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. Malory Archer

    Sl 500 AMG

    .....Go to school get a degree in something that matters and get a real job.


    Yeah, tell that to all the college graduates who can't find jobs and are stuck working a minimum/low wage job – IF they can even find one!

    December 4, 2013 10:58 am at 10:58 am |
  2. bubba

    I saw some people arguing about gas prices.

    When Bush left office the average price was $1.569

    Bush's total average from 2000-2008 was $1.239 per gallon

    Obama's total average from 2009-2011 is $2.779 per gallon.

    As you can see, those that want to hate on Bush can do it all they want, and I am certain they wont let the facts above prevent them from hating. But know that when you claim that gas prices under Bush were high than they are now, you are showing everyone how truly ignorant you are.

    December 4, 2013 10:58 am at 10:58 am |
  3. Me

    Rudy NYC

    Enough is Enough

    So now making enough money to survive is the responsibility of the employer? I always thought it was my obligation to earn the money I needed for myself and my family. I've been wrong for all of these years....I simply needed to rely on other people.....not improve my own marketability!
    Any employer who wants dedicated employees should pay them enough to earn that dedication. But, hey. This country's economy was founded on slave laborr. The U.S. economy has thrived since the Civil War by paying a segment of the population slave wages. usually the currrent wave of immigrants claiming to work harder than the previous wave and the former slaves.
    come on Rudy let's be real, if you want to see slave wages go to some third world countries where they are paid $5 a week or even a month. Our "slave labor" employees make MORE then that in an HOUR!!!! Stop being such a drama queen!!!

    December 4, 2013 10:58 am at 10:58 am |
  4. duts

    I voted for this tool twice, becuase I was duped with whole change garbage. I wanted change but not like this. As for min wage, it should be at least 15 an hour and if you cant afford it then you should not hire and if you need to hire but cant afford it, then you suk at business. You need to learn how to survive in business against the big bix stores, it can be done but the mentallity is if I open a small business I expect to be rich or well off, it doesnt work like that. If you go into things like food, conv stores, gas stations and everyday bs businesses like that, you wont be rich.

    December 4, 2013 10:58 am at 10:58 am |
  5. rs

    tom l

    There was a typo by me. I meant to say gas was under $3 a gallon in 2008 when Bush was leaving office. In fact, it was around $2.50 a gallon. My bad.
    Gasoline on a nationwide average was $4.12 a gallon in 2008. Nationwide it is $3.05 today. Your mathis getting worse

    December 4, 2013 11:00 am at 11:00 am |
  6. BLE7481

    Why fool around with pennies or half-measures? If a higher minimum wage is non-inflationary and doesn't reduce hiring, then kick the minimum up to $100 an hour. Then everyone who clocks 2,000 hours a year will be making $200K a year, and all will be well.

    December 4, 2013 11:00 am at 11:00 am |
  7. Patrick

    Increase minimum wage = increased inflation. Period.

    Considering the current economic state, inflation is not what this country needs.

    December 4, 2013 11:01 am at 11:01 am |
  8. Mary

    Obama might as well screw small businesses like he has screwed everyone else

    December 4, 2013 11:01 am at 11:01 am |
  9. oreo

    Raising the minimum wage by decree and force rather than organic and peaceful market forces will only cause higher structural unemployment (all other things being equal). Economics 101. Silly neoliberals.

    December 4, 2013 11:01 am at 11:01 am |
  10. Malory Archer


    Great move Obama.....if you want more unemployed and dependent on the Governments handouts. The profit margin on many fast food places, will force them to cut labor....... or you're $5.99 combo turns into a $8.99 combo.


    Your rant MIGHT have merit IF corporations hadn't been sitting on record profits for the last five years – AND if President Obama was an owner of one of those corporations withholding jobs!

    December 4, 2013 11:01 am at 11:01 am |
  11. Rudy NYC

    tom l

    There was a typo by me. I meant to say gas was under $3 a gallon in 2008 when Bush was leaving office. In fact, it was around $2.50 a gallon. My bad.
    Actually, the national average on Jan. 20, 2009 was $1.76 for a gallon of gasoline. The price had dropped to nearly 1/3 of the record highs set in June 2008. Why the dramatic drop? The global financial crisis. People were committed to buying 90 day oil futures at higher prices, but global demand had suddenly dropped out the basement.

    If you actually work in the financial industry, then you should know all of this. You should also have known that your original assertion that gas cost less than $2 when Bush left office was essentially correct. The right wing simply chooses to ignore the record highs from a few months prior to, and the reason for the dramatic drop in the price. The right also complains about the price of gas rising under Obama, which is actually a result of global demand returning to pre-Crisis levels. But, since you work in the financial industry, I'm wasting my time explaining all of this to you because you should already know it like the back of your hand. Right?

    December 4, 2013 11:02 am at 11:02 am |
  12. vcobbs

    Yes Jason. more unemployment and dependence of the Gov't is exactly what Obama wants. Agenda 21!!
    Sheeple better be waking up and fast!!

    @Betty, minimum wage was never meant to be a career, only a stepping stone. Get a clue!!

    December 4, 2013 11:03 am at 11:03 am |
  13. J

    Well Mr prez how about the people on social security who u screwed with the smallest cost of living adjustment ever!!!

    December 4, 2013 11:04 am at 11:04 am |
  14. JohnRJohnson

    NOTE: Companies, large or small, do NOT hire more people just because the minimum wage is low. Conversely, they do not lay-off employees just because the minimum wage is increased. Companies - at least, well-managed companies - hire as many employees as is necessary to service the consumer demand for their product or service. If a company lays off employees because their wages have to be increased a couple of dollars an hour, they risk not meeting consumer demand and losing that business. People will stop going to any restaurant where it takes an hour just to see a waiter and place their order. Right now, corporate profits AND worker productivity in this country are at an all-time high. Now is the perfect time to increase the minimum wage.

