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. MTD

    It's an effort gap, not an income gap. You can't fix lazy.

    December 4, 2013 07:45 pm at 7:45 pm |
  2. clarencewhorley

    Obama tried to say the 70s were better for thr middle class than the 80s. He is a colossal moron

    December 4, 2013 07:54 pm at 7:54 pm |
  3. Michael

    The growing gap can be attributed, in part, to:
    1- illegal immigration. The purpose of modern immigration must focus on maintaining a population that can be sustained by the economy. If an economy can only support 5 mil, and the total of documented and illegal numbers is 5.5 mil, then there is an unavoidable trend for the excess toward a lower class standard. Immigration reform is definitely a necessity, but the "free pass" concept is just sweeping the problem under the rug and doesn't address the greater impact on the economy.
    2- Welfare. Welfare at it's inception was meant to be a temporary boost to support people through the Great Depression and to keep the nation viable. Now, with welfare and the myriad of government entitlements available, a single mother with one child can earn more earn more a pay less taxes than a single mother of one child earning at or above the poverty level. The welfare system needs the greatest restructuring out of any other element that contributes to the growing disparity between economic groups.

    December 4, 2013 08:05 pm at 8:05 pm |
  4. nothingbutsurrender

    Obama figures he will bring out the class warfare again– the only reason he got reelected was using this tactic. One has to try to cover up their constant failures.

    December 4, 2013 08:08 pm at 8:08 pm |
  5. DsiName

    The President needs to quit blaming others for his failures during his term; he is all talk and no action. Obama does not care at all about the middle class and will do nothing to help us; his idea of helping us is to put us in a new tax bracket, so we can continue to help those on welfare. If we keep this up, more middle class will be on welfare.

    December 4, 2013 08:13 pm at 8:13 pm |
  6. Bill In STL

    And its happening on your watch Mr. President

    December 4, 2013 08:22 pm at 8:22 pm |
  7. Common Man

    Real economic growth is the number one issue that Congress and the Administration needs to address if they can get beyond party politics. Low unemployment will drive up wages, not some artificial minimum wage law. The real issue is too many people are out of work and we keep addressing the symptom vs. the problem.

    December 4, 2013 08:24 pm at 8:24 pm |
  8. concernedGrndma

    The redistribution of property and wealth under Lenin seems to be Obama's model.

    December 4, 2013 08:31 pm at 8:31 pm |

    Obama complains about the income gap yet his trickle up economy has lead to a greater increase in the gap than under GWB.

    December 4, 2013 08:32 pm at 8:32 pm |
  10. Namechantelc

    Now that you know (Obama) do something about it....

    December 4, 2013 08:33 pm at 8:33 pm |
  11. Kaehu

    This guy is a scammer. Should be removed from office and put in prison.

    December 4, 2013 08:39 pm at 8:39 pm |
  12. dick

    It is sad that people work hard 40+ hours a week and that is not even enough to buy food and rent a small place. Obama is right to raise the min wage.

    December 4, 2013 08:46 pm at 8:46 pm |
  13. common sense

    Take out 11 million and growing illegal aliens who take jobs from others (and draw multiple welfare benefits simultaneously) and the country will solve two problems: low wages/uneployment and save hundreds of billions in taxpayers' hard earned dollars. Thee is no other way to fix the problem without enforcing immigration laws. Anyone who says other is benefitting from this catastrophe... It's going to take our country down if not fixed quick.

    December 4, 2013 08:57 pm at 8:57 pm |
  14. middle america man

    Yes! I completely recommend that the handful of people who have any money who are posting, along with their vast army of dull-witted sycophants, continue Red-baiting. When the "peasants with pitchforks" come for you, don't say I didn't warn you.

    December 4, 2013 08:58 pm at 8:58 pm |
  15. CB

    Nothing like some good ol class warfare and envy politics to deflect from the failures at hand. Anyone who understands economics knows that minimum wage can't be and never was intended to be a living wage. Raising the minimum wage does nothing to help those earning it. Most earning minimum wage are also spending at their employers. The cost of those goods will go up, negating the perceived raise. It could go to $50 and still not provide a living wage. There's a reason why those with no marketable skills get paid the least.

    December 4, 2013 08:58 pm at 8:58 pm |
  16. common sense

    By the way... There is no other country, including Mexico, Honduras, Columbia, etc. Who allows illegal immigration as we do. They arrest, fine, then deportment anyone, and nobody would hand out free anything. Our politicians who support illegal immigration are not doing so out of kindness or any other noble ideal, they are doing so for personal gain/political power, its a twisted mess and they are wrong

    December 4, 2013 09:06 pm at 9:06 pm |
  17. Kelly

    The multi-millionaire said what????

    December 4, 2013 09:11 pm at 9:11 pm |
  18. middle america man

    The President is correct, and if you have studied economics, like me, or history, like me, you know it. Otherwise, no one can care less what nonsense you spout, you're just parroting what you've been fooled into believing. Whatever.

    December 4, 2013 09:12 pm at 9:12 pm |
  19. Kelly

    I wander if Obama will pick 10 poor families to split his wealth with? If not then he's just another lying hypocritical politician! Kids in private school wanting to talk about income gap...... Gotta admit that's funny!!!

    December 4, 2013 09:15 pm at 9:15 pm |
  20. llatpoh

    Ahhh yes, when your big Healthcare ponzi scheme implodes and polls tell you that 18-25 year olds would kick you out of office in a heart beat, then you haul out your politics of envy...
    O, you are so predictable. Good news is, people are waking up to your baloney...

    December 4, 2013 09:16 pm at 9:16 pm |
  21. Jon

    The comments on this page are troubling. If we raise the labor rates the cost of the goods those rates provide go up. If those goods cost more I can't buy them. Instead of forcing the market to do something you need to let the market create the value. That is unless you force it down the markets throat like with the AHCA. Most people have already seen what the AHCA has done. It raised the cost on everyone. So we can change the minimum wage, and all the costs go up. There is no free in this country, or any country. When I had trouble at my first job I went to night school for two years to get a better job. I know it isn't that easy for everyone, but you can't simply give people more and expect things to change. This president is hell bent on creating an American dependency, instead of pushing for American prosperity.

    December 4, 2013 09:22 pm at 9:22 pm |
  22. The Truth

    As long as democrats maintain entitlement programs and reward laziness and unaccountability, the gap will only grow larger.

    December 4, 2013 09:38 pm at 9:38 pm |
  23. joeaverager

    The night Katrina landed in NOLA, gas here (400 miles away) jumped to $2.45. Gasoline is now $3.15 here. It has not doubled since Mr. Obama took office. It did climb to a bit over $4 while Mr. Bush was in office.

    December 4, 2013 09:47 pm at 9:47 pm |

    This guy talks like he hasn't been president for 5 years.

    December 4, 2013 09:48 pm at 9:48 pm |
  25. NKF

    To equal the playing field more needs to be done with regard to graduate education. Programs should not be allowed to use federal loans as an excuse to jack tuition rates up to astronomical figures that those hoping to better themselves will never be able to pay off until they are well over 50. For those who are willing to take on the debt, it chains you down financially, leaving no possibility of getting a house or raising a family in a lifetime. For those who wont take on the debt, there is no chance to outearn rich folks who have their parents pay for the tuition and established networks with those already in power. In short, the current abuse of the student loan process by higher education institutions propagates economic inequality instead of leveling the playing field. Even those who receive scholarship money may still come out of professional school with six figures of debt if they don't already have money.

    December 4, 2013 09:48 pm at 9:48 pm |
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