December 4th, 2013
12:20 PM ET
11 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. MakesYouThink

    Hey ister Ofumble, How is that debt ceiling spending bill coming along, that is due in another 3 weeks, maybe you should be working on that instead of more promises and lies that stagger this country.

    December 4, 2013 10:39 am at 10:39 am |
  2. tv22

    He won't rest until he's destroyed what remains of our economy.

    December 4, 2013 10:39 am at 10:39 am |
  3. Dan

    Yeaaay, $9/hour is really going to make a difference

    December 4, 2013 10:40 am at 10:40 am |
  4. rs

    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
    _______________________
    Remind me again, the Republican House has passed how many jobs bills?
    Once again- the Right whines- but offers no solutions for the recovery from the Bush Crash of '08.

    December 4, 2013 10:40 am at 10:40 am |
  5. The Real Tom Paine

    -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.
    **************
    Lots of things fail him, not the least of which is credibility and an unwillingness to admit he has made patently false and outrageous statements. I wonder how old he will be today?

    December 4, 2013 10:41 am at 10:41 am |
  6. betterdays

    Unwittingly sticking it to the true middle class again. This guy is amazing.

    December 4, 2013 10:41 am at 10:41 am |
  7. rs

    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.
    _______________________
    Which party has twice in two years shutdown the government and voted to default the governments financial obligations (essentially to crash the economy)?
    Why, I believe that was the GOP. Get a clue.

    December 4, 2013 10:41 am at 10:41 am |
  8. Reveille

    A great opportunity for Democratic governors to lead. States have the ability to establish minimum wages (including living wages) above the federal standard. Let's have the Governors step to the plate and exercise this responsibility on behalf of their citizens. That would give you CA, NY, MA, MD, CT, OR, WA MT, MN, MO, AR, CO, IL, KY, WV, DE, RI, VT and NH. Put those convictions front and center with your state legislatures and make it happen.

    December 4, 2013 10:42 am at 10:42 am |
  9. common sense

    Though "the Walton family can afford it," .........THEY AREN'T GOING TO. Next time you are going through the aisles at wal-mart think about all the free things you are seeing in the store...

    December 4, 2013 10:44 am at 10:44 am |
  10. tom l

    There was a typo by me. I meant to say gas was under $3 a gallon in 2008 when Bush was leaving office. In fact, it was around $2.50 a gallon. My bad.

    December 4, 2013 10:44 am at 10:44 am |
  11. unknown11

    Pandering to his core again.

    December 4, 2013 10:44 am at 10:44 am |
  12. rs

    MakesYouThink

    Hey ister Ofumble, How is that debt ceiling spending bill coming along, that is due in another 3 weeks, maybe you should be working on that instead of more promises and lies that stagger this country.
    _________________________
    I think you will find (if you figure out how the federal government works), that it is the U.S. House of Representatives under the "leadership" of Speaker Boehner and the Republicans who have the responsibility to do what you are concerned about. You may wish to note they have failed to do so for the last two Congresses, and elected instead to shutdown the government. Address your note to Boehner- see the reply you get.

    December 4, 2013 10:45 am at 10:45 am |
  13. Jim

    How can people really think this will help? The market will adjust and raise prices on everything else to adjust for extra income workers will be getting. Higher minimum wage is just going to increase inflation and reduce employers' willingness to hire more people.

    December 4, 2013 10:45 am at 10:45 am |
  14. Jon

    Not everybody works for corporate America. I work for a small business (restaurant). If the minimum wage is raised, that means my hours will be cut, or the owner will have to raise prices, meaning my hours will be cut anyway because people will eat there less. Minimum wage is meant for people starting out in the workplace, I've worked to earn more than the minimum for 6 years. If you want to fix it, start from the beginning and undo the dumbing down that we have endured since the introduction of the GI Bill.

    December 4, 2013 10:46 am at 10:46 am |
  15. betty

    "tv22
    He won't rest until he's destroyed what remains of our economy."
    Yeah, raising the minimum wage will help ruin the economy. Not.

    December 4, 2013 10:46 am at 10:46 am |
  16. Gurgyl

    Greed, these employers used to raise wages, give bonus etc, greedy these not caring–this results.

    December 4, 2013 10:46 am at 10:46 am |
  17. Silence DoGood

    @Goblin King "Let the markets and economics determine what wage a job should pay."
    And after the WalMarts and mega corporations are essentially running markets (not competition) you have a corporate slave state. Walmart does not compete – it destroys US suppliers that do not agree to making 1 penny profit. Walmart is driving products to offshore in places with with no OSHA, no minimum wage, no workers rights of any sort.

    December 4, 2013 10:46 am at 10:46 am |
  18. Matthew

    Raising the minimum wage hurts the middle class. Liberals love to use the term "middle class" but all of their policies are geared toward more entitlements for the very bottom, which drag everyone else down.

    December 4, 2013 10:47 am at 10:47 am |
  19. Sl 500 AMG

    Yeah raise the min wage, it is not going to do a bit of good.....$10 @ 40 hrs/wk = 400 a wk cant live on that!
    $11 @ 40 hr /wk =440 a wk, can't live on that! $12 hr @ 40hr/wk = $480 a week and all this is before taxes and your now required health ins. payment, add in a car payment and some food and there goes your big increase.....Go to school get a degree in something that matters and get a real job.

    December 4, 2013 10:47 am at 10:47 am |
  20. cheapbugers

    what cheap burgers? you spend 10 buck on a burger here in the florida.

    December 4, 2013 10:47 am at 10:47 am |
  21. betty

    The minimum wage has not been increased in a very long time. It needs to go up. People need to be able to make a living and be able to support themselves.

    December 4, 2013 10:48 am at 10:48 am |
  22. Jason

    Great move Obama.....if you want more unemployed and dependent on the Governments handouts. The profit margin on many fast food places, will force them to cut labor....... or you're $5.99 combo turns into a $8.99 combo.

    December 4, 2013 10:48 am at 10:48 am |
  23. much thunder..little rain

    its amazing to me how many people know so much who have never had to make pay roll ...

    December 4, 2013 10:49 am at 10:49 am |
  24. tom l

    Oh, and it's called "minimum wage", not "middle income wage" or "raise a family of 4 wage". Does anybody here understand the value of a dollar and how it works? You are paid commensurate to what your skill set brings. If you are good, you will not make minimum wage for too long. An employer will recognize talent and do the things to keep you there.

    December 4, 2013 10:51 am at 10:51 am |
  25. Realityblowz

    How about you begin to help the people making mimimum wage by stopping the QE-Infnity program of printing money? You are devaluating our currency so quickly that pretty soon, even $30.00 per hour will mean nothing.

    December 4, 2013 10:51 am at 10:51 am |
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