    December 4, 2013 11:04 am at 11:04 am |
  15. SmarterThanYou

    A raise in minimum wage has 1 immediate effect: gross pay increases for those making minimum wage. Next week, however, the prices of the company's goods or services are raised, decreasing demand, resulting in lower revenue for the employer. The third week, the employer cuts staff by 10 – 15%, either laying off people or cutting hours or both. That year at the lower revenue level, the employer makes less gross profit, has higher costs, and pays less in taxes. So the change has positive effect that lasts only 1 week. You progressives need to learn to see beyond a 7 day horizon and recognize that every change you want has consequences that can cause more harm than any feel-good sound bite.

    December 4, 2013 11:04 am at 11:04 am |
  16. Malory Archer


    RS Wrote

    Historically the government has been shut down 18 times. 3 by the GOP and 15 by the Dems. Interesting fact don't you think


    Howsabout you provide some perspective into those shutdowns instead of just tossing out numbers. For starters, how many times have the dems shut down the government simply because they were having a temper tantrum because they wanted to damage the President, or they didn't "get their way"?

    December 4, 2013 11:05 am at 11:05 am |
  17. VEW2012

    No RS the reason the economy is so bad is because George W. Bush and the GOP left it in such a mess. It will take us 40 years to dig our way out of that mess and more than a few presidents.

    It is time for a "living wage" law in this country...and remove that label "minimum" that is the wage those trickle-down obstructionist have wanted to keep in place permanently. That is also the reason our economy is in such a mess. The constant blocking of health reform, and wage subsidies to greedy corporations.

    To understand the mess realize that over the next ten years we will spend $955 Billion in corporate welfare to companies like Monsanto, Kraft and WalMart, and we will only spend $144 Billion on the PPACA, and will spend Trillions on the military. That shows just out of whack our nation's priorities are due to GOP malfeasance.

    Time for a living wage and H.R. 676.

    December 4, 2013 11:05 am at 11:05 am |
  18. Scott

    This guy is bent on destroying the fabric of the country. I am shocked people in our country believe in what this guy is doing. Half of this country believe in Marxist views. Unbelievable what we have become.

    December 4, 2013 11:05 am at 11:05 am |
  19. BLE7481

    "In his speech, the President will argue that income disparity threatens the wellbeing of middle class Americans as well as the larger chance for upward mobility, and he'll make another pitch for raising the minimum wage."

    That argument is complete gibberish. The amount of money I make does not "threaten the wellbeing" of anyone who makes less than me, nor does the amount of money people make who earn more than I do "threaten my wellbeing".

    I understand that a return to not-so-subtle class warfare may help Democrats in the politics of 2014, but perhaps some of the populace won't be so gullible now that the truth of this Administration has been revealed by its indisputable lie to milliions of Americans regarding Obamacare.

    December 4, 2013 11:05 am at 11:05 am |
  20. Malory Archer


    Silly neoliberals.


    My dear, you shouldn't use big words unless/until you know the meaning of them. "Neoliberal" doesn't mean what you think it means.

    December 4, 2013 11:06 am at 11:06 am |
  21. Lynda/Minnesota

    Well, I can't say I'm shocked that folks are worried about their Happy Meals. Given the obesity level of Americans, I imagine Happy Meals is of paramount concern to many. Perhaps they should send their concerns to McDonald's CEO?

    Or perhaps McDonald's CEO has sent "them" to CNN?

    December 4, 2013 11:07 am at 11:07 am |
  22. Me

    The Real Tom Paine

    -much thunder..little rain

    stupid is as stupid does...everything we buy will go up ...fewer jobs....shorter hours...playing to his base and screw everyone ..
    if increasing hourly wages depletes a business that much, than that business deserves to go under. I've never seen a group of people so dedicated to sealing people into poverty as the Right wing.
    I have never seen a group of people so lazy that they can't provide for themselves and have to live off everyone else as the Left wing liberals. Sound rediculous, just like your post??.... You seriously need to stop spewing liberal talking points and start thinking for yourself!

    December 4, 2013 11:07 am at 11:07 am |
  23. Silence DoGood

    @unknown11 "Pandering to his core again."

    Since this can effect people living near or below the poverty level which is over half of the country, he is "pandering" to the majority. That is a GOOD thing. The president looking to improve things for the majority who will likely have a brush with poverty is a GOOD thing. Would you rather have a Tea Party president that panders to the Corporate controlling minority? Majority GOOD – controlling minority BAD.

    I see conservatives complaining about education – maybe you folks just needed to apply yourself in school a little more – you know it takes work to be smart.

    (Don't forget the "clown hat" cover up.)

    December 4, 2013 11:07 am at 11:07 am |
  24. Jason

    It just speeds up the process of inflation, it has every time there has been a wage change in the past decade. I used to make $5.35 when I first started working, and that money went a lot further than the $7.85 that minimum wage is today, because phone bills, gas, insurance, and food prices are so out of control. This isn't some good will pity party for the lower class, it's another move to speed up the complete collapse of the dollar. That's all this has been for a decade, is a plot to ruin America, and we are all to dumb to see it. Leftists come out like Communist infiltrators to speak out against the evils of Capitalism, when in reality, we are not a Capitalist society, the government is constantly toying with the economy, and bastardizing Capitalism, creating some fascist monster. Obama and every other crook in office are not stupid, they are all Harvard or other Ivy-league educated guys who know what they are doing, trust me, they aren't getting any poorer every time they make a move that harms the rest of us.

    December 4, 2013 11:08 am at 11:08 am |
  25. fxlozano

    bo is desperate and grasping for a life line

    December 4, 2013 11:08 am at 11:08 am |
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