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. Dominican mama 4 Obama

    Sniffit correctly assessed:
    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.
    -------------------------------------------------
    In complete agreement with you Sniffit, especially the "howling at the moon" part!
    @ tom l
    Let me add my sentiments to Lynda's and urge you to just let it go babe.
    It is NOT that serious.

    December 4, 2013 12:53 pm at 12:53 pm |
  2. Gurgyl

    Very true. Watch out Hospitals, legal system too.

    December 4, 2013 12:55 pm at 12:55 pm |
  3. Abbey

    Democrats love the idea of minimum wages. It keeps those voters beholding to their party for government handouts. What a shame the Democratic party has turned into.

    December 4, 2013 12:57 pm at 12:57 pm |
  4. Anthony in California

    I cant believe there are people on here trying to defend the income gap. unbelievable. Corporations are hauling in gross profits and here we are squabbling about "minimum wage". Trust me, there arent any millionaires on these posts typing away to defend this increasing gap. (they just pay idiots like yourselves to come here and do it for them)

    December 4, 2013 12:57 pm at 12:57 pm |
  5. CB FL

    Instead of congress side stepping this it should go to a vote in every state.

    December 4, 2013 12:59 pm at 12:59 pm |
  6. Rudy NYC

    DM4O posted:

    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.
    -------------------–
    If you mean me, then I didn't misread it. I simply don't believe it. If he worked in the industry, then he shouldn't be as ignorant of so many industry facts as he demonstrates.. Here's what I posted today, which got little tom's knickers all twisted. Notice the very first word, which makes me a liar in little tom's book.

    "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. ...."

    December 4, 2013 01:01 pm at 1:01 pm |
  7. mike Lake Orion Michigan

    Obama is the one who is dangerous!

    December 4, 2013 01:01 pm at 1:01 pm |
  8. Borderless

    Quick Obama! Blame Bush!

    December 4, 2013 01:02 pm at 1:02 pm |
  9. Fair is Fair

    I'm not sure about this place any more. Complete strangers at each other's throats under the guise of "he / she did it first". Ugh. Used to be there could be a difference of opinion with civil discourse. A pointing out of error without a hurtful statement. Now it's personal attack after personal attack. Sad state of affairs I've allowed myself to become a part of. No mas.

    December 4, 2013 01:03 pm at 1:03 pm |
  10. rla

    Oh another good idea that will throw more people into the welfare system– What an intellect!

    December 4, 2013 01:05 pm at 1:05 pm |
  11. Richard Long

    Who did he spend his fundraising time in California with... the rich and elite.
    How much does the OFA charge to have an exclusive meeting with Obama?

    December 4, 2013 01:05 pm at 1:05 pm |
  12. Malory Archer

    shorething

    But Obama was the one who let the rich get richer because he keeps asking the working poor for more money.

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

    Really? President Obama has been CINC for 32 years – 'cause that's about the time "greed is good" torpedoed the American economy, and we've been sinking ever since.

    December 4, 2013 01:12 pm at 1:12 pm |
  13. pbandj

    I love it when people who don't know anything about socialist or communist systems try to talk about them. First of all, Marx's version of communism has never been put into effect. His idea was for everyone to be self reliant, and devolve into an agrarian society. Communism, as we know it, is just a cover dictatorship. Anyone who says socialism doesn't, or wouldn't work in America clearly does not realized that the NFL is a socialist system. There is no cap on what an individual can make but there are minimum's for players and the entire team. This is an estimated $8 billion/year socialist industry. If being a socialist is un-American than the NFL is the most un-American system there is, and yet I bet the nay sayer's still follow it.

    December 4, 2013 01:14 pm at 1:14 pm |
  14. Rudy NYC

    Fair is Fair

    I'm not sure about this place any more. Complete strangers at each other's throats under the guise of "he / she did it first". Ugh. Used to be there could be a difference of opinion with civil discourse. A pointing out of error without a hurtful statement. Now it's personal attack after personal attack. Sad state of affairs I've allowed myself to become a part of. No mas.
    ---------------------------
    It was MOSTLY civil until all of the Rant Paul neo-libertarians showed up. I use the word "if" and get called a liar.

    December 4, 2013 01:15 pm at 1:15 pm |
  15. Malory Archer

    Borderless

    Quick Obama! Blame Bush!

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

    Deflect much? What is it with your ilk – why is it when your ilk can't debate coherently you trot out the previous occupant of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue then accuse Dems and "libruls" of "blaming" him? Obviously there's still some humanity somewhere inside your cold little heart, otherwise you wouldn't harbor such guilt about foisting him onto America.

    December 4, 2013 01:16 pm at 1:16 pm |
  16. Malory Archer

    Fair is Fair

    I'm not sure about this place any more. Complete strangers at each other's throats under the guise of "he / she did it first". Ugh. Used to be there could be a difference of opinion with civil discourse. A pointing out of error without a hurtful statement. Now it's personal attack after personal attack. Sad state of affairs I've allowed myself to become a part of. No mas.

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

    Right, because you NEVER engage in such behavior. LOL!

