December 4th, 2013
12:20 PM ET
9 years 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.

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“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, 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. Paul

    Give a fish, feed them for a day. Teach them to fish, feed them for a life time. I think that's the saying. It comes down to one thing, personal responsibility. I wasn't born into the middle class in the early 70s. Farther left when I was 8 and my mother raised 4 children without out government assistance. She showed us personal responsibility, even on a 30k a year at her highest pay, that one can make it. Three of the 4 paid their own way through collage and I choose to work more than go to collage. We all make about 100k a year each. How did we do it? We took responsibility for our future, held off on having kids until we could afford a family. If we follow our government's example we are building a group of people that want hand outs instead of taking actions for there own future. Teach our children to take their action personally and not blame others. You control your future and you alone.

    December 5, 2013 04:12 am at 4:12 am |
  2. Jake321

    Oh, and maybe Obama could make the speech closer to home, like his Washington, DC. Obama has spent 5 years, when not throwing billions at the Banks and Wall Street, pouring unprecedented amounts of public money into DC and the surrounding area. As a result, the Metro area is now the richest in the world with the highest percent of millionaires. While the Black community in DC which is 50% of the population has about the deepest poverty percentage in the nation with a 17% unemployment rate while Whites there have only a 3% rate, again, one of the worst differentials in the US. The man is a fake. Libs, you've been had.

    December 5, 2013 04:16 am at 4:16 am |
  3. david guidero

    the income gap is caused with high taxes, high unemployment and outsourcing history lesson America really never came out of the depression till during WWII when manufacturing kicked into gear that lifted the middle class
    then we started outsourcing in the 80's to japan and factories started closing we transitioned to a service based
    economy then after the recession in 2007 we destroyed the service sector now we have no manufacturing or service base to speak of economic stimulus is non existent we need business to grow I.E tax incentives and manufacturing to return to America or another stimuli not rhetoric from the president

    December 5, 2013 04:19 am at 4:19 am |
  4. Rob

    What worthless individual we have in the White House. Nothing he says can be believed.

    December 5, 2013 05:45 am at 5:45 am |
  5. Whatever

    It won't be the average 99% that brings more regulation to capitalism, but the greed of the 1%.

    December 5, 2013 05:47 am at 5:47 am |
  6. RonL

    The President correct in stating there needs to be an increase in the minimum wage. Why? Because there are too many Americans working part-time and FULL time that require government assistance in order to survive. The raising of the minimum wage will DECREASE the American deficit and actually spur economic growth. I am not speaking as a liberal or conservative, just looking at the economics. Why should people working FULL TIME in some of most successful companies in the world require government SNAP assistance? The Republican Party is always saying the growth in the amount of SNAP assistance is out of control. Maybe if we got the 100’s of thousands of WORKING Americans off the rolls through a “LIVING WAGE” there would be a significant reduction in its costs to the American tax payer. This is long over due…..

    December 5, 2013 06:01 am at 6:01 am |
  7. RonL

    Some of you need to look at this FACT.. the minimum wage today is 30% less than the minimum wage of 1968!!!! At the same time the CEO and stockholder in companies has seen a 100 to 400 percent increase in their earnings. It just is not fair.....

    December 5, 2013 06:07 am at 6:07 am |
  8. Logictox

    This president has done everything he can in 5 years to line the pockets of the rich. Now he wants to talk about the divide! ROFMLAO

    December 5, 2013 06:26 am at 6:26 am |
  9. loyalright

    Unfortunately, the income gap is going to get worse with a disappearing middle-class, as long as we have a liberal president in office.

    December 5, 2013 06:43 am at 6:43 am |
  10. dan

    We need to start a campaign to push the foreign companies out. Stop sending aid and concentrate on American citizens.

    December 5, 2013 06:53 am at 6:53 am |
  11. lovetravel

    Everyone knows how rich become rich! Many company and business are used those poor people by trick them into believe them. Pastor are one of them. All we doing is picking on poor people but never once talk about how those rich become fast rich. There lots way we can figure this out

    December 5, 2013 06:58 am at 6:58 am |
  12. Name

    The poor will need to work harder and smarter? Do you have any idea of what social structure is? As society we need the lower class jobs filled..but it doesn't mean we have to pay them at the poverty level. I'm not suggesting you pay a fast food worker 80K. But maybe if Minimum Wage was a little higher, less people would have to depend on our government for assistance. I think Republicans are so clueless on Socialogy..

    December 5, 2013 07:02 am at 7:02 am |
  13. DisEnchanted Persons

    Destroy the principles of which this country was founded upon? This country shows no resemblence to the consistution, no privacy, can't withdraw over $5K without governemnt permission, checkpoints, and how exactly is the gap between the rich and the poor suppose to be a constitutional crisis? Our governemnt has done this, want a law passed, just buy enough congressmen, I guanentee you'll get it passed. FOR THE PEOPLE BY THE PEOPLE, how about FOR THE MONEY BY THE MONEY!

    December 5, 2013 07:10 am at 7:10 am |
  14. mike Lake Orion Michigan

    Obama has himself to blame. Look at this man's record!

    December 5, 2013 07:11 am at 7:11 am |
  15. Bigdoglv

    Handouts do not work. Try some leadership and fix the economy. When people work the gap will close.

    December 5, 2013 07:20 am at 7:20 am |
  16. Namesunnyd55

    The stock market is on fire... the 1% are making a killing thanks to obama. Thanks Barry

    December 5, 2013 07:23 am at 7:23 am |
  17. Hillary

    Uh, Disparity in wealth, French Revolution, Bolshevik Revolution, Chinese overthrow, you think it can't happen here?

    December 5, 2013 07:31 am at 7:31 am |
  18. Rob

    All Obama is saying is he wants to take away from family's that work and EARN their way and give it to those that won't work and fell they should get everything for nothing.

    December 5, 2013 07:32 am at 7:32 am |
  19. Name Mike :-/

    Yea. I want half of the new Yankee's contract. Who's he to get a $120,000,000 contract?

    December 5, 2013 07:36 am at 7:36 am |

    If course, Obama's trickle up economy caused more income inequality than any prior president. But hey, why dwell on that minor point.

    December 5, 2013 07:40 am at 7:40 am |
  21. TommytheT

    Hey Mr Obama...know what country has the smallest Income Gap? North Korea. Yep let's all head towards a police state because once we get their all of us will have no income and no opportunity to advance our position...we will just sit there and wait for the Central Govt to equally distribute the wealth to us, after they take the lion share of it.

    December 5, 2013 07:41 am at 7:41 am |
  22. The Realist

    Do the wealthy work harder to receive their bailouts just like the poor? Wake up everyone is the same fool! Stop thinking you're more righteous .

    December 5, 2013 07:49 am at 7:49 am |
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