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. rs

    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.
    ____________________________
    !. The value of the dollar is quite stable. We have virtually zero inflation.
    2. Foods and gass have not doubles. The highest ever gasoline prices came during the Bush years. Consult the CPI- prices have been very flat for about 8 years.
    3. The price of milk and dairy? We'll, thank the GOP House members and Mr. Boehner for failing to pass a Farm Bill- the FIRST time since 1947.

    December 4, 2013 10:15 am at 10:15 am |
  2. Rick McDaniel

    Stop trying to raise wages on low paying jobs, and start creating good jobs, that pay decently, and make something positive happen in America, instaed of trying to steal from the rich, to give to the poor.

    The country is goingto be far worse off, if we have nothing but low paying jobs in this country.

    December 4, 2013 10:16 am at 10:16 am |
  3. rs

    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
    __________________________
    Your memory fails you Tom. Gasoline was highest under Mr. Bush at more than $4 nationwide average. The last gas I bought was under $3. Do the math.

    December 4, 2013 10:17 am at 10:17 am |
  4. Fair is Fair

    Rudy NYC

    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.
    --------
    Minimum wage jobs were never intended to support a family. They were intended for teenagers entering the work force for the first time. Unfortunately, the liberal takeover of the education system in this country has effectively dumbed-down enough of the population that more and more adults aren't qualified for much of anything else. Which of course was the plan all along... foster a population of dependency. Mission accomplished.

    December 4, 2013 10:18 am at 10:18 am |
  5. John

    By all means, keep as many as you can in poverty! Do NOT raise the minimum, we wouldn't want people to maybe become self-sufficient! If they did they might move upward, and that would mean they are GAINING on us! Oh no! The only measure of our value, of our very existence, is how much more we have than everybody else. So quick, let us LOWER the minimum wage instead, and try to get at least 47% of the population below poverty where they belong!

    December 4, 2013 10:22 am at 10:22 am |
  6. Sniffit

    Let's take a second to thank all our conservative friends here for helping highlight that conservatives truly do equate wealth with virtue (and the lack of wealth with a lack of virtue). The mark of someone's worth as a human being is their income and asset levels, and such a fundamental truth of the universe should inform all decision making regarding our economy and how we regulate businesses and labor practices. Clearly, those who are poor are meant to be poor and it's all their fault because their obvious inherent flaws as a human being (or shall we say subhuman being) resulted in them CHOOSING to be poor and destitute. Sigh...if only we could just arrange society in a manner that they'd all just die off....

    December 4, 2013 10:24 am at 10:24 am |
  7. rs

    Rick McDaniel

    Stop trying to raise wages on low paying jobs, and start creating good jobs, that pay decently, and make something positive happen in America, instaed of trying to steal from the rich, to give to the poor
    ___________________________________
    Make up your mind-your usual mantra is cut benefits to the poor- raising base wages does that. When will you learn the Republican redistribution of wealth doesn't work. By cutting taxes on te rich and corporations we have certainly succeeded in making a hyper rich class- but we have also vastly expanded the poor. Walmart is a great case in poin. The Walton family member involved in the corporation"earn" $1,3 billion a year. Their average worker well less that $20k.
    Basic economic says that raising the income of the poor has the greatest economic stimulus power because unlike the rich (like Romney who stash their money off-shore where it has zero stimulus effect), the poor spend. Their money has primary and tertiary value in the economy- around 200% dollar per dollar. Poor spending more money means even more buck for the Waltons- that ought to make you smile.

    December 4, 2013 10:24 am at 10:24 am |
  8. Thomas

    I'm confused why people see this as an issue. The cost of living has increased significantly, corporate profits are at an all time high, minimum wage and middle class wage has stagnated.

    December 4, 2013 10:26 am at 10:26 am |
  9. Sniffit

    "Minimum wage jobs were never intended to support a family. They were intended for teenagers entering the work force for the first time. Unfortunately, the liberal takeover of the education system in this country has effectively dumbed-down enough of the population that more and more adults aren't qualified for much of anything else. Which of course was the plan all along... foster a population of dependency. Mission accomplished."

    That may just be the most ridiculous collection of mindlessly ideological conservative claptrap mythology you've ever spewed on this site, Fair. Seriously amazing. Yep, Walmart deliberately provides only part-time jobs at sub-subsistence wage levels and supplements its profits by forcing its employees to seek government assistance all because of the "liberal takeover of the education system." That's truly some hopelessly wilted derp salad.

    December 4, 2013 10:29 am at 10:29 am |
  10. rs

    Minimum wage jobs were never intended to support a family.
    _______________________
    Says who? You are obviously out of touch with reality. Waitresses, store clerks, sales clerks, cleaning and maintenance staff, even base-line government workers get minimum wage (or less in the case of food service). Walk into any business on mainstreet or at the mall- minimum wage- do they all look like high school students? Ramp into that the denial of full-time and no benefits, and you've essentially created a slave class.
    Remind me again- how many jobs bills has the house passed?

    December 4, 2013 10:29 am at 10:29 am |
  11. Silence DoGood

    @rs
    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
    __________________________
    Your memory fails you Tom. Gasoline was highest under Mr. Bush at more than $4 nationwide average. The last gas I bought was under $3. Do the math.
    -------------
    That is the trouble with conservative arguments. They hear something Rush that is essentially made up and repeat it without checking at all. Hey – let's start a rumor that Obama is requiring his staff to all wear clown hats. I will bet money and give you odds, someone will complain about how the clown hat incident is being covered up by the Obama administration the very next day!

