December 4th, 2013
12:20 PM ET
12 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. VJ

    The best model company in America is 'COSTCO', they pay 22.00 dollars per hour and cover health insurance. They are running to profits. Their CEO takes less than a million, when compared with McDonald's and other stores. Increasing minimum wage to 15 dollars wont hurt any country nor employer. I salute Obama for this... He is doing right on minimum wage... Don't listen to Right wing nut talk show hosts on this.

    December 4, 2013 12:06 pm at 12:06 pm |
  2. Lynda/Minnesota

    @ Tom: "Fair statement but he continues to go back to one singular post I made on Veterans Day in which I said something that was inappropriate and then apologized for. But the fact that he still brings that one singular post up is what compelled me to write that."

    In consideration of the fact that I responded negatively to your Veterans Day comment, and given your admittance that it was an inappropriate comment, I agree that arguing over it should now come to an end.

    December 4, 2013 12:07 pm at 12:07 pm |
  3. Ryan

    Low wages are stagnating the economy and a modest bump in the minimum wage isn't going to raise prices or kill jobs. It'll drive demand which will spur companies to hire more. As much as I'm sure a lot of you don't like seeing burger flippers being able to afford 40-inch flatscreens (which are getting cheaper and cheaper every day anyway), somebody's got to build those TVs and sell them and that creates jobs too. Plus, a happy burger flipper is more likely to get your order correct.

    December 4, 2013 12:23 pm at 12:23 pm |
  4. Ol' Yeller

    @Lynda
    "In consideration of the fact that I responded negatively to your Veterans Day comment, and given your admittance that it was an inappropriate comment, I agree that arguing over it should now come to an end."

    You should add the caveat that tom I can no longer post anything about President Obama's error which he apologized for, yet tom I and his ilk continue to hammer away on daily.

    December 4, 2013 12:23 pm at 12:23 pm |
  5. tom l

    @Ol Yeller (who ain't my friend)

    @tom I
    "Fair statement but he continues to go back to one singular post I made on Veterans Day in which I said something that was inappropriate and then apologized for..."

    Well, isn't that what you do on here ALL the time? The President apologised and took accountablity for his error by saying everyone could keep their insurance, but you and your ilk hammer away daily about it. I'll bet rancid prebius said it 604 times during Crossfire yesterday.... I thought that would be a god match up, but all he did was repeat that over and over and over again.
    You don't like it when your tactics are used against it (please don't start playiong the vicitim guys, some tactics are just pi ss an t).

    Yeah, me apologizing for making a lame comment and the president lying and then apologizing are almost exactly the same. Wow, are you serious about that comment? What tactics did I use? I made a stupid comment. I didn't lie to 300,000,000 people about something that affects their lives intimately, did I? Surely you can see the difference between that, can't you?

    December 4, 2013 12:25 pm at 12:25 pm |
  6. Me

    Good idea. Raise the min wag so obamacare supplements will stop. McD will raise the cost of their burgers, we will boycott them for that and they will close putting everyone there out of a job. Good idea.

    December 4, 2013 12:25 pm at 12:25 pm |
  7. Zolicon

    The President should not have to push for fair pay.Any decent Employer would automatically give it.

    December 4, 2013 12:29 pm at 12:29 pm |
  8. Lynda/Minnesota

    @ tom: "Yeah, me apologizing for making a lame comment ..."

    You really ought to learn how to quit when ahead.

    December 4, 2013 12:31 pm at 12:31 pm |
  9. Rudy NYC

    Lynda/Minnesota

    @ Tom: "Fair statement but he continues to go back to one singular post I made on Veterans Day in which I said something that was inappropriate and then apologized for. But the fact that he still brings that one singular post up is what compelled me to write that."

    In consideration of the fact that I responded negatively to your Veterans Day comment, and given your admittance that it was an inappropriate comment, I agree that arguing over it should now come to an end.
    -------------------------
    He gets exactly what he deserves. No mercy. I posted the following earlier in this thread ....

    "If you actually work in the financial industry, then you should know all of this. You should also have known that your original assertion that gas cost less than $2 when Bush left office was essentially correct. ...."

    "IF" "If you actually work..." And so, tom uses that to call me a liar for saying that he currently works in the financial industry. How juvenile can you get?

