more than educate students, he said. They serve as powerful platforms for solving real problems.
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The conference included three panel discussions, in
which leading scholars discussed various policy issues that directly
affect the strength of the middle class.
The first plenary focused
on budget priorities. Topics included education, specifically the
training needed to prepare for 21st century jobs; employment and the
importance of revitalizing the public service sector, where jobs have
often been a pathway to the middle class, especially for members of
minority groups; a public-private partnership financing system known as
Pay for Success; and ways to better measure financial stability.
on the second plenary discussed workforce dynamics. Speakers delved
into financial instability among todays middle class; infrastructure
investment as a way to increase opportunities for all Americans; social
inclusion, specifically the use of education and employment policies to
expand the middle class; and the importance of economic, personal
finance and entrepreneurship education.
The last panel of the day
highlighted the role of innovation in developing policy solutions.
Participants engaged in a thoughtful discussion around state initiatives
addressing middle class challenges; moving from policy to practice in
implementing ideas; programs that offer free tuition to promote college
attainment; and practices that promote civic engagement among students.
Boushey, executive director and chief economist at the Washington
Center for Equitable Growth and a member of the Biden Institutes policy
board, delivered the luncheon address on economic inequality.
of the assumption that a rising tide will lift all boats, economists
now know that it will lift some boats, while others will run aground,
Inequality drags down the overall economy, she said, and changes the kinds of policy recommendations that economists make.
the conclusion of the days final panel discussion, Dan Rich, professor
of public policy at UD, offered his answer to the Biden Challenge.
Noting that more than half of the discussion at the conference appeared
to involve education, Rich proposed universal, lifelong education,
from early childhood through retraining adults as needed when job
The prosperity and growth of the middle class that
occurred after World War II didnt just happen but resulted from
massive public investment, said Rich.
We did it once, and we can do it again, he said.
originally issued his challenge to find ways to revitalize the middle
class when he spoke last year at the NASPAA conference in Washington.
Biden Institute and School of Public Policy and Administration
organized the Sept. 28 conference and idea exchange as a way to generate
ideas for Biden and others to consider. After Assanis welcomed the
attendees, SPPA Director Maria Aristigueta, the Charles P. Messick Chair
in Public Administration, introduced Biden.
Some of the papers presented will be published in a special issue of the
journal Public Integrity Symposium. The Biden Challenge will also be
highlighted at upcoming conferences of NASPAA, the National Academy of
Public Administration and the American Society for Public
Updates and more information will be posted on the websites of the Biden Institute and the School of Public Policy and Administration.
by its founding chair, former Vice President Joe Biden,
the Biden Institute at the University of Delaware's School of Public
Policy and Administration is a research and policy center working to
bring together the sharpest minds and the most powerful voices to
influence, shape and solve the most pressing domestic policy problems