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. Dizzyd

    'If you just get off your lazy butt, go to school and get a degree, you'll get a REAL job and live the American dream – so it's YOUR fault you're poor and you're sponging off the guvmint and why should I help you I have mine you can't have any' – what I'm hearing from the 'good Christian' conservatives on here. Whatever happened to compassion? People DO work hard, they DO go to school and all they get is into debt even though they got that degree. Too many employers are not willing to hire recent grads as they want experience. A lot of times they won't even take the effort to take you on as an unpaid intern to gain that experience. This is my story – sad but true. Even low wage jobs are persnickety in their hiring. If you DO get one, they demand a lot of you – physically and timewise, which is very hard for a lot of ppl due to transportation or childcare issues. Often, they take them cuz it's all they can find, and they DO work hard at them. These are far from cushy jobs. And don't make me laugh re: the 'worthier' higher-paid CEO's. Anyone remember Enron? Running a company into the ground and skipping out on a 'golden parachute' – yeah, SO worth the high pay! So drop the self-righteous act.

    December 4, 2013 05:55 pm at 5:55 pm |
  2. Max

    I'm truly sorry for Americans the they have to put up with this president for 4 more years. He is either shameless or delusional, such dumb speech looks like he is on campaign to run for 3rd times. With his passive foreign policy he has turned the US to an insolated country even US allies do not trust the US anymore , Obama's presidency was the biggest gift to China,Russia,Iran , Syria and North Korea

    December 4, 2013 05:57 pm at 5:57 pm |
  3. nordicblaise

    Does Obama realize since he has been in office he has widened that income gap? Does Obama realize ANYTHING realistically or is he always in his almighty do nothing wrong say no lies bubble?

    December 4, 2013 06:02 pm at 6:02 pm |
  4. phantom235

    Absoltely, arrogantly hypicritical!
    His POLICIES make the very problems he is bewailing and whining about.
    An utter disaster as a president.

    December 4, 2013 06:04 pm at 6:04 pm |
  5. nordicblaise

    6 years of Obama and the income gap has widened even more. Does that guy realize that not many Americans believe a word that comes out of his mouth? Keep urinating on my head Obama and tell me it's just raining some more. What a joke.

    December 4, 2013 06:04 pm at 6:04 pm |
  6. southerngent

    Ok! Mr obama, you are one of the rich, I think you should be spreading the wealth by giving all of your money to the people you are forcing us to provide obamacare except um, what was it you determined was rich enough 250k.. Unless you are willing to do that then SHUT UP.

    Instead of screwing working America with this socialist obamacare crap, you should have been working on A JOB SOLUTION. Provide jobs and all America benefits.

    To increase minimum wage to the amounts suggested is economic idiocy. I know your just trying to hide from obamacare's failure and catering to low life voters, but please, please, please, stop and think about the country as a whole.

    December 4, 2013 06:06 pm at 6:06 pm |
  7. nordicblaise

    When did America become a monarchy?

    December 4, 2013 06:06 pm at 6:06 pm |
  8. JL

    "The growing gap between rich and poor Americans is threatening the ideals the country was founded upon", President Barack Obama said...
    Dude, you've been president for 5 years. Who are you mad at for the growing gap? Still republicans???? They've had zero power since you were elected except power to stall your damaging policies. Everything this guy touches, except his wealthy wall street buddies, turns to garbage.
    When are people going to stop listening to what Obama says and start paying attention to what he does? Because they are always exact opposites. He opposes the result of the very economy he worked so hard to create. Unbelievable.

    December 4, 2013 06:08 pm at 6:08 pm |
  9. Quidestveritas

    Did he say what the "ideals" upon which America was founded are?

    December 4, 2013 06:21 pm at 6:21 pm |
  10. American Worker

    Socialism is not selfless.
    It imposes and robs from the unwilling or those whom the majority derides or molest.

    December 4, 2013 06:27 pm at 6:27 pm |
  11. Daveincincy

    ......yet telling millions of Americans their health insurance is cancelled is perfectly ok before Christmas. Worst president ever!!!

    December 4, 2013 06:28 pm at 6:28 pm |
  12. Just

    But...but...O, 2/3 of the new jobs created since you took office are part time low wage......

    December 4, 2013 06:33 pm at 6:33 pm |
  13. 2013

    300,000 people with college degrees are making minimum wage. Those working minimum wage jobs typically have 2 jobs to make a full 40 hours. We know that minimum wage doesn't cover the bare bones basics needed to survive.

