December 4th, 2013
12:20 PM ET
9 months ago

Obama says wage and income gap eroding American dream

Updated 1:41 p.m. ET, 12/4/2013

Washington (CNN) – The growing gap between rich and poor Americans is threatening the ideals the country was founded upon, President Barack Obama said in remarks Wednesday that appeared to signal a leftward turn in his economic agenda.

Making sure that the U.S. economy works for every working American is "the defining challenge of our time," Obama said in a speech at the Center for American Progress, a liberal think tank. He later said the "dangerous and growing" income and opportunity gap is jeopardizing the notion that if people work hard, they can get ahead.

“The idea that so many children are born into poverty in the wealthiest nation on Earth is heartbreaking enough, but the idea that a child may never be able to escape that poverty, because she lacks a decent education or health care or a community that views her future as their own, that should offend all of us,” Obama said during his remarks.

To combat the chasm between haves and have-nots, Obama called for a hike in the federal minimum wage, saying an increase is a good step for families and the economy as a whole.

Democrats on Capitol Hill have pushed for an increase in the federal minimum wage, which currently stands at $7.25 an hour. A proposal would boost it to about $10, and the White House has said Obama supports such a measure.

On Wednesday, Obama also made a general push to simplify the tax code, provide more work training in high schools, and make it easier for Americans to save for retirement.

Those are notions Obama has presented before; however, by packaging them into a clear plan for the next three years, Obama seemed to be making a play to revive his core of liberal supporters, who over the past several months have weathered the disappointments of his health care rollout and allegations of NSA spying.

Obama took sharp aim at Republicans during his remarks, saying they had failed to present their own plans for pulling Americans out of poverty.

“If Republicans have concrete plans that will actually reduce inequality, build the middle class, provide more ladders of opportunity to the poor, let's hear them. I want to know what they are,” Obama said.

And he made a forceful call for lawmakers to extend emergency unemployment insurance by the end of the year, saying “Christmastime is no time for Congress to tell more than one million of these Americans” they’ve lost those benefits.

The speech came as public approval of Obama sinks to new lows. The botched rollout of HealthCare.gov, coupled with stories of people losing their health plans, has contributed to the drop, but more Americans also say they disapprove of the President's handling of the economy, five years after the downturn.

A CNN/ORC Poll taken in November showed 59% of respondents said things were going badly in the country today. Thirty-nine percent - a plurality - said economic conditions are getting worse.

While Wall Street indexes and corporate earnings have reached new highs, the situation for low and middle class Americans has largely remained dire, including a jobless rate that remains high and scores of people who have given up looking for work.

The current economy is “profoundly unequal,” Obama proclaimed on Wednesday.

“Growing inequality and lack of upward mobility that has jeopardized middle-class America's basic bargain, that if you work hard, you have a chance to get ahead,” Obama said. “I believe this is the defining challenge of our time, making sure our economy works for every working American.”

The problem of income disparity, and the fight for a higher minimum wage, have gained renewed attention in the past weeks - low wage fast food workers have staged one-day strikes across the country demanding higher paychecks, and protesters stood outside Wal-Marts and other box stores on Black Friday demanding employees be paid better.

Obama's remarks Wednesday took place at a theater and arts facility in Washington's Southeast quadrant, an area of the capital where incomes remain low and 45% of the population lives below the poverty line.


Filed under: Economy • President Obama • Washington D.C.
soundoff (397 Responses)
  1. Jeff Brown in Jersey

    Thank you Mr. President!

    December 4, 2013 09:35 am at 9:35 am |
  2. Logictox

    Now there is another job killer. Let's pay the people that cook burgers and fries $12 an hour. After all as the dollar becomes worthless that isn't much money. Since this president took office the price of almost all foods and gas have doubled. Look for the cost of everything else to follow soon.

    December 4, 2013 09:42 am at 9:42 am |
  3. Rudy NYC

    The right wing should be in favor of raising the minimum wage. Do they realize how many people it would take OFF of public assistance programs? For one, that would include most of the people working at places like Wal-Mart that don't pay a living wage.

