Think Tank Summit in D.C. Spotlights Importance of Industrial Heartland, Manufacturing Communities to National Economy

At a summit today hosted by The Century Foundation’s Bernard L. Schwartz Rediscovering Government Initiative and the Economic Policy Institute (EPI), Vice President Joe Biden and Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) underscored the urgent need to raise wages, strengthen the middle class, and rebuild American manufacturing communities.

Two of the nation’s leading fighters for working families, Sen. Gillibrand and Vice President Biden joined more than 200 economic experts and labor, business, and community leaders, including many who traveled from the Great Lakes region. The event coincides with the release of two new research reports: a federal policy agenda to revitalize manufacturing by TCF and a new survey of national and regional wage trends in recent decades by EPI.

“I believe to my core that our country needs to start rewarding work again,” said Senator Gillibrand. “It’s our responsibility to create an environment where everyone has the opportunity to work hard and succeed, but those in positions of power have failed to do that, and that’s why we have to change our course now. We need to rebuild our manufacturing, make our unions strong, and fight for full employment once and for all so that every worker has the training they need to secure the jobs they want. I’m proud to stand up for our workers in the Senate, and I encourage every American who cares about all of these issues to keep raising their voices with me.”

“Unless we allow workers to compete, we are never going to see the wage gains we need. And without wage gains, we’ll still see four-in-ten families saying they can’t make ends meet,” Vice President Biden said. “The American middle class has never, ever let its country down. But now the middle class needs us to make changes to give it a fair shot. Let’s deliver on it.”

Vice President Biden continues his work of supporting middle-class families in part through the Biden Foundation, where strengthening the middle class is one of its key focuses. Last year the foundation launched the Biden Forum, an online space where leaders in policy, politics and business discuss ideas that strengthen the middle class and level the playing field for American families.

Today’s summit caps off TCF’s yearlong tour through Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Illinois, during which national experts met with local and state leaders to discuss strategies to help heartland communities still recovering from years of deindustrialization and disinvestment. The policy report launched today combines the lessons learned on that campaign with a 12-point, $2 billion action plan that federal lawmakers can take to help create good-paying manufacturing jobs and strengthen the region’ economy. The agenda includes policies to increase the pipeline of qualified workers, prevent layoffs and mitigate the effects of job displacement, foster high-tech manufacturing, and unlock new sources of capital directed at the Midwest.

“Neither the phenomenon of low wages, nor America’s manufacturing struggles, is the result of economic forces of nature. Rather, they are the result of conscious policy choices made by our elected leaders,” said Andrew Stettner, senior fellow at TCF’s Bernard L. Schwartz Rediscovering Government Initiative. “Fortunately, there is no shortage of responsible, proven ideas to reverse course: policies that help grow high-paying manufacturing jobs, strengthen the middle class, and expand opportunities for all Americans.”

Additionally, research today from EPI, “America’s slow-motion wage crisis,” presents new data on wage growth in recent decades, extending into the recovery from the Great Recession. The report documents the slow growth in real wages for the majority of workers since 1979, as well as the increasingly unequal nature of the wage structure across dimensions of class, race, gender, and geography. The study highlights that this slow wage growth has occurred despite significant increases in education and experience of the U.S. workforce, and points to the decline in manufacturing employment and union membership as two key forces behind stagnating wages and rising inequality.

“The vast majority of American families rely on the labor market to get the vast majority of their income,” said EPI Research Director Josh Bivens. “This means it’s crucial to understand when and how this market fails. The widespread wage crisis can be seen clearly in these data, which shed light on the fundamental nature of policy change that will be necessary to solve this crisis and restore broad-based wage growth.”

Additional speakers at the summit included American Federation of Teachers (AFT) President Randi Weingarten, former Chief Economist at the U.S. Department of Commerce Susan Helper, and chief economist at the AFL-CIO William E. Spriggs, as well as academic, think tank, labor, and business leaders. The event is presented by The Century Foundation’s Bernard L. Schwartz Rediscovering Government Initiative and the Economic Policy Institute, with additional support provided by The Joyce Foundation, Heartland Capital Strategies, PNC Bank, and the AFL-CIO- Industrial Union Council.


The Century Foundation (TCF) is a progressive public policy think tank that seeks to foster opportunity, reduce inequality, and promote security at home and abroad. Founded in 1919, TCF pursues its mission by conducting timely, nonpartisan research and policy analysis that informs citizens, guides policymakers, and reshapes what government does for the better. TCF is based in New York, with a satellite office in Washington, D.C. Learn more at

The Economic Policy Institute (EPI) is a nonprofit, nonpartisan think tank created in 1986 to include the needs of low- and middle-income workers in economic policy discussions. EPI believes every working person deserves a good job with fair pay, affordable health care, and retirement security. To achieve this goal, EPI conducts research and analysis on the economic status of working America. EPI proposes public policies that protect and improve the economic conditions of low- and middle-income workers and assesses policies with respect to how they affect those workers.