‘Scranton Versus Park Avenue’: How Biden and Trump’s Economic Plans Match Up

Democrat Joe Biden on a campaign stop in his original hometown of Scranton, Pennsylvania.

Democrat Joe Biden on a campaign stop in his original hometown of Scranton, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

By Keya Vakil

October 30, 2020

Biden’s Pennsylvania upbringing and Amtrak-riding ways are light-years from Trump’s billionaire status. That has real implications for Americans’ wallets.

When Donald Trump ran for president in 2016, he promised to help America’s “forgotten men and women” return to the prosperity of a bygone era. The New York City billionaire pinned the blame for stagnating wages and the lack of financial security on the political establishment and global elites. Despite having his own business interests in China,  he promised to bring back offshored jobs from the country and revive America’s coal and manufacturing industries. 

Four years later, none of that has happened. Instead, Trump has focused on Wall Street, where the stock market remains robust even as tens of millions of Americans find themselves unemployed, sinking into debt, and facing eviction amid a global pandemic. 

Inequality has grown so severe, in fact, that the 50 richest billionaires in the US now control as much wealth as the poorest half of Americans, or roughly 165 million people, according to the latest Federal Reserve data and Bloomberg’s Billionaires Index

Democrat Joe Biden on a campaign stop in his original hometown of Scranton, Pennsylvania.
Democrat Joe Biden on a campaign stop in his original hometown of Scranton, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

On the other side of the spectrum, Democrat Joe Biden has centered his campaign around helping main street. The former vice president often characterizes his campaign as “Scranton versus Park Avenue.” 

“No matter where I’ve gone in life, I’ve always been led by the values that Scranton instilled in me at a young age—values of hard work, faith and a commitment to the middle-class,” Biden told the USA TODAY Network Pennsylvania Capitol Bureau this month.

The difference is stark: While Trump flew around on private jets, Biden took Amtrak nearly every day for the 36 years he spent in the US Senate, traveling to and from Washington DC, in order to spend every night at home with his children in Delaware and developed friendships with train crew members along the way. 

“I think he’s most comfortable around everyday, working-class people,” Gregg Weaver, who spent 41 years as an Amtrak conductor, said in a Biden campaign video. “He just always makes you feel like you belong.”

As part of the effort to paint himself as “Middle-Class Joe,” Biden has also unveiled a litany of proposals for how to improve the economy, tackle inequality, and raise wages. Here’s how Biden’s economic proposals compare to Trump’s record:

Biden Wants to Raise the Minimum Wage. Trump Does Not.

As part of his effort to boost wages and address inequality, Biden promises to raise the federal minimum wage from $7.25 per hour to $15. Studies have shown that raising the minimum wage would not only benefit tens of millions of low-wage workers, but the economy at large.  

Ieisha Francis, a 41-year-old mother and grandmother in Durham, North Carolina, is among those who would benefit from such a pay bump. Francis currently works at Freddy’s Frozen Custard & Steakburgers as a cook and crewmember, earning only $9.20 per hour.

“To be able to cover day-to-day expenses is hard. I’m a mother, but I don’t receive any food stamps. [I’m] trying to keep food in the freezer for my son, making sure I’ve got a little stuff here for my grandson because I get him every weekend—it’s not easy at all,” Francis told COURIER. “It’s definitely a struggle to pinch pennies. Sometimes I make it, sometimes I don’t.”

Biden would also eliminate the tipped minimum wage, which allows businesses to pay tipped workers as little as $2.13 per hour in some states. Nour Qutyan is one of those workers. A 27-year-old student in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, she works part-time at a microbrewery in the city, where she earns $2.83 per hour plus tips. 

Working such a low-wage job takes a toll. “You rely so much on tips to make your money and it’s very inconsistent,” she told COURIER. “It’s not a steady income. Sometimes you make more than you were expecting and then sometimes it’s bad and you make less than you’re expecting.”

“l think a lot of people still don’t know that our hourly wage is $2.83 and that hasn’t changed since the 90s [in Pennsylvania],” Qutyan added.

Biden has said he would also work to index the minimum wage to the median hourly wage moving forward, so that low-wage workers see their wages rise at the same rate as middle-income workers.

In contrast, Trump has said he would leave any possible minimum wage increase to the states instead of corralling federal support for an increase. 

Biden Sees a Strong Middle Class Future Through Union Work

Biden often repeats one of his favorite mantras on the campaign trail: “Unions built the middle class.”

Many experts agree, pointing to unions’ abilities to negotiate better wages, benefits, and working conditions. Studies have also shown that unions reduce income inequality, but as of by 2019, only 10% of wage and salary workers were union members, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics

“When workers are blocked from organizing and engaging in collective bargaining, stagnant wages and a declining middle class are the predictable results,” reads Biden’s campaign website

Christian Smalls was one of those workers. The former Amazon employee says he was fired by the retail giant in March after he organized a walkout in Staten Island, NY, to protest the lack of safety protections and equipment after a worker in the warehouse tested positive for COVID-19. Amazon refuted his claim, though VICE News later revealed that the company had discussed how to smear Smalls.

“They don’t care about people. They don’t care about their employees,” Smalls told COURIER in the spring. “This is the reason why we have to mobilize.”

Biden has committed himself to empowering America’s unions and making it easier for workers like Smalls to unionize if they want to do so. He has promised to hold corporations financially accountable for interfering with workers’ rights to unionize and would ensure that federal contracts are not awarded to any companies engaged in union-busting activities. 

