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. democrat fiends

    Obama. You are stupid and dangerous.

    December 4, 2013 01:32 pm at 1:32 pm |
  2. watching_rome_burn

    Sure, why not? If employers only hire part time it won't matter much ... I mean our economy is so robust that surely won't slow it down, right????

    December 4, 2013 01:38 pm at 1:38 pm |
  3. Dean

    Thinly veiled racism from the president.

    December 4, 2013 01:41 pm at 1:41 pm |
  4. Getoverit

    And your policies are making it happen.

    December 4, 2013 01:41 pm at 1:41 pm |
  5. current state of the union

    Let it go indeed, it sounds as though you have the countries best interest, just focus on that, but inequality in the USA is staggering, even to developing countries, not good period. Interesting article on BBC, educational testing, and inequality not being acted upon

    December 4, 2013 01:43 pm at 1:43 pm |
  6. current state of the union

    I think that the lwnj are fed up, but admittedly I suspect a lot of rwnj on here are being paid, why? Because Its just to easy to debunk the gop talking points, they dud intentionally shut down the government ( rule 59 thing is all you need to know regarding that), keystone is very dangerous, and will have zero effect on energy independence or price, they openly admit education is the key, yet vehemently attack it from every possible angle, claim to be Christians, yet cut food to hungry kids, the list goes on and on

    December 4, 2013 01:55 pm at 1:55 pm |
  7. robjk

    I don't believe there is as many poor people as they want us to believe. Just a lot of lazy don't want to work people, so of course you will be poor, duh!

    December 4, 2013 01:57 pm at 1:57 pm |
  8. Name

    Time to bring back the pay czar! Didn't Switzerland just vote down a 12x pay gap for CEO's where they couldn't earn more than 12 times their lowest paid worker. Economic freedoms and the right to rise were the American norms, but stupid is as stupid does so the pay gap must be mandated down. Starting with 15 bucks per hour minimum wage will just make automation all the more appealing. By-by bank tellers, security guards, burger flippers etc... Blame Bush.

    December 4, 2013 01:58 pm at 1:58 pm |
  9. O'drama ya Mama

    “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.

    This is something Republicans cant seem to wrap their heads around. There is a vicious cycle that exists in low income areas that many Americans can not break through. Its hard enough as it is and Republicans not only want to take away their only safety net but they want to prevent them from bettering themselves by removing the minimum wage standard all together. They want to burn the candle at both ends and then blame the people themselves for not working hard enough. Its sad.

    December 4, 2013 02:36 pm at 2:36 pm |
  10. dragonfire0477

    um...duh? Isn't this why every credible economist has been railing against 'trickle down' economics since the GOP started pushing it?

    December 4, 2013 02:41 pm at 2:41 pm |
  11. Tony

    It is so hard to take these guys seriously anymore. Obama just passed Obamacare. A law that is going to cost the middle class millions of dollars and he has the nerve to talk about helping the poor and middle class? He is so out of touch with reality. He could help most by just stopping to try and help.

    December 4, 2013 02:44 pm at 2:44 pm |
  12. Me


    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
    Sorry Lynn, according to liberals everyone has the right to make that much, they don't have to earn it! According to them earn is a four letter word and entitled is their slogan!

    December 4, 2013 02:48 pm at 2:48 pm |
  13. Boomer in Mo

    The opportunity gap is the worst. How can you succeed if the monied power brokers keep slapping you off the ladder of success you are trying to climb. And when you work hard and your salary never increases, like happens to so many, why work yourself to death for no reward? American business is killing the American worker's spirit and drive, and eliminating their own customers in the process. Really short sighted.

    December 4, 2013 02:51 pm at 2:51 pm |
  14. Sniffit

    "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."

    Right, because that's what happened the first time the minimum wage was instituted. No? Well then it must've happened the first time it was increased. No? Well, then maybe the second time? No? Third? No? Fourth? No? The only slippery slope I'm seeing here is the one above your pronounced eyebrow ridge. Seriously. The dystopian prophesy porn you guys are constantly spewing is so easy a caveman could do it.

    December 4, 2013 02:52 pm at 2:52 pm |
  15. Me



    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.
    1000% the LIBERALS!!! LMFAO! take your own advise and get a clue.

    December 4, 2013 02:52 pm at 2:52 pm |
  16. DRJJJ

    Just read, about half the HS students in Chicago don't bother to graduate. Sorry, I don't feel like helping this kind.

    December 4, 2013 02:53 pm at 2:53 pm |
  17. Me


    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.
    100% true, these people don't understand economics and the capitalistish system we have!

    December 4, 2013 02:55 pm at 2:55 pm |
  18. The REAL Truth...

    @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?
    With all due respect Fair, it's not as if you have ever been up for much intelligent discourse over the last few yrs I've been reading your posts. You are very one sided and while you may not directly attack a poster directly, your right wing opines are very evident, even in the face of conflicting facts and evidence.
    Yes, there's 2 sides to every story and unfortunately Jeff is correct.. it's all too easy to deride, divide and post hateful rhetoric (avoiding the filters) using some anonymous internet handle.. I had to kill my disqus account (more than once) because of imposters posing as me.. posting hateful, inciteful misinformation.
    The sad part is there is overwhelming evidence that Americans are generally politically inept and dumber than mud.

    December 4, 2013 02:58 pm at 2:58 pm |
  19. sallyedelstein

    The once upon a time American Dream just doesn't add up. With the economic division more striking than ever, the American Dream is divided. You don't have to do the math to see the 2 schools of thought in this matter are as stark as black and white. Take a look

    December 4, 2013 03:03 pm at 3:03 pm |
  20. Peppy

    the only thing killing the dream is bamman himself

    December 4, 2013 03:03 pm at 3:03 pm |
  21. Blake

    A question, if the minimum wage is raised, then prices will rise on many products. Now, I cannot state how much the price will rise but it will put a greater burden on those who make more then minimum wage. FOr example, I make close to $15 an hour, and while I'm not rolling in money, I have enought to pay my bills and get by. But when prices go up, not only may the people whos wage goes to $10 an hour not be able to do as much with that $10 as they could now, but all the people in similar situations as me will lose out and have less. So why should someone flipping burgers get a huge wage increase when they have done nothing for it and diminish they rasies and time I have put into the company I work for? How is that fair for those like me? My wages are not increasing in the minimum wage gets increased.

    December 4, 2013 03:09 pm at 3:09 pm |
  22. Peppy

    The big gap is between your ears potus !!!!!

    December 4, 2013 03:10 pm at 3:10 pm |
  23. elephant4life

    When all else fails, promise bread and circuses, along with sacrificial games of the scapegoat du jour.

    December 4, 2013 03:11 pm at 3:11 pm |
  24. Doug Peters

    is this guy completely retarded?
    his policies and agenda are the very cause of these issues!

    December 4, 2013 03:12 pm at 3:12 pm |
  25. elephant4life

    When all else fails, promise bread and circuses, and games where the scapegoat du jour is sacrificed to satisfy the bloodlust of the masses.

    December 4, 2013 03:13 pm at 3:13 pm |
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