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Biden Institute hosts discussion on helping workers in age of automation
Five members of a panel discussion

Joe Biden (center) leads a discussion about ensuring worker success across America at the Knight Conference Center in the Newseum in Washington.

Former U.S. Vice President and University of Delaware alumnus Joe Biden led a discussion about ensuring worker success across America on Thursday, March 22, at the Knight Conference Center in the Newseum in Washington, D.C.

At the event presented by UD’s Biden Institute, leaders from higher education, business, advocacy and the policy sector gathered to tackle the issue of helping workers in the age of automation, ensuring a stable middle class. The event was live streamed and can be seen on UD’s YouTube channel.

UD President Dennis Assanis welcomed the audience, introduced the panel and noted that 2018 is the 10-year anniversary of the Great Recession.

“Over the past decade, many good jobs have disappeared or changed significantly, but at the same time many others have been created,” Assanis said. “As we continue to move forward through that chapter in American history, we look ahead to the exciting innovation that will impact our lives and shape tomorrow's economy. At the University of Delaware, we are in fact making discoveries that have the potential to change the world and continue to drive progress in our economy.”

Although some people fear innovation will negatively affect jobs, Assanis said, proper policies are the answer to ensure growth for workers in the future.

UD President Dennis Assanis

​UD President Dennis Assanis welcomes the audience, saying that with proper policies in place, innovation will help ensure growth for American jobs and success for workers in the future.

“We’re working on developing these solutions as well, and at the forefront of all of those are the Biden Institute and the School of Public Policy and Administration,” Assanis said.

Biden began his remarks by thanking the University for giving him the space to pursue this mission.

“I want to acknowledge and thank Dr. Assanis for giving me the opportunity to set up this institute at the University of Delaware to work on a whole range of domestic issues,” Biden said.

“To put workers first, we have three promises to keep,” said Biden. “First, we need to make sure hard-working Americans have the skills and opportunities to succeed in the jobs of the future. Second, we need to make sure people are paid fairly for their work – meaning those who work hard and do their part should share in the benefits from their contributions, allowing them to earn a good living and get ahead. And third, we need policies that allow the middle class to maintain or improve their standard of living. A small pay raise doesn’t help much if the costs of housing, health care and education are rising significantly more.”

To address the first of these three promises, the Biden Institute put forward details regarding how all of us – Democrats and Republicans, business and labor leaders, employers and workers – can work together to ensure hard-working Americans have the skills and opportunities to get a good job and keep it.

Joining Biden in the discussion for the event, titled “Quality Jobs for American Workers,” were Tom Donohue, the president and CEO of the United States Chamber of Commerce; Justin Fairfax, lieutenant governor of Virginia; Charlene Dukes, president of Prince George's Community College; and Heather Boushey, executive director and chief economist at the Washington Center for Equitable Growth. Biden invited the panelists to challenge his ideas based on their experiences in their areas of expertise and opened the discussion.

Boushey said that an individual’s job prospects and success are influenced by race and gender, so solutions must take those into account.

“Innovators can come from any part of the country, but if you come from a poor family or if you’re a woman — a little girl and you’re smart and have the talent to be that kind of person that’s going to add to the economy — you’re obstructed at some point along the pathway,” Boushey said. “That damages the economy for all of us.”  

Fairfax highlighted the role community colleges play in offering opportunities for people to learn new skills, get training and earn certificates. Dukes, whose community college is in suburban Washington, said her college has partnered with primary schools in the area to create clear pathways to future employment.

Donohue said policymakers must remember that people seeking jobs or better jobs live in various locales. He suggested that some people feel frozen in towns with few job opportunities, either because they can’t leave or do not want to leave. Jobs need to be more appealing for them. The economy cannot improve without the workforce behind it, he said.

In closing, Biden thanked the panelists and reiterated his commitment to addressing the issues around worker success because they are so essential to American communities.

“We’re going to have a lot of chances to discuss this and a lot of other issues over the next year,” Biden said. “This is just the beginning.”

Assisting the vice president and the Biden Institute as they move forward with this and other policy challenges is a new policy board whose membership was announced in conjunction with the event. The board is comprised of some of the most important voices on pressing issues facing America today, including the panelists from the event and other leaders from industry, education, advocacy and policy sectors.

“Joe Biden has been a leader for working Americans for his entire career,” said Mary Kay Henry, president of the Service Employees International Union. “I am thrilled to join the Policy Advisory Board at the Biden Institute and look forward to working with Vice President Biden to find solutions that will help working people unite so they can use their power in numbers.”

About the University of Delaware’s Biden Institute

Led by 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 facing America.

Article by UD staff; photos by Evan Krape

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The Biden Institute hosted a discussion in Washington, where leaders from various fields tackled the issue of ensuring quality jobs for American workers.

The Biden Institute hosted a panel discussion in Washington in March, where leaders from various fields tackled the issue of how to ensure quality jobs for American workers.

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Quality jobs for America