Trump’s administration has sought to roll back worker protections, limit the number of workers that receive overtime pay, and provide companies more flexibility to classify workers as independent contractors. In fact, the administration has come under such scrutiny for its worker policies and rules that the left-leaning Economic Policy Institute said in 2019 that the National Labor Relations Board under Trump has “advanced an anti-worker, anti-union, corporate agenda that has undermined workers’ ability to form unions and engage in collective bargaining.”

Surprise—Trump’s Tax Cut Wasn’t Even Noticed by Most American Families

Trump’s key economic policy was his 2017 corporate tax cut. The president and his Republican allies argued that cutting corporate taxes would lead to dramatically higher wages and more economic growth. That has not happened. Instead, study after study has found that the tax cut disproportionately benefited the wealthiest 1% and corporations. 

As a result, more than 90 corporations, including Amazon, Chevron, and IBM, did not pay a dime in federal income taxes in 2018, despite earning $101 billion in profits, according to a 2019 study from The Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy. Meanwhile, the average American received a tax break so small that they barely noticed it. Only 14% of Americans believe their taxes went down, according to a 2019 Gallup survey.

Trump has hinted that he again plans to cut taxes if he wins re-election, but hasn’t said how he would do that or who would benefit.

Wearing a mask, Democrat Joe Biden meets with families in Michigan on a campaign staff.
Wearing a mask, Democrat Joe Biden meets with families in Michigan on a campaign staff. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Biden’s plan would keep taxes where they are for 98% of working Americans, and raise them only for corporations and those making more than $400,000 per year. “It’s time corporate America paid their fair share of taxes,” Biden said over the summer. “The days of Amazon paying nothing in federal income tax will be over.”

Here is some of what is in Biden’s tax plan:

  • Raising the corporate tax rate from 21% to 28% and ensure that companies like Amazon can’t bypass tax payments altogether by establishing a minimum 15% tax on corporate profits;
  • Establish a minimum tax rate of 21% on all foreign earnings of US companies located abroad;
  • Increase the tax rate on the highest income earners (about $518,400 or more, or $622,000 for married couples) from 37% to nearly 40%;
  • Expand tax credits to help struggling and working families.

The conservative-learning American Enterprise Institute analyzed Biden’s tax plan and found that it “would increase taxes, on average, for the top 5% of households and reduce taxes on households in the bottom 95%.”

Biden’s plan would raise an estimated $2.8 trillion over the next decade the analysis found, most of which would come from corporations and the wealthiest Americans. The former vice president has said he would invest some of those funds into some of his proposals, including his efforts to tackle climate change, expand health care, and provide tuition-free public college to students from families earning under $125,000 a year.

Farmers Are Suffering and Trumps Trade Wars Made Life More Expensive for Most American Families

The other key economic priorities of Trump’s first term were infrastructure and trade. He has done nothing on the former, and while the administration has acted on the trade deficit, the results for Americans aren’t great.

As part of his trade war with China and several other countries, Trump implemented tariffs, or taxes, on imports such as aluminium, steel, and washing machines. While those industries benefited from Trump’s tariffs and saw job growth,those jobs came at a high cost. An estimate from the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office found that tariffs likely reduced average real household income by $1,277 this year.

The trade war also devastated the agriculture business in states like Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin, as China retaliated with tariffs of its own on pork, grains, dairy, and soybeans.

In 2018, as the trade war raged, that number plunged to only $9.2 billion—a drop of somewhere between 100% and 200%. Despite billions in Trump administration bailouts, the suffering has still been severe, and has only gotten worse during the coronavirus pandemic.

“We’re going broke,” Wisconsin dairy farmer Sarah Lloyd said during a July panel to discuss the status of dairy farming in the state. “It’s been a really rough ride.”    

President Trump's plans have helped wealthy Americans the most, while everyone from farmers to middle-class families suffer..
President Trump’s plans have helped wealthy Americans the most, while everyone from farmers to middle-class families suffer. (Photo by Sarah Silbiger/Getty Images)

Les Danielson, who grows corn and soybeans and milks a small dairy herd on his rural Cadott farm in Chippewa County, Wisconsin, also shared his struggles during the same event. “I don’t want to sound like ‘Woe is me, these prices are so low for farmers,’” Danielson said. “But that is the reality of the situation. This has gotten really bad. You worry about the individual farmers, how long they can keep going.”

Additionally, despite Trump’s efforts in signing a new version of NAFTA (which is similar to the original NAFTA), the US trade deficit reached its highest level in 14 years in August. 

Biden has said he would not “enter into any new trade agreements until we’ve made major investments here at home, in our workers and our communities—equipping them to compete and win in the global economy.”

These investments include spending on education, infrastructure, and manufacturing. Biden has called for a $400 billion increase in government purchases of American goods and services over four years, plus an additional $300 billion in new research and development spending in technology such as electric vehicles, artificial intelligence, and 5G cellular networks. 

“When the federal government spends taxpayers’ money, we should use it to buy American products and support American jobs,,” Biden said during a July speech in Dunmore, Pennsylvania, near his childhood home of Scranton. 

The former vice president said his plan would spur innovation and reduce America’s dependence on foreign manufacturing, while creating as many as 5 million new jobs and helping the country to recover from the recession.

During that same speech, Biden also took Trump to task for worrying only about the stock market. “Throughout this crisis, Donald Trump has been almost singularly focused on the stock market, the DOW, Nasdaq,” Biden said. “Not you. Not your families.”


  • Keya Vakil

    Keya Vakil is the deputy political editor at COURIER. He previously worked as a researcher in the film industry and dabbled in the political world.

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