    December 4, 2013 09:42 am at 9:42 am |
  4. Borderless

    Because he's a terrible leader, he knows full well he can't make this happen. He's just hoping to regain some respect after all of his other fails lately. The only thing transparent in this administration are Obama's motives.

    December 4, 2013 09:44 am at 9:44 am |
  5. Lynda/Minnesota

    Raise minimum wages? I don't know, Mr. President. Taking into consideration the range of 13 to 20 million dollar CEO packages and 401K investors demanding more and more from their investments ... giving the poor stooges working for pennies on the dollar a "minimum-wage" increase probably isn't going to make GOPerville investors anymore compassionate than they've already become.

    Greed. Pure and simple. No, not from the lowest of our poor. But rather from the wealthiest of our weathy. That good old "trickle down" effect going nowhere but up and up and up.

    Recycling ... GOPerville style.

    December 4, 2013 09:49 am at 9:49 am |
  6. Southeast

    He's done pretty well without the party of no.

    December 4, 2013 09:51 am at 9:51 am |
  7. Tampa Tim

    But according to Fox, the McDouble will cost $1.25 if the minimum wage is increased.

    December 4, 2013 09:51 am at 9:51 am |
  8. Tampa Tim

    Why are republicans so openly against the majority of Americans? Health care, social security, veterans benefits, food stamps, minorities, poor people, women, students, children are always being attacked by the GOP.

    December 4, 2013 09:55 am at 9:55 am |
  9. Sniffit

    "Since this president took office the price of almost all foods and gas have doubled."

    Wow. What freekin planet have you been on the past 5 years? Please tell us that you at least come in peace. You do, don't you? Shall we take you to our leader? Derpa derpa?

    December 4, 2013 09:57 am at 9:57 am |
  10. Enough is Enough

    So now making enough money to survive is the responsibility of the employer? I always thought it was my obligation to earn the money I needed for myself and my family. I've been wrong for all of these years....I simply needed to rely on other people.....not improve my own marketability!

    December 4, 2013 09:59 am at 9:59 am |
  11. tom l

    @Sniffit,

    Are you trying to say that gas has not almost doubled since Obama took office? It was less than $2 a gallon when he took office. Where is it now? Hmmmmmm

    December 4, 2013 10:00 am at 10:00 am |
  12. Sniffit

    Nothing could be worse than a labor force receiving wages that provide them sufficient freedom to feed their families, buy a home, provide their children educations and health care and save for retirement without accumulating quite so much personal debt!!!!! Whatever will the banks do if people are not forced to turn over the majority of their paychecks every week in service of their personal debt!?!??!!? The horror!!!!!! And who will feed the starving CEOs that have to take home 6 figures instead of 7? Who, I ask, WHO!?!?!?!

    December 4, 2013 10:01 am at 10:01 am |
  13. Sniffit

    "Are you trying to say that gas has not almost doubled since Obama took office? It was less than $2 a gallon when he took office. Where is it now? Hmmmmmm"

    And if we reach back to another date during Bush's administration, we can find a datapoint that shows it's "stayed the same." The argument is pure nonsense, particularly since the POTUS has so very very little to do with the price of gas, no matter which party is playing the time-honored game of trying to blame him for its fluctuations.

    December 4, 2013 10:02 am at 10:02 am |
  14. The Real Tom Paine

    -tom l

    @Sniffit,

    Are you trying to say that gas has not almost doubled since Obama took office? It was less than $2 a gallon when he took office. Where is it now? Hmmmmmm
    *******************
    Spreading myths again, I see. And its not even an original one, either. Hmmmmmm

    December 4, 2013 10:02 am at 10:02 am |
  15. Lynda/Minnesota

    @ Rudy: "The right wing should be in favor of raising the minimum wage"

    No, Rudy. GOPers would rather spend their time blogging against the poor. Makes them feel superior ... or something.

    December 4, 2013 10:05 am at 10:05 am |
  16. Rudy NYC

    Enough is Enough

    So now making enough money to survive is the responsibility of the employer? I always thought it was my obligation to earn the money I needed for myself and my family. I've been wrong for all of these years....I simply needed to rely on other people.....not improve my own marketability!
    ---------------------------------
    Any employer who wants dedicated employees should pay them enough to earn that dedication. But, hey. This country's economy was founded on slave laborr. The U.S. economy has thrived since the Civil War by paying a segment of the population slave wages. usually the currrent wave of immigrants claiming to work harder than the previous wave and the former slaves.

