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Former Vice President and UD alumnus Joe Biden speaks at the Biden
Challenge conference on Sept. 28 on UDs Newark campus, calling the
erosion of Americas middle class a crisis and asking everyone in
attendance to help propose innovative public policies to address the issue.
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
Move this whole section up, swapping places with the section above it.
UD President Dennis Assanis welcomes the participants and audience
to the Biden Challenge conference, saying that Americas middle
class is the backbone of society and the backbone of democracy.
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
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.
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
Maria Aristigueta, the Charles P. Messick Chair in Public
Administration and director of UDs School of Public Policy and
Administration, introduces former Vice President Joe Biden at the Biden
Challenge conference, saying he has always worked on behalf of the middle class.
Panelists 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.
Heather 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
Instead 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, Boushey said.
Inequality drags down the overall economy, she said, and changes the kinds of policy recommendations that economists make.
At 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 markets change.
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.
Biden originally issued his challenge to find ways to revitalize the
middle class when he spoke last year at the NASPAA conference in
The 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.
Led 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
Article by Ann Manser; photos by Evan Krape