By Jeff Mason
President Joe Biden on Monday called on wealthy Americans and corporations to pay their “fair share” to fund free community college and other benefits for workers as he promoted his sweeping jobs and safety-net plans at schools in Virginia.
Speaking at Tidewater Community College in the port city of Norfolk, Virginia, Biden said his proposed expansion of the U.S. public education system would rebalance the economy and benefit lower-income Americans.
The United States could provide two free years of post-secondary education by raising the top income tax rate to the level it was at in 2001, Biden said.
“The choice is about who the economy serves. And so I plan on giving tax breaks to the working-class folks and making everybody pay their fair share,” he said.
Earlier, Biden, joined by his wife, community college professor Jill Biden, bantered with a class of 5th-grade students at an elementary school in nearby Yorktown. The students had clear shields in front of their desks as a guard against the virus.
The school visits are part of a tour to sell Biden’s $2.3 trillion plan to rebuild roads, broadband and other infrastructure, and a social-spending package that includes $1 trillion on education and childcare over 10 years and $800 billion in tax credits aimed at middle- and low-income families.
The plan would expand America’s 13 years of free public schooling at both ends, adding two years of preschool for 3-and 4-year olds and two years of community college for those who have completed high school.
Funded by higher taxes on corporations and wealthy Americans, the two proposals taken together would amount to the biggest domestic spending initiative since the 1960s.
“It is paid for by making sure corporate America and the wealthiest 1% pay their fair share,” Biden said.
Biden and other advocates promote community college as an affordable, accessible gateway to a wide range of careers, from nursing to advanced manufacturing.
During the United States’ industrial heyday in the 20th century, workers could easily find factory jobs that paid a middle-class wage with only a high school degree or less. But globalization and automation have spurred employers to demand a higher level of skills, including deeper technical knowledge and broader critical-thinking abilities, according to Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce.
Now, two out of three U.S. jobs require some sort of education or training beyond high school.
Community colleges typically provide two years of education, leading to either an associate’s degree or a start on a four-year college degree.
Roughly 11.8 million students were enrolled in 1,044 U.S. community colleges in 2019, according to the American Association of Community Colleges. Tuition averaged $3,770 per year, roughly one-third of the cost of a four-year public college.
Biden has vowed to work with both Democratic and Republican lawmakers, but the two sides have struggled to find common ground. Many Republicans have said they do not support his plan to raise taxes on the wealthy, and none of them voted for his $1.9 trillion pandemic relief package, his major legislative achievement so far.
Democrats hold only narrow majorities in the U.S. House of Representatives and the Senate, and analysts say Republicans could win control of one or both chambers in the November 2022 congressional elections.