Skeptics have warned of government overreach and the risk that deficit spending could ignite inflation, but Mr. Biden and his team of economic advisers have, nonetheless, embraced the approach.
“It’s time to grow the economy from the bottom and middle out,” Mr. Biden said in his speech to a joint session of Congress last week, a reference to the idea that prosperity doesn’t trickle down from the wealthy, but flows out of a well-educated and well-paid middle class.
He underscored the point by singling out workers as the dynamo powering the middle class.
“Wall Street didn’t build this country,” he said. “The middle class built the country. And unions built the middle class.”
Of course, the economy that lifted millions of postwar families into the middle class differed sharply from the current one. Manufacturing, construction and mining jobs, previously viewed as the backbone of the labor force, dwindled — as did the labor unions that aggressively fought for better wages and benefits. Now, only one out of every 10 workers is a union member, while roughly 80 percent of jobs in the United States are in the service sector.
And it is these types of jobs, in health care, education, child care, disabled and senior care, that are expected to continue expanding at the quickest pace.
Most of them, though, fall short of paying middle-income wages. That does not necessarily reflect their value in an open market. Salaries for teachers, hospital workers, lab technicians, child care providers and nursing home attendants are determined largely by the government, which collects tax dollars to pay their salaries and sets reimbursements rates for Medicare and other programs.
They are also jobs that are filled by significant numbers of women, African-Americans, Latinos and Asians.