Vowing to act “wherever and whenever” he can, President Barack Obama on Tuesday presented a more subdued list of proposals to help restart the U.S. economic engine with policies ranging from increasing the minimum wage, to more spending on infrastructure.
The President said upward economic mobility has stalled for many Americans and he wants to challenge a deeply divided Congress to work with him to help the long-term unemployed find work, and assist in fashioning and expanding job training programs.
“America does not stand still and neither will I,” he said before a joint session of Congress.
President Obama plans to renew his calls for Congress to expand the minimum wage increase to all workers—from $7.25 to $10.10 per hour—as well as pass a sweeping immigration overhaul and increase access to early childhood education programs.
“The cold, hard fact is that even in the midst of recovery, too many Americans are working more than ever just to get by, let alone get ahead,” Obama said. “And too many still aren’t working at all.”
At the beginning of the year, the national unemployment rate was 6.7 percent, marking the first time it has dipped below the pivotal 7 percent rate in five years. Suggesting that a new job training program was needed to get more young people onto the employment rolls, Obama cited the past four years of growth within the stock market and financial institutions as a positive indicator of economic vitality, but reminded the audience of an increasing divide between Wall Street and Main Street.
“Today, after four years of economic growth, corporate profits and stock prices have rarely been higher, and those at the top have never done better. But average wages have barely budged; inequality has deepened,” Obama said.
Current Economic research reveals that upward social and financial mobility in the United States is different than it was one generation prior. In a study of 22 countries, economist Miles Corak of the University of Ottawa found that the United States ranked 15 in social mobility; only Italy and Britain, among other wealthy nations, ranked lower. The study also indicated that American children are likely to inherit their parent’s economic status.
“A minimum wage increase is very feasible and practical,” said Hilary Shelton, senior vice president for policy and advocacy for the NAACP. “Our organization is 110 years old and we’ve seen only 10 wage hikes during that time. An increase in the minimum wage will bring more disposable income to people. An increase to $10.10 will allow people to stay on the job longer; they’ll discover that the employer cares about them, that they are important to the operation of the business. Also, the spending power on today’s minimum wage is 40 percent lower than in past years. You can’t rear a family on that. We give the President credit for suggesting this. It’s long overdue.”
Shelton cited Obama’s proposal for a minimum wage increase for federal workers as another positive step toward lifting the working poor from substandard financial conditions. The Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C. owns and operates a McDonald’s restaurant, but only pays its workers $7.25 an hour.