Friday, January 30, 2009

Middle Class Task Force Is Unveiled by Obama

Today, the Obama administration unveiled a new initiative specifically designed to address the concerns of the middle class. This is the first explicitly Populist and pro-Labor move that the Obama administration has made.

Obama, Biden Task Force On Middle Class (MSNBC)
On the campaign trail then-candidates Barack Obama and Joe Biden cast themselves as champions of labor and middle class, men who had not forgotten where they came from and who would fight for the concerns of ordinary Americans.

Today's announcement of a task force aimed at studying ways to raise living standards for middle class Americans and help the poor become middle class is in line with that same populist theme and with Obama's consistent focus on economic issues at a time of rising unemployment.

Middle Class Task Force (White House Web site)

The Task Force is a major initiative targeted at raising the living standards of middle-class, working families in America. It is comprised of top-level administration policy makers, and in addition to regular meetings, it will conduct outreach sessions with representatives of labor, business, and the advocacy communities. The Task Force will be chaired by Vice President Joe Biden. The Vice President and members of the task force will work with a wide array of federal agencies that have responsibility for key issues facing the middle class and expedite administrative reforms, propose Executive orders, and develop legislative and policy proposals that can be of special importance to working families.

Members of the Middle Class Task Force include: Vice President Biden, Chair; the Secretaries of Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Commerce, as well as the Directors of the National Economic Council, the Office of Management and Budget, the Domestic Policy Council, and the Chair of the Council of Economic Advisors.

From his remarks upon the announcement of the creation of the Middle Class Task Force

I also believe that we have to reverse many of the policies towards organized labor that we've seen these last eight years, policies with which I've sharply disagreed. I do not view the labor movement as part of the problem, to me it's part of the solution. We need to level the playing field for workers and the unions that represent their interests, because we know that you cannot have a strong middle class without a strong labor movement. We know that strong, vibrant, growing unions can exist side by side with strong, vibrant and growing businesses. This isn't a either/or proposition between the interests of workers and the interests of shareholders. That's the old argument. The new argument is that the American economy is not and has never been a zero-sum game. When workers are prospering, they buy products that make businesses prosper. We can be competitive and lean and mean and still create a situation where workers are thriving in this country.

What do you think of this move by the Obama administration?


Anonymous said...

Another feel-good/fool the public measure. Said task force will come up with a 1000 page report introduced to media stooges at a press conference. In the end, the middle class won't be any better off.

Check out the administration's cabinet. It is full of free trade and deregulation cheerleaders who are not friends of the working stiff.

And just what constitutes the middle class? A household earning 50k/yr? 75k/yr? 125K/yr? If so, perhaps the President needs to convene a working class task force because a huge swath of the nation earns far less - 40k and under.

The govt runs as far as possible from the term working class when in fact it is the better term to describe the bulk of those citizens whose paychecks long ceased to keep pace with the cost of living.

Further, the task force is a waste of time. The administration knows exactly what ails the working and middle classes - weak job market, stagnating wages, outsourcing, healthcare and housing costs, subprime debacle, unnecessary wars sucking funds from domestic needs.

The "task" is to do something to alleviate these problems and that is the point - to really solve or lessen these woes calls for the govt to make drastic changes in policy that would take a few dollars out of the pockets of Wall Street, war profiteers, and corporate execs - something neither this administration nor its predecessors dares to do.

redante said...

Thanks for your comment bricer. I am also feeling a bit skeptical at this point which is why I posed a question at the end of my post rather than put something in that lays out an argument for or against this measure. Having said that I am willing to give the Obama administration a chance on this one before I dismiss this as purely a non-substantive PR move.

The "task" is to do something to alleviate these problems and that is the point - to really solve or lessen these woes calls for the govt to make drastic changes in policy that would take a few dollars out of the pockets of Wall Street, war profiteers, and corporate execs - something neither this administration nor its predecessors dares to do.

One thing I am trying to do this year is to get out of a purely "I am against this" mode and more towards a proactive, "what can we, as citizens in a democracy, do about it" mode. In that spirit, what do you think we can do as citizens to hold the Obama administration accountable to making the situation for working and middle class people better? Now that we have elected Obama, what can we do as citizens to pressure his administration to substantively address the issues? Can we be effective at all?

Brian said...

I wish they could put the same effort into a working class or working poor task force... to help people get into the Middle Class.

Interesting how much attention they are putting on the middle class.... nothing wrong with it. But as someone who supported John Edwards earlier on... I'd like to see more done for the folks at or near the bottom. Folks who have little or nothing...and who will be impacted most by the economic situation.

Middle Class folks (because they tend to have resources) often have savings that can get them through several months worth of tough times. But the poor and under-employed live on the edge of a cliff year round... they are one event away from homelessness...losing their transportation, and being unable to take care of themselves. They are generally a lot more exposed to economic downturns.
But no task force for them. I consider myself one of those folks... Hell... I don't make anything close to $50,000 a year...not even $40,000. That's why i'm single, miserable...and pissed off every day of the snap away from losing my mind and doing something crazy.

Although on paper... I should be in the $50,000 category. But i'm one of millions of under-employed people in this Country (a group of folks that gets no media coverage). I've been in a recession for years. But no bailout for me.

I'll wait for a task force for me.... but considering the direction of this Administration so far... I don't think I should hold my breath.

redante said...


I'm with you on this. All this focus on the "middle class" when working class, working poor, and poor folks are really hurting.

My attention was grabbed by the administration's explicit embrace of class-based language and symbolism as a concept to craft policy around. It's something that is eerily new to me in the last ten to fifteen years considering how Democrats have embraced free-market, economic conservative types of policies and have shied away from Populism.

I would much rather prefer a focus on working class and working poor people -- but I think (perhaps more hopefully than for any other reason) that this new focus on a Populist-sounding, class-based task force can potentially lead somewhere that can benefit working class people, the working poor, etc. Until we actually hear their recommendations I really have no solid basis to judge the effort as a bust or as something good.

But it was policies designed to uplift working people to middle-class status like the GI Bill after World War II that led to the greatest gains for working folks. I am hoping that this task force was designed with that end and effect in mind.