    December 4, 2013 01:17 pm at 1:17 pm |
  17. Jeff Brown in Jersey

    @Fair is Fair

    I'm not sure about this place any more. Complete strangers at each other's throats under the guise of "he / she did it first". Ugh. Used to be there could be a difference of opinion with civil discourse. A pointing out of error without a hurtful statement. Now it's personal attack after personal attack. Sad state of affairs I've allowed myself to become a part of. No mas.

    The "complete strangers" you mention are a horde of paid right wingers trying to use this blog to influence public opinion. I hope that CNN figures out a way to detect multiple email addresses and phony posts before anyone with common sense abandons it.

    December 4, 2013 01:17 pm at 1:17 pm |
  18. truth hurts but reality bites

    This is all a bunch of leftist/socialist/communist/progressive Democrat horse manure. I worked for the minimum wage for about ONE MONTH when I was a teenager. The manager saw the great job I was doing and gave me raise, which motivated me to do more, which raised my hourly rate more. This is how it works.

    Then I went to college to get more valuable skills and more money for them, and the cycle starts over again. Every job change brought more money. This is how it works.

    Any adult that is making the minimum wage needs to look in the mirror and blame the person they see there. What skills do you possess to warrant that wage? What education do you possess? What work ethic do you bring to your job? Employers pay the market value of your skills. It is a free country and nobody forces you to stay in a low paying job. If you want more money, then do what it takes TO EARN IT. Demanding it is not earning it. That is the failed UNION/leftist approach. The shakedown approach. The same approach that has destroyed many a company along with all the jobs. The same approach that has bankrupted cities (like Detroit).

    Of course, Obama has done his best to keep our economy on the brink of recession (which keeps demand for labor down, and wages down) for 5 years and counting. You can thank Obamacare for that as well as these endless attacks on businesses. Obama and the Democrats have done so much damage to this country in the last 5 years it is ridiculous.

    December 4, 2013 01:20 pm at 1:20 pm |
  19. George Dixon

    Obama's "worst recovery in American history", a no-growth policy and SURPRISE...income disparity (manufactured by democrats) can be inferred.

    December 4, 2013 01:23 pm at 1:23 pm |
  20. ashton

    Someone said- Not having is no excuse for not getting- There are too many folks still don't get it that to a large extent- Retail positions/jobs- were NEVER intended to be the economic benchmark of raising a family. I think also that there is a stark reality that some folks MUST face- Poverty will never be eradicated. So Mr. President, lets' not strive for the lowest denominator but encourage others to reach for higher/ better values. Instead of instilling a message of income as your threshold of livelihood, perhaps the nation would be better off to re-visit their true values and not blame the Business world. We need to go back to honesty, less greed, contentment, sharing, knowing what is truly important to each of us. Relationships, love, friendships. If we ignore the enticement of the Business world, we would find life a lot more enjoyable. As stated by someone- we buy things that we don't need to impress others who don't care.

    December 4, 2013 01:24 pm at 1:24 pm |
  21. Silence DoGood

    The nasty sound bite discourse follows the the GOP model. It used to be that conservatives would argue issues and rally for policy changes. Now the whole GOP plan is Stop/Embarrass Obama. So the conservative comments here follow suit. Instead of "I think Obama policy is bad because 1,2,3,4,......reasons", it is either a made up statistic or just "obama is dictator".

    December 4, 2013 01:26 pm at 1:26 pm |
  22. Anonymous

    @Tom I

    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
    ___________________________________________\
    Hmmmmmmmm, let's see...gas remained reasonably priced around $2.50 gallon the first 2 years of the Obama presidency until the Repubs took over the House when prices shot up and haven't gone down since. Why would that happen do you think?? Because the oil companies know they are protected by the Repubs in the House and there is no more talk about green solutions. Get the Dems back in full control and the gas prices will drop again.

    December 4, 2013 01:27 pm at 1:27 pm |
  23. JMissal

    Maybe the income gap is growing because the fedgov keeps giving the bottom 50% of the population welfare and entitlements, thereby providing reason for them to NOT work....

    December 4, 2013 01:29 pm at 1:29 pm |
  24. cc

    If the economy n the headcare are doing well based on this dreamer president WHY obama (small letters) has to campain?

    December 4, 2013 01:30 pm at 1:30 pm |
  25. Fair is Fair

    Jeff Brown in Jersey

    @Fair is Fair

    I'm not sure about this place any more. Complete strangers at each other's throats under the guise of "he / she did it first". Ugh. Used to be there could be a difference of opinion with civil discourse. A pointing out of error without a hurtful statement. Now it's personal attack after personal attack. Sad state of affairs I've allowed myself to become a part of. No mas.

    The "complete strangers" you mention are a horde of paid right wingers trying to use this blog to influence public opinion. I hope that CNN figures out a way to detect multiple email addresses and phony posts before anyone with common sense abandons it.
    -------
    Clearly, Jeff, there could just as well be a horde of paid left wingers using this blog to influence public opinion. And that might be more likely, given the ratio of left wing opinion posted versus right wing. No?

    December 4, 2013 01:31 pm at 1:31 pm |
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