    December 4, 2013 12:32 pm at 12:32 pm |
  10. Dominican mama 4 Obama

    Um, I will not call you a liar. But you are sorely mistaken. I was born in 1969, graduated high school in 1987, UC Irvine in 1992 (had to take the 5 year plan), worked in the financial industry for 10 years and now have been in marketing/advertising for almost 13 years
    -------------------------------------------------
    Sounds like this post was misread.
    The way I read it tom l has been working in the advertising/marketing industry for the past 13 years, after spending 10 years in the financial industry.

    December 4, 2013 12:33 pm at 12:33 pm |
  11. current state of the union

    Me, you are very close to the truth, but ad long as they can turn a profit they won't leave, and if they did someone else will fill the gap, supply and demand can't be altered by a wage increase

    December 4, 2013 12:39 pm at 12:39 pm |
  12. Lynda/Minnesota

    @ Ol' Yeller

    It might just be me, but all things considered, there was a touch of insinserity in his most recent post ... yes?

    December 4, 2013 12:40 pm at 12:40 pm |
  13. Rudy NYC

    tom l.

    Yeah, me apologizing for making a lame comment and the president lying and then apologizing are almost exactly the same. Wow, are you serious about that comment? What tactics did I use? I made a stupid comment. I didn't lie to 300,000,000 people about something that affects their lives intimately, did I? Surely you can see the difference between that, can't you?
    -----------------------
    Obviously, you don't see the difference. You make stupid comments on a regular basis, tom. For example, look at your rabid rant in calling me a liar abouit your job history. I stand behind everything that I have ever posted about you. You used to post around here under a different handle until you made a complete fool of yourself. You changed your handle. You cannot fool me, tom.

    December 4, 2013 12:41 pm at 12:41 pm |
  14. NC

    VJ " Increasing minimum wage to 15 dollars wont hurt any country nor employer". You are so wrong it won't hurt, if people don't like a minimum wage job they need to get a skill or an education. Raising the minimum wage will do nothing but put some business out of business or they will raise their prices for their product. Minimum wage was never suppose to be a living wage or wage that you can support a family let alone yourself.

    December 4, 2013 12:41 pm at 12:41 pm |
  15. ora pike

    what a con man--this is how a con works-–take peoples eyes off of the problem and then pick their pocket. He wants to get his ratings up and this will do it--people think on min wage instead of the financial disactor that will cost of TRILLIONS--HE IS GIVING THE INSURANCE INDUSTRY A BAIL OUT-–they will bill the government whatever they want and have to be thinking what a dummie sitting in the wh--THEY WILL NEVER BILL LESS THAN THEY SHOULD. Lies and now cons--but can you separate them--IT WAS A VIDEO–WE DID NOT KNOW--YOU WON'T LOSE YOUR HEALTH INSURANCE THAT YOU LIKE-YOU WON'T LOSE YOUR DOCTOR THAT YOU HAVE BEEN WITH FOR YEARS-YOU WON'T LOSE YOUR HOSPITAL--I DID NOT KNOW--WOW. Keep your eyes on Obamascare--yes scare-because he is headed us to financial ruin.

    December 4, 2013 12:41 pm at 12:41 pm |
  16. Sniffit

    "Fair statement but he continues to go back to one singular post I made on Veterans Day in which I said something that was inappropriate and then apologized for. But the fact that he still brings that one singular post up is what compelled me to write that."

    Rules of posting on sites like this include, never ever take anything personally and always let bygones be bygones. we're all just happily howling at the moon anyway.

    December 4, 2013 12:42 pm at 12:42 pm |
  17. shorething

    But Obama was the one who let the rich get richer because he keeps asking the working poor for more money. Obama has not done ANYTHING to help people unless financial destruction of people's lives was at the top of his list.

    December 4, 2013 12:43 pm at 12:43 pm |
  18. REGinAz

    The reality is simply there, apparent to anyone who wants to see it. Everything stated is the truth but no one can be forced to see it or to not rationalize it away. It is simply up to each individual – to be bold and aware ... or ... to be duped and a “pawn” – totally their choice.

    December 4, 2013 12:44 pm at 12:44 pm |
  19. Donna

    Obamacare has ALREADY driven up the cost of labor and now the clueless fool Obama wants to pile on top of that. And then the leftist fools wonder why we STILL have record unemployment in this country after 5 years of failed Obama policies.

