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. The Real Tom Paine



    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!
    Sorry Me, no one has ever said that people don't have to earn it. Now, can you tell me how people are supposed to live on $7 an hour or less? According to the Right, live is a four letter word and smug and arrogant is their slogan. Been to church lately?

    December 4, 2013 03:17 pm at 3:17 pm |
  2. rosethornne

    You can thank Saint Ronald of Reagan and his greedy dribble down economics.
    That's more of a prostate problem than a value economic policy anyway.

    December 4, 2013 03:19 pm at 3:19 pm |
  3. The Real Tom Paine




    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.
    No, take his advice. Have you ever actually worked?

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

    I dont believe I voted for Obama.I feel horrible

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

    I'm sorry but where does president obama get the nerve to talk about building the middle class when he just finished dumpbing one of the biggest taxe increases on its head via his failed ACA law that was based on nothing but lies? (Like you can keep your doctor, your insurance, your premiums will go down etc... etc.. Ad noseaum. So sick of this presidents lies).

    December 4, 2013 03:31 pm at 3:31 pm |
  6. LogicBomb

    This guy really needs to open an Economics 101 book, specifically the section on price floors. When you raise the price floor (in this case minimum wage), not only are more jobs lost, but inflation is a direct result. For those who manage to keep their minimum wage job, sure they'll see a larger number on their paycheck, but purchasing power declines as prices for everyone goes up. So, they're not really benefitting. Anyone currently making $10.01 or more per hour will especially be hosed as they are making the same and paying more for goods and services they need. If raising the minimum wage was the answer, why not make it $500 an hour so we could all be super rich? This idea is nonsense being used to placate an economically inept base.

    December 4, 2013 03:33 pm at 3:33 pm |
  7. mike

    The more this idiot opens his mouth, the more socialist dogma he spews

    December 4, 2013 03:37 pm at 3:37 pm |
  8. Brian

    Live the American dream

    December 4, 2013 03:45 pm at 3:45 pm |
  9. chris

    I started working when minimum wage was 5.15. I took it upon myself to learn a skill went through the military, put myself through college and now earn a decent wage. Raising the minimum wage will just lead to inflation and it will make my decent wage not stretch far enough. Do you really think McDonald's will keep there prices constant if they have to pay everyone 2.75 an hour more? Pull your head out of you know where, if you really want a society like that move to Europe there are plenty of countries like that there.

    December 4, 2013 03:52 pm at 3:52 pm |
  10. jdw62305

    From the article "Obama took sharp aim at Republicans during his remarks, saying they had failed to present their own plans for pulling Americans out of poverty. "

    OK, he is the President of the United States, and acting like a school boy. He pushed me first, he pushed me first!


    December 4, 2013 03:57 pm at 3:57 pm |
  11. omeany

    There is enough wealth in this country alone to take care of every US Citizen. The only thing holding us back is greed. Until the wealthy are willing to pay their fair share of taxes the poor in the US will continue to suffer needlessly.

    December 4, 2013 03:58 pm at 3:58 pm |
  12. pappy

    And some people actually disagree with him.

    December 4, 2013 04:00 pm at 4:00 pm |
  13. mike Lake Orion Michigan

    Goodbye Liberals and Democrats!

    December 4, 2013 04:00 pm at 4:00 pm |
  14. jdw62305

    from above article –>Obama took sharp aim at Republicans during his remarks, saying they had failed to present their own plans for pulling Americans out of poverty.
    We have a school child as POTUS, how nice.

    December 4, 2013 04:01 pm at 4:01 pm |
  15. joe damico

    and part about this is the average Americans seem to not care, they even stick up for the wealthy. Its the wealthy that does not want the people to have the ACA health care. The Republicans and the big health insurance companies will fight it and lie about it and the middle class and poor people who need it and side with the wealthy instead of looking o see its the best thing to come along for the people sense Medicare came along.The wealthy will keep taking till you have nothing ad they are doing that right now, open your eyes before the GOP and big business along with the wealthy take everything you own, they got a good start by taking so many homes from the people, yes the SAME people that caused it the wealthy and big banks are doing fine, in fact better than they were doing but the people are not. Wake up its your and your Childers's life, you have the power to make it better. Don't think so, google this... more millionaires made during recession.

