MDRC in the News

Can Biden Save Americans Like My Old Pal Mike?

Nicholas Kristof Column, The New York Times

02/2021

Joe Biden’s father struggled financially, at one point commuting long distances to clean boilers and later working for a time as a used-car salesman. The owner of the used-car dealership amused himself at a Christmas party by tossing out silver dollars to watch his employees scramble for them on the floor. Biden Sr. was repulsed: He and his wife walked out of the party, and away from his job.

President Biden tells that story to highlight his appreciation of the importance of the dignity of work. It’s a tale my old pal Mike Stepp would have relished, because Mike spent his life scrambling on America’s floor for coins — and not liking it one bit. Yet Mike, too, sustained his dignity and humor, which is an impressive feat when you’re homeless, wrestling with addictions and sleeping in a city park.

Mike was a good man whom America left behind, and one measure of Biden’s presidency — and of America’s resilience — will be whether he can offer some kind of a Rooseveltian New Deal to millions of struggling Americans like Mike. As I see it, the nation’s greatest challenge is to restore opportunity and dignity for the bottom third of Americans, not so much the middle class as the working class: white, Black and brown alike.

Biden’s initial moves suggest he is taking that challenge seriously, pursuing an “American Rescue Plan” that includes the most serious antipoverty program, especially for children, in at least half a century. But the burden is not just on the new president, but on all of us…..

…..Biden’s American Rescue Plan includes a $15 federal minimum wage, initiatives to expand medical care and reduce homelessness and, most striking, a historic plan to reduce child poverty by about half.

When I’ve previously written about Americans falling behind, readers have challenged me to say what would make a difference. So here are five policies to create opportunity:

1. A national high-quality early childhood and day care program, modeled on the one provided by the United States military for service members.

2. A higher minimum wage and broader effort to train people for well-paying jobs by scaling up proven initiatives like Year Up and Career Academies [a study by MDRC].

3. Huge expansion of drug treatment programs. It’s scandalous that only 20 percent of Americans with addictions get treatment.

4. A child allowance, the heart of Biden’s plan to fight child poverty.

5. “Bandwidth for all” to expand high-speed internet access, modeled on rural electrification from the 1930s to the 1950s……

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