    It is clear that Obama and the left do not care one bit if they drive thousands of small business OUT OF BUSINESS. Just as they determined your healthcare plans were all bad and should be cancelled, they will now condemn many small businesses to death as well.

    December 4, 2013 12:47 pm at 12:47 pm |
  20. shorething

    "In his speech, the President will argue that income disparity threatens the wellbeing of middle class Americans as well as the larger chance for upward mobility, and he'll make another pitch for raising the minimum wage."

    Yet Obama has allowed this to happen already. Its done and Obama did nothing. Now his time is coming to an end and he can spew all the cheap talk and lies he wants because he is done. The well being of the Middle Class has been destroyed in Obama's first term. How people still have faith in him is really confusing since he has not even helped people who believe in him.

    December 4, 2013 12:47 pm at 12:47 pm |
  21. Lynda/Minnesota

    @ Rudy

    In all fairness to myself ... I TRIED to be civil to tom l. I've never seen anyone quite so willing to box himself into a corner and then cry foul as does our tom, time and again.

    December 4, 2013 12:48 pm at 12:48 pm |
  22. pbandj

    Prepare to hear the usual talking lines from the right. "Employers will have to cut jobs and/or hours." "companies will not be able to attract top talent for management positions because they could make more money somewhere else." These are, of course, b.s. According to the Department of Labor, since Jan. 1, 1980 there have been 9 increases to the minimum wage. The unemployment rate has never increased more than 1.1% over six months after the raise. The 1.1% increase happened in 2008 when our economy tanked (regardless of what Lynda says). It's true that some individuals will take higher paying jobs else, but money is rarely the only deciding factor in job hunting. Rather than trying to recruit an outside person, some of these companies should be looking to promote in house personnel whom could do the job well and love it for what it is and not just the money (which these companies know is often the better choice but probably wouldn't acknowledge it because they don't want to pay someone more than they are legally required to pay them). According to a CNN article "most CEOs took home an average 379 staffers' worth in base pay." Those numbers were only from Fortune 50 companies, but regardless, no one should be making that much more than the people who are making them money. That is greed at it's worst. Hank, I understand the plight of the franchise owners, but there are several options available to minimize the economic impact on them. The first and simplest solution would be for the franchising companies to lower their franchising fee.
    I believe it was the comedian Daniel Tosh who said something like "when a company says they'll pay you minimum wage they are basically saying we'd pay you less if we could but legally we have to pay you this much."

    December 4, 2013 12:49 pm at 12:49 pm |
  23. just saying

    oh this is just the beginning for these socialists/communists. once they have "fixed" the "problem" of the minimum wage, they will then move to "fix" the "problem" of higher wages that they don't think people are deserving of. there is nothing that they think they should not be able to control. did you think control of your healthcare was the end of the matter?! hahaha... you ain't seen nothing yet.

    December 4, 2013 12:50 pm at 12:50 pm |
  24. Conservative

    Wow.... I'm getting so tired of hearing the president whine about the minimum wage. It shows how illiterate the man is when it comes to an economy. All economies have "entry level" jobs. All economies expect people to educate themselves and grow in the workforce. When I see the Walmart PART TIMERs complaining they can't raise a family on their PART TIME pay, I get nauseated. In ANY business, a job has a certain value to the company. Typically the jobs that require no skills (like a part time worker) aren't intended to make you rich. You're aren't going to get a new car. You aren't going to buy a house. If you choose to work part time, consider it a good start to supporting yourself. If you want more, get another part time job. Or, maybe apply for a full time job that pays more. Too many people are falling into the trap that you have some kind of "right" to make a lot of money. What you have is the opportunity to make a lot of money. If you choose to work part time, you will get the rewards of a part time worker.
    Wake up! Good jobs are out there. No one is going to knock on your door. No one is going to drag you to school/night school to get a better education. You have to do it yourself. When you get a college degree (even 2 years) or even a high school diploma and a full time job, you won't have to worry about the minimum wage.

    December 4, 2013 12:52 pm at 12:52 pm |
  25. allen

    Minumum wage will become the norm for everyone in the USA soon.With all the free trade agreements and international fellatio that goes on with politicians they will be no good paying jobs left here

    December 4, 2013 12:53 pm at 12:53 pm |
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