Manufacturing workers are anxious about their financial future. Here’s how Joe Biden’s Build Back Better plan meets these middle class families’ needs.
MICHIGAN — Michigan manufacturing workers say they’re worried. From stagnant wage growth while costs of living rise to threats to their job security, factory workers are more concerned than ever about their futures.
Leon Gatson of Detroit has worked in a factory for 47 years, and he said his wages have not increased alongside the cost of living.
“If they actually paid us what we should be making, I’d be paid $39 an hour,” Gatson told The ’Gander. “I’m not doing bad: I make $32 … They didn’t keep up, but people have to make the best of what we got.”
As a middle-class manufacturing worker, Gatson will be voting for Biden in November. He’s confident in Biden’s plan for families like his.
Gatson’s house burned down in 2019 and his finances are under extreme pressure, he explained. At 67 years old, he’s hoping to get back in his house by mid-October. By November, he hopes to see the country’s leadership shift to people with more expertise, he said. And Biden surrounds himself with those experts, in Gatson’s opinion.
“You gotta get the people around you to help guide you [because] you don’t know everything. You gotta get the experts,” he said about the president. “You can’t keep firing everybody. You gotta get a staff all on the same page for the common good of mankind.”
Gatson’s concerns about his financial situation are rooted in the economic situation faced by manufacturers nationwide.
And for that, Biden’s plan has a specific answer: Buy American.
How Biden Plans to Build Manufacturing Back Better
Thanks to the trade policies of President Trump, America’s manufacturing industry had been suffering since before the coronavirus pandemic hit. To address this, Biden calls for a $400 billion investment in federal purchases of American-made goods over four years and an additional $300 billion investment in research and development of technology.
Jake Sullivan, a senior Biden adviser, called the plan “the largest mobilization of public investments in procurement, infrastructure, and research and development since World War II.”
In broad strokes, the “Buy American” plan echoes some of Trump’s America-focused agenda, but Biden highlighted differences like avoiding trade wars that hobbled Trump’s manufacturing economy and pursuing specific policy proposals rather than vague economic nationalism. Laws designed to press federal agencies to purchase American-made products do already exist, but Biden criticized them as being too lax and easy to circumvent.
“Donald Trump wants to talk and talk and talk,” Biden said in a Pennsylvania speech in early July. “But after three and a half years of big promises, what do the American people have to show for it?”
Biden also wants to invoke the Defense Production Act, which would leverage federal purchasing power to get manufacturers to produce supplies needed for the coronavirus response domestically. Prior to the pandemic, the Los Angeles Times explains, most medical supplies in the U.S. came from China. Biden has been critical of Trump for not using the Defense Production Act to its potential already.
“Time and time again, working families are paying the price for Donald Trump’s incompetence,” Biden said.
On top of that, Biden has also supported the federal minimum wage of $15 per hour and strengthening unions as core parts of what rebuilding the economy after the pandemic should look like. The federal minimum wage has been at $7.25 an hour since 2009.
What Biden’s Plan Means for Michigan Manufacturing
Manufacturing, both in the auto industry and in general, is one of the largest sectors of Michigan’s economy. And the existing policy has been hard on that industry.
Coupled with an increase to the minimum wage and stronger unions, the economic growth sparked by the Buy American agenda has a good chance of helping struggling Michigan families.
Cedric Vance of Dearborn works at the Romulus Engine and Transmission Plant for General Motors. He’s a newlywed with five children. He and his wife both work, and it places them firmly in the middle class. But that middle class is eroding, he said, and he feels it.
“Companies always make more money, but workers’ pay stays the same,” he told The ’Gander. “Everybody needs a pay raise, I don’t care what you’re doing.”
Cost of living is increasing, he said, but wages aren’t.
CNBC reports that almost half of Americans say this disparity between wages and cost of living is the greatest threat to their financial futures.
The Economic Policy Institute found that the rise in the minimum wage would be a rising tide for 40 million American workers.
But that isn’t the only concern Vance has that is addressed by Biden’s Building Back Better plan. Vance, like Gatson and many other manufacturing workers, also wants job security.
“What I want to hear is job security, a way to keep companies from outsourcing,” he said.
And that’s central to what Build Back Better brings to Michigan, argues the state’s governor.
“When I look at Joe Biden’s plan about buying American, making it in America, innovating, creating it in America — all of these are ways that we can strengthen our leadership in the world, our economy, and most importantly our individual households,” said Gov. Gretchen Whitmer in a roundtable on the plan earlier in July,
Producing things like masks and testing supplies in Michigan could have made the difference early in the pandemic when the majority of those supplies were made in countries that were locked down during their own worst outbreaks, she argued. While some companies did start producing coronavirus response equipment, that effort didn’t begin at scale until late April and early May.
“It became so glaringly clear that we need to bring the manufacturing of these items … here to Michigan in particular but certainly to the United States,” said Gov. Whitmer. “It’s a matter of national security.”
A Biden administration, she said, would have invoked the Defense Production Act at the first sign of crisis. And Biden has pledged to invoke the act as soon as possible if elected in November.
The ’Gander’s Ellen Chamberlain and the Associated Press contributed to this report.