    December 4, 2013 04:10 pm at 4:10 pm |
  16. Fed Up American

    Was this video a joke!!! If you give the poor free health care, free cell phones, more money for kids, and free housing, why in the hell would they want to make more money. Go ahead and increase the minimum wage and you will see the corporations put more employees on part time. I am all for helping those in need and that is why it's called government assistance. Not live off of the government the rest of my life. My husband went to college and he can't find a job in his field and it's in the medical industry. We both came from wealthy homes and can only afford one child with both of our incomes. Why, because we pay for our health insurance, we have a mortgage, we have car insurance, we get taxes taken out of our check! Enforce the "fair tax" and you will quickly see how the economy changes.

    December 4, 2013 04:10 pm at 4:10 pm |
  17. kelly

    A livable wage for all.

    December 4, 2013 04:11 pm at 4:11 pm |
  18. Sergeant

    Oh how the right wingnuts love to use Obama as cover for their heartless and greedy policies. Once Obama leaves offices, who will you blame? You claim to follow Jesus but Jesus never put himself before others. You people are disgusting, arguing against an idea that no child should have to go their whole life in poverty.

    December 4, 2013 04:12 pm at 4:12 pm |
  19. mike

    The economy is doing great, as evidenced by corporate earnings. Obama doing fine, its the Corporations and Banks that are intent and driving the middle class into poverty that are the problem.

    December 4, 2013 04:13 pm at 4:13 pm |
  20. Bug Dog

    Because you have killed small business and jobs while propping up the markets w borrowed money.

    December 4, 2013 04:14 pm at 4:14 pm |
  21. Dominican mama 4 Obama

    The REAL Truth
    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
    Oh no The REAL Truth, allow me to correct you on that last point.
    Fair has indeed been known to participate in exactly the same behaviour that she has the hypocritical gall to denounce and call out in others.
    Just a couple of weeks ago she viciously went after Gurgyl, but not to critique her post, oh no. She went after Gurgyl's command of the English language, and ignorantly referenced Gurgyl's country of birth as "that third world hell hole that you're from".
    So Fair needs to stfu and sit down, and stop with the "holier-than-thou" routine she likes to perform like a trained circus monkey for those that might be new to this thread.
    I enjoy engaging in a little mud-flinging with those that like to dish it but can't take it, but you can bet your last DALLAR that I at least will not engage in viciously insulting someone whose heritage I do not even know, nor will I stoop to picking on someone who is trying to learn to speak and write a new language.
    There are rules of engagement. Fair despite her ill-applied moniker does not know what those rules are. Pitifully, those rules cannot be taught.
    I was beyond incensed and revolted by Fair's comment to Gurgyl. Gurgyl did not deserve that. It was contemptible, and just like the cnn moderators have been working overtime blocking out my response to her today, they should block posts that insult people in that manner from the likes of Fair.
    So Fair, here's hoping that the moderators let this one through, and you and "ugly American" hypocrites like you can K M immigrant A.

    December 4, 2013 04:19 pm at 4:19 pm |
  22. Rahm

    Maybe because you're wiping out the middle class you hypocritical oaf.

    December 4, 2013 04:20 pm at 4:20 pm |
  23. Dan

    Yes the American Dream: a higher minimum wage

    December 4, 2013 04:22 pm at 4:22 pm |
  24. hurtsdonut

    The measly reimbursement from an obamacare policy ensures doctors will soon be at the same income level as the subsidized policy holders. Just one example of the "income equality" he preaches. I hope everyone is comfortable with health care providers who work for food stamps.

    December 4, 2013 04:32 pm at 4:32 pm |
  25. Ykuos

    Interesting – a speech about the earnings gap and not a word about the US schools continuing slide downward in the world ranking. Tell me oh mighty 'Bama – might thou see a connection between a declining quality of education and less employable grduates??

    December 4, 2013 04:33 pm at 4:33 pm |
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