    The US should tie minimum wage hikes into CEO pay and/or the owners net worth. Perhaps a combination of both. That way, small cash strapped businesses are not negatively impacted and won't be forced to compete the 1% who can pay a higher minimum wage more easily and who profit from special global trading deals.

    December 4, 2013 06:35 pm at 6:35 pm |
  14. Reveille

    If he believes it, the President (as the leader of his party) should get the Democratic governors to pass legislation in their states to raise the minimum wage. The states have the right to raise the minimum above the federal standard if they so choose. They can start with NY and CA. Of course, the President will call this economic justice and, like healthcare, the next battle in civil rights in America. I am certain voters in NY and CA, stallwarts of civil rights, will gladly raise the minimum within their borders to a living wage.

    December 4, 2013 06:37 pm at 6:37 pm |
  15. J

    The gap between rich and poor is widening with this President because his policies are killing good jobs. The minimum wage can't get high enough to get everyone out of poverty. It's time America wakes up and get back to what makes her great; with hard work and sacrifice there is opportunity to do better than the previous generation. If we keep on the path of Obama, this generation will be the first to do worse.

    December 4, 2013 06:48 pm at 6:48 pm |
  16. Anonymous

    So now this socialism stuff from Obama. If you voted for him you should be regretting it, unless you're on welfare.
    Biggest liar ever.

    Taxpayers, I.E. people with jobs, will be paying for all these programs.

    December 4, 2013 06:54 pm at 6:54 pm |
  17. MDL

    The day is near when a Walmart greeter will make the same income as a brain surgeon.

    December 4, 2013 06:55 pm at 6:55 pm |
  18. Pilot13

    I never knew someone that is so educated could attempt making decisions like these that doesn't have an once of intelligence to it. Does he really think that raising the minimum wage is the right step? Seriously is this a real solution to the economy? What happens to a fast food worker that gets a higher minimum wage? The answer is you will see the price of that hamburger skyrocket so that $5 whopper is now going to cost you $8. Also, as a result, business will be able to offer fewer raises and less pay on those raises because now everything costs much more to include mandatory healthcare coverage riding on the backs of American businesses.

    December 4, 2013 07:10 pm at 7:10 pm |
  19. Name billy Durden

    I have followed CNN over twenty years. For the past five or six years you have been very disappointing in your reporting. The manner in which you report your stories are slanted and border on MAL and Evil. You write these slanted stories then turn it over to your readers in the comment section. Most don't stay on topic and they spew hate. I stopped watching Fox News over twenty years ago because their network made me want to throw up in their vile reporting. In my opinion, you have become Fox 2. After this post I will no longer read or watch your network. I will rely on ABC,NBC, CBS,PBS,and CSPAN for my news. Let's see if you publish this.

    December 4, 2013 07:13 pm at 7:13 pm |
  20. Bannit

    If we are "the wealthiest nation on Earth" then why are we borrowing so much money from other nations,17 trillion in debt, and facing a Government shut down every couple of months? Oh I know why! The Demorats are the wealthiest and see everyone below them as peasants. Some Repubs are the same. Why did Kerry say we are going to give Egypt 70 million dollars when we can use that money here? Hell, why give anyone any money when we have to beg, steal, and borrow from others?

    December 4, 2013 07:14 pm at 7:14 pm |
  21. matt

    Thats what you get when your a citizen of a Nanny state.
    Lack of ambition because the state is always there as your safety net...
    So why try at all?
    To bring back the american dream where hard work and efforts yield results keep govt out of private lives

    December 4, 2013 07:19 pm at 7:19 pm |
  22. Dan

    Two decades of rigorous economic research have found that raising the minimum wage does not result in job loss. While the simplistic theoretical model of supply and demand suggests that raising wages reduces jobs, the way the labor market functions in the real world is more complex. Researchers and businesses alike agree today that the weight of the evidence shows no reduction in employment resulting from minimum wage increases.

    December 4, 2013 07:25 pm at 7:25 pm |
  23. Olanjo

    You are blocking the way to take responsibility dude!

    December 4, 2013 07:28 pm at 7:28 pm |
  24. Cruz for precident!

    Communisms.Poor people make me sick, all they do is nothing and complaining. America should take them and put them in ovens already instead of steeling from the producers. The abuse these poor companies face, cheaper coffee in the bored rooms two. Bet you mis Geore Bush now

    December 4, 2013 07:36 pm at 7:36 pm |
  25. Danile6

    Our clueless leader will no doubt have the definitive answer-he was a joke-now he is pathetic

    December 4, 2013 07:36 pm at 7:36 pm |
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