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. Scott

    Government workers get more and accomplish less in similar jobs than regular people. Additionally, government workers get healthcare, sick leave, vacations, and pensions often omitted from regular people.

    Look at dry taps to water mains for a Public to private construction comparison. Our City charges $2600 for a 4 inch dry tap, a private contractor about $900. If our City excavates for the dry tap add $1100, if our private contractor excavates add $200, similar proportions for backfill and compaction.

    December 4, 2013 09:52 pm at 9:52 pm |
  2. christina

    This is a good start. Most people voted for this president for the very things he mentioned today. Most are dissapointed he hasn't made more progress. Hopefully, most will realize the power rests with them and will b push this agenda with their votes in 2014.

    December 4, 2013 09:57 pm at 9:57 pm |
  3. orrball

    Obama the hole is getting deeper maybe you should stop digging

    December 4, 2013 10:19 pm at 10:19 pm |
  4. gonzo

    That's why I voted for this buck-passer-in-chief; to fix the economic problems in the country. Obviously, his answer is more talk. This idiot seems to be living in a parallel universe sometimes, thinking we will buy his finger-pointing, and forget that HE IS THE PERSON WHO IS SUPPOSED TO FIX THE PROBLEM!!!

    December 4, 2013 10:23 pm at 10:23 pm |
  5. joeaverager

    As a parent of two grade school children, No Child Left Behind is a thorn in our side b/c the local schools teach the kids test prep primarily now – constantly bouncing from one topic to another to get them ready to test rather than focusing on one topic for multiple class periods. I know my older child has a hard time b/c the teachers don't immerse the students enough – just as the skills are being learned, the class moves on to another topic. As I recall "No Child Left Behind" was put in place during Mr. Bush's tenure.

    Thw other problem with american eduction is a decreasing interest in education by the students and parent alike. While not all students/parents are like this, the number seems to be growing. One group sees not advantage to an education because in their social circle opportunties to make use of an education seems to be ever more limited. Why bother with aneducation when your future likely involves a career as a gas station attendant?

    Another group is distracted by American popculture and consumerism. The clothes, the movies, the music, and the gadgets. Education? Who needs it? Well, that kid is distracting my kid in the classroom and using up valuable teaching time that the other students could be benefiting from.

    Additional factors: families divided by divorce, parent(s) distracted by these low paying job and the weird hours that often come with them. I have a good paying professional job and worked 13 hours yesterday when I could/should/would have been home tutoring my 13 year old for math – that class where the teaching plan bounces from topic to topic too quickly. What of the Mom or Dad that works weird hours every week? I'm fortunate to only need to work weird hours a few times per year. Last factor working against education in my opinion: useless classroom technology.My child's school has invested in technology that seems to be used more for babysitting than actual teaching judging only by what my children tell me and what I have seen. There is nothing wrong with a classroom with only textbooks and chalkboards. We learned a ton that way back when. The tech is potentially good but I think it is only barely utilized. I am a technology guy at work (amongother things) and know what it is capable of and how to use it. I've offered the school system some free coaching but have been turned down. And how fast does tech become obsolete. High cost toys.

    December 4, 2013 10:27 pm at 10:27 pm |
  6. wayne

    Obama is a complete hypocrite. He has endorsed the monetary policies – executed by Geitner and Bernanke – that have served to do nothing but inflate the value of assets around the world for the benefit, overwhelmingly, of the rich. At the same time, this massive monetary expansion devalues the dollar and erodes the value of hard earned cash savings (held mostly by low income and elderly). None of this impacts the fundamental problem prohibiting real growth in wages or class mobility – businesses' ability to displace employees through technology and their vigor to do so. You want to protect the poor? Stop devaluing their savings through inflation to benefit asset valuations for rich people who are planning to get rid of as many employees as they can regardless of what happens to their own personal worth.

    December 4, 2013 10:33 pm at 10:33 pm |
  7. Todd

    Combination of factors, outsourcing jobs while our population grows, too many low wage service jobs resulting from the former, and very little education jobs of any kind. Working hard means nothing for most people, constant debt, low quality of living. Most people will never see careers, only jobs with no future. That is America today like it or not.

    December 4, 2013 10:47 pm at 10:47 pm |
  8. Larry

    This guy is insane. He is doing everything possible to widen this Gap! I can't afford to hire people, tax this tax that, I make .18 cent on the dollar. Now I have to do this or I get fined.... Idiot!