    December 4, 2013 10:30 am at 10:30 am |
  12. Rudy NYC

    Fair is Fair wrote:

    Minimum wage jobs were never intended to support a family. They were intended for teenagers entering the work force for the first time. Unfortunately, the liberal takeover of the education system in this country has effectively dumbed-down enough of the population that more and more adults aren't qualified for much of anything else. Which of course was the plan all along... foster a population of dependency. Mission accomplished.
    -------------------------
    What a crock of right wing conspiracy theories. liberal takeover of the education system? Damn near all public school textbooks come from Texas. Besides, it has been mostly the right wing pushing for voucher programs, which is slowly but steadily dismantling our public school systems.

    Foster a population of dependency? Why would liberals want to create a society dependent upon wealthy conservatives like the Waltons? They wouldn't. You're projecting again.

    December 4, 2013 10:31 am at 10:31 am |
  13. JJ236

    Well since 2/3 of the jobs created since the O has been in office are these low wage part time jobs, he cant expect people to pay for obamacare when they have to choose to eat or buy health insurance.

    December 4, 2013 10:32 am at 10:32 am |
  14. DaveinIL

    Obama has two goals for every political choice he makes, will it fire up the liberal base and will it continue the destruction of the economy.

    December 4, 2013 10:33 am at 10:33 am |
  15. Jolat

    Did they ever think for a single minute that maybe the reason the economy is still struggling is because obama's policies are bad? What economic experience does he have? ZERO

    December 4, 2013 10:34 am at 10:34 am |
  16. Goblin King

    Let the markets and economics determine what wage a job should pay. Stop using the federal government to drive companies off shore.

    December 4, 2013 10:34 am at 10:34 am |
  17. MakesYouThink

    Is that to buy ore support for his big fumble or because the affordable part has been exposed that nobody can pay for health care any more?

    December 4, 2013 10:34 am at 10:34 am |
  18. ConsultNot

    Well, there goes our cheap burgers and fries.

    December 4, 2013 10:34 am at 10:34 am |
  19. Lynda/Minnesota

    "Unfortunately, the liberal takeover of the education system in this country has effectively dumbed-down enough of the population that more and more adults aren't qualified for much of anything else. Which of course was the plan all along... foster a population of dependency. Mission accomplished."

    Getting past whether or not even YOU believe what you've written, what is the alternative to dependency of minimum wage jobs for "those who have intentionally been dumbed-down" (your words ... not mine)?

    December 4, 2013 10:36 am at 10:36 am |
  20. Malory Archer

    Logictox

    Now there is another job killer. Let's pay the people that cook burgers and fries $12 an hour.

    ++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

    A living wage should be whatever it takes for a single person working a 40 hour week to afford the most basic, no-frills one bedroom apartment in their area. For example, here in Pinellas County Florida a single person trying to support only themself would have to make $13.65 an hour in order to qualify to rent the most basic, no-frills one bedroom apartment – in a not so nice area no less! However, the prevailing wage is around $10, requiring an employee in the above scenario to work 55 hours a week just to break even. That’s just wrong, and it takes jobs away from others who might have a job if the first person didn’t have to work so many hours just to keep a roof over their head! Rents are exponentially higher for a two bedroom apartment, having a roommate really doesn’t make much of a financial impact, and someone making $10 an hour and living in a roommate would still have to work 48 hours a week to make ends meet.

    December 4, 2013 10:36 am at 10:36 am |
  21. rs

    Thomas

    I'm confused why people see this as an issue. The cost of living has increased significantly, corporate profits are at an all time high, minimum wage and middle class wage has stagnated.
    __________________________
    Indeed, proof the Right hates the majority of Americans- or at least fools a good many ito thinking they have any concern for them at all. Their argument that preventing them from getting health care insurance is better for the poor is certainly the same sort of logic that we see applies here.

    December 4, 2013 10:36 am at 10:36 am |
  22. Matt

    If the minimum wage is increased to $10 an hour it won't help the middle class but simply bring more people into poverty which I guess would be good for Obama and the Dems as those are their key voters.

    December 4, 2013 10:37 am at 10:37 am |
  23. MakesYouThink

    That will not help, all of those jobs are still part time so you get no insurance, if you want to fix living wages how about creating some jobs in this stagnate economy. Quit buying votes with short sighted solutions Mr. Ofumble, do your job, you have been mad and had a laser like focus on jobs for 4 years now and the unemployment number is still 90,000,000 people.

    December 4, 2013 10:37 am at 10:37 am |
  24. rs

    JJ236

    Well since 2/3 of the jobs created since the O has been in office are these low wage part time jobs, he cant expect people to pay for obamacare when they have to choose to eat or buy health insurance.
    ____________________
    Remind me again- how many jobs bills has the House of Representatives passed under Speaker Boehner?

    December 4, 2013 10:37 am at 10:37 am |
  25. Lynn

    Sure raise the minimum wage...when the worker at Tim Hortons can get my medium double double CORRECT, and the worker at McDonalds can get my Happy Meal and #2 correct. Majority of workers at these low end jobs can not do their jobs properly and there for do not deserve the $10 per hour. Only then do they deserve the justified $10 per hour. Sorry folks

    December 4, 2013 10:38 am at 10:38 am |
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