    What you are advocating is an aristocracy, complete with serfs working for their survival with no hope of advancement. Besides, if places like Wal*Mart paid people a living wage, then it take tens of thousands off of public assistance. The Walton Family can easily afford it. The wages they pay are a sin against humanity.

    December 4, 2013 10:06 am at 10:06 am |
  17. The Real Tom Paine

    -Enough is Enough

    So now making enough money to survive is the responsibility of the employer? I always thought it was my obligation to earn the money I needed for myself and my family. I've been wrong for all of these years....I simply needed to rely on other people.....not improve my own marketability!
    *************
    So, we're back to the " all people on min wage are lazy, so why bother helping them" argument. Do you need a boost to get back onto your cross, so you can nail yourself to it?

    December 4, 2013 10:06 am at 10:06 am |
  18. much thunder..little rain

    stupid is as stupid does...everything we buy will go up ...fewer jobs....shorter hours...playing to his base and screw everyone ..

    December 4, 2013 10:07 am at 10:07 am |
  19. jinx9to88

    Prices of products go up but people wages stayed the same the past several years. People wonder why so many are on food stamps. Corporations don't want to pay the employees more so the taxpayer pays for them to be on government assistance while corporations make historical profits, right Walmart?. $3 dollars for a gallon of milk but minimum is at $7.50 an hour in some places, don't have to be a genius to figure whats wrong.

    December 4, 2013 10:09 am at 10:09 am |
  20. The Real Tom Paine

    -much thunder..little rain

    stupid is as stupid does...everything we buy will go up ...fewer jobs....shorter hours...playing to his base and screw everyone ..
    **************
    if increasing hourly wages depletes a business that much, than that business deserves to go under. I've never seen a group of people so dedicated to sealing people into poverty as the Right wing.

    December 4, 2013 10:10 am at 10:10 am |
  21. foxghostwriter

    tom I, I think the recession might just have had more to do with the gas prices than Obama. But hey, we might as well blame the comet dying on Obama as well.

    New conservative talking point: A vote for Obama is a vote for a comet killer!!!!!

    December 4, 2013 10:10 am at 10:10 am |
  22. Evergreen

    Corporations will continue to starve American workers while continuing to make China the new superpower. Unfortunanetly for these same corporations, should China decide to change the way they allow foreign corp to operate, the US will not be sending the military to "protect our interest abroad."

    December 4, 2013 10:11 am at 10:11 am |
  23. Anonymous

    This is logical. The very best form of economic stimulus is money to the very poor- for the simple reason that they spend it. Spending drives demand, demand expands the economy.

    December 4, 2013 10:12 am at 10:12 am |
  24. jinx9to88

    @ tom l

    Are you trying to say that gas has not almost doubled since Obama took office? It was less than $2 a gallon when he took office. Where is it now? Hmmmmmm

    ---------

    The president has nothing to do with the price of gas. Another GOP false statement, imagine that. Try using another example.

    December 4, 2013 10:14 am at 10:14 am |
  25. Sniffit

    "So now making enough money to survive is the responsibility of the employer? "

    What a quaint and lovely mischaracterization of the issue. If you don't understand that it's horribly damaging to the entire economy (and society in general) for employers to get away with building entire business models around the core concept of paying employees less than a subsistence wage and treating them like quasi-serfs, supplementing their profits by forcing employees to rely on governmental assistance programs. It's killing demand and forcing most of the country to live their lives buried in personal debt via debt products that ...oh looky, what a coincidence...their employers are heavily invested in. So, clearly, it would be premature to even attempt moving on to a discussion of the damage that the rapid exacerbation of income and wealth inequality over the past several decades has done and is doing to the economy and our "way of life" and the "American dream." Congress is charged with stewarding the health and welfare of the public, which is inarguably disserved by permitting this to remain status quo. The only people served by it are those who are already extremely wealthy and the politicians who hope to hand them all power in the country in exchange for campaign donations from the deep coffers they helped create.

    December 4, 2013 10:15 am at 10:15 am |
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