Obama’s Middle-Class Task Force Has No Middle Class

Obamas Middle-Class Task Force Has No Middle Class

Last Friday, Vice President Joe Biden and seven White House officials traveled to Philadelphia to kick off the inaugural gathering of President Obama’s Middle Class Task Force. The task force will convene monthly in cities across the country to confront the problems faced by average Americans. It’s an admirable goal; with rising costs, stagnant wages and job cuts, a Pew Research study found that 78% of self-described middle class Americans have trouble maintaining their current standard of living.

Still, the middle class may have a better shot at making ends meet than at influencing the Middle Class Task Force. That’s because no member of the Middle Class Task Force is actually middle class. While defining America’s most beloved demographic group has never been an exact science, most academics agree that the term refers to anyone earning between $30,000 and $100,000 a year. Every member of the President’s task force — from Biden to Council of Economic Advisors chair Christina Romer to energy secretary Steven Chu — makes well over $150,000, putting them in the top 5% of wage earners.

While middle class Americans are invited to submit questions and ideas through the task force’s website, AStrongMiddleClass.gov and tickets for the Philadelphia meeting were distributed to labor and environmental groups, the task force did not accept questions from the audience. “If Biden and his team want to go into this [middle class issue],” said Daniel Morris, the Drum Major Institute’s communications director, “They’re going to need to talk to real members of the middle class. There’s no substitute for immediate intimate interaction.”

Instead, the task force talked to Pennsylvania governor Edward Rendell , Philadelphia mayor Michael Nutter and United Steelworkers of America president Leo Gerard, . “[The Vice President] is doing the right thing,” said Karen Nussbaum executive director of Working America, “but hearing directly from working people who are struggling and finding their way is an essential part of this.”

In Philadelphia, the task force members and panelists spent a long time congratulating one another one on their good intentions before turning to the meeting’s single topic: green jobs. The stimulus package bestows $500 million for green job training programs, $6 billion in loan guarantees for green industries, and $5 billion for a weatherization assistance program that could save homeowners up to $350 per year on utilities. Van Jones, president of Green For All, made an impassioned plea to “give young people the chance to put down that handgun and pick up a caulking gun.” Greg Nelson, official Middle Class Task Force liveblogger, commented on an argument between representatives from Portland, Los Angeles, and Philly, who tried to out-green each other for the title of most environmentally friendly city.

The task force didn’t specify the number of jobs it hoped to create in the green sector, or how much of an impact the programs are expected to have on the middle class as a whole. Annie Tomasini, Biden’s deputy press secretary, says the Philadelphia meeting was just “a listening session” and that the task force will not actually make any decisions regarding green job creation. They’ll have to go back to Washington to do that.

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