    December 4, 2013 11:00 pm at 11:00 pm |
  9. DaveYoung

    The only thing eroding the American Dream, Barack, is your filthy politics.

    December 4, 2013 11:01 pm at 11:01 pm |
  10. Name

    Obono has really screwed the pooch on healthcare im afraid, so sad as he seemed so sincere about helpin us po folk!

    December 4, 2013 11:11 pm at 11:11 pm |
  11. jowl

    Here comes the class warfare again. Obama just cares that the well off get poorer, not that the poorer become more well off.

    December 4, 2013 11:27 pm at 11:27 pm |
  12. Running off

    Yeah that makes it all better! Please keep the change, we have no Hope!

    December 4, 2013 11:42 pm at 11:42 pm |
  13. Name a saddler

    Let all states place a minimum wage increase tied to inflation on the ballot for a referendum- as did NJ. If some dummy who failed civics class calls this socialism then call it what you will.

    December 4, 2013 11:46 pm at 11:46 pm |
  14. Too Scruffy

    Why not $15 / hour? $20? 40?

    December 4, 2013 11:53 pm at 11:53 pm |
  15. fonzie

    I worked fulltime and went to college fulltime on my own dime. The givernment gave me nothing. I am so tired if seeing fat people at the grocery stores pulling out their Food Stamp card to buy steak and eggs and complain of not being able to feed a family if four on $650 a month. Are you kidding me? My wife, myself and two kids spend $300 a month on food at the grocery store and eat home six days a week. Poor, lazy people have no concept of money management or working ethics. Get off your butts, get a job and pay for school and move on with your lives.

    December 4, 2013 11:57 pm at 11:57 pm |
  16. Who cares

    Mr Obama the American dream was taken away from as a long time ago

    December 4, 2013 11:58 pm at 11:58 pm |
  17. ztarbod

    Yes Mr President, the economy is profoundly unequal. Those who obtain an education and work hard are doing better than those who don't. No rhetoric from the President is going to change that simple fact, as uncomfortable as it may be for the President.

    December 5, 2013 12:16 am at 12:16 am |
  18. Greg Campbell

    You cannot make the economy work for somebody if they are not willing to work hard for it. I cannot tell you how many times I have seen people not put in the extra work required to move upward. They consciously choose to remain in their current state, because it is easier. Not willing to work 16 hours a day, not willing to work weekends.

    December 5, 2013 12:52 am at 12:52 am |
  19. brain

    Blame blame blame... go look in the mirror obama – YOU are responsible for the economy being in distress.

    December 5, 2013 01:07 am at 1:07 am |
  20. rvh

    Last I checked people were supposed to create thier own opportunities. Sure, some will have it easier than others, but life isn't always fair and those that argue they have no opportunities are either mentally lazy or physically lazy or both. I earned the right to post this as well. I grew up poor and had to work hard and make sacrifices to get where I am today.

    December 5, 2013 01:20 am at 1:20 am |
  21. mike

    Wake up, 1% own 50% of the wealth. Money the root to all evil. Jesus must be rolling in his grave. Time for the 99% to take back America.

    December 5, 2013 01:46 am at 1:46 am |
  22. Name

    He's just figuring this out?

    December 5, 2013 02:14 am at 2:14 am |
  23. nick

    Boosting the minimum wage will hurt exactly those that the minimum wage is meant to protect: the poor. Companies will hire less unskilled workers because now they are more expensive. Everyone should be paid based on his/her market value, not a predetermined amount. But this is economics, and Obama has nothing to do with this science.

    December 5, 2013 02:25 am at 2:25 am |
  24. scripturepassion

    I guess a robust economy is not being considered an option by the Obama Administration to benefit lower income personnel.

    Instead we need to lower the income of those on the top and, at the end, bring everyone's income down.
    a/k/a trickle-up poverty

    December 5, 2013 03:45 am at 3:45 am |
  25. Jake321

    And Obama keeps throwing $85 billion a month to the Big Banks and Wall Street and nada to Main Street, while the differential between Blacks and Whites gets worse, while the percentage of Blacks in deep poverty increases, while inequaity is increasing and is the highest or near the highest it's ever been. He's been Prez for 5 years!!! The man is a fake. Libs, you've been had.

    December 5, 2013 04:02 am at 4:02 am |
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