Bernstein graduated from the Manhattan School of Music with a Bachelors Degree in Fine Arts. He received his Masters Degree in Social Work from the Hunter School of Social work and his Masters Degree in Philosophy and Ph.D. in Social Welfare from Columbia University.
Bernstein has taught at Howard University, Columbia University, and New York University. In 1992, he began working at the Economic Policy Institute (EPI), a labor-funded think tank in Washington D.C. that advocates for low and middle-income workers. From 1995 to 1996 he served as the Deputy Chief Economist at the U.S. Department of Labor. He then returned to EPI where he served for years as a senior economist and the director of the Living Standards Program. His expertise and research focuses on income equality and mobility, trends in employment and earnings, low-wage labor markets and poverty, international comparisons, and analysis of federal and state economic polices. He is also a known critic of free trade agreements.
Bernstein currently sits on the Congressional Budget Office's advisory committee. His job on the Vice Presidential staff is a new position that was created in response to the challenging economic situation facing America.
In addition to being extensively published in The New York Times, Washington Post, American Prospect, and Research in Economics and Statistics, he is contributor at the financial news network CNBC. His two books are titled Crunch: Why Do I Feel So Squeezed (And Other Unsolved Economic Mysteries) and All Together Now: Common Sense for a Fair Economy. He also co-authored multiple recent editions of the book The State or Working America.
Bernstein is a Senior Fellow at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.