President Obama Speaks on Economic Mobility

President Obama Speaks on Economic Mobility


[applause] The President:
Thank you, everybody. Thank you so much. Thank you.
Thank you, everybody. Please, please have a seat. Thank you so much. Well, thank you, Neera,
for the wonderful introduction and sharing a story
that resonated with me. There were a lot
of parallels in my life and probably resonated
with some of you. Over the past 10 years,
the Center for American Progress has done incredible
work to shape the debate over expanding opportunity
for all Americans. And I could not be
more grateful to CAP not only for giving me
a lot of good policy ideas, but also
giving me a lot of staff. [laughter] My friend, John Podesta,
ran my transition; my Chief of Staff,
Denis McDonough, did a stint at CAP. So you guys are obviously doing
a good job training folks. I also want to thank
all the members of Congress and my administration
who are here today for the wonderful
work that they do. I want to thank Mayor Gray and everyone here at
THEARC for having me. This center,
which I’ve been to quite a bit, have had a chance to see some of
the great work that’s done here. And all the nonprofits that
call THEARC home offer access to everything from
education, to health care, to a safe shelter
from the streets, which means that you’re
harnessing the power of community to
expand opportunity for folks here in D.C. And your work
reflects a tradition that runs through our history — a belief that we’re greater
together than we are on our own. And that’s what I’ve come
here to talk about today. Over the last two months,
Washington has been dominated by some pretty
contentious debates — I think that’s fair to say. And between a reckless shutdown
by congressional Republicans in an effort to repeal
the Affordable Care Act, and admittedly poor execution
on my administration’s part in implementing the latest
stage of the new law, nobody has acquitted themselves
very well these past few months. So it’s not surprising that the
American people’s frustrations with Washington
are at an all-time high. But we know that people’s
frustrations run deeper than these most recent
political battles. Their frustration is rooted
in their own daily battles — to make ends meet,
to pay for college, buy a home, save for retirement. It’s rooted in
the nagging sense that no matter
how hard they work, the deck is stacked
against them. And it’s rooted in
the fear that their kids won’t be better
off than they were. They may not follow the constant
back-and-forth in Washington or all the policy details, but they experience
in a very personal way the relentless,
decades-long trend that I want to spend some
time talking about today. And that is a dangerous and
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. I believe this is the defining
challenge of our time: Making sure our economy works
for every working American. It’s why I ran for President. It was at the center
of last year’s campaign. It drives everything
I do in this office. And I know I’ve raised
this issue before, and some will ask why I raise
the issue again right now. I do it because the
outcomes of the debates we’re having right now — whether it’s health care,
or the budget, or reforming our housing
and financial systems — all these things will have
real, practical implications for every American. And I am convinced that the
decisions we make on these issues over the next few years
will determine whether or not our children will
grow up in an America where opportunity is real. Now, the premise
that we’re all created equal is the opening line
in the American story. And while we don’t
promise equal outcomes, we have strived to
deliver equal opportunity — the idea that success
doesn’t depend on being born into wealth or privilege, it depends on effort and merit. And with every chapter
we’ve added to that story, we’ve worked hard to put
those words into practice. It was Abraham Lincoln, a self-described
“poor man’s son,” who started a system
of land grant colleges all over this country so that any poor man’s son
could go learn something new. When farms gave
way to factories, a rich man’s son named
Teddy Roosevelt fought for an eight-hour workday,
protections for workers, and busted monopolies that
kept prices high and wages low. When millions lived in poverty,
FDR fought for Social Security, and insurance for the
unemployed, and a minimum wage. When millions died
without health insurance, LBJ fought for
Medicare and Medicaid. Together, we forged a New Deal,
declared a War on Poverty in a great society. We built a ladder of
opportunity to climb, and stretched out a safety net
beneath so that if we fell, it wouldn’t be too far,
and we could bounce back. And as a result, America built
the largest middle class the world has ever known. And for the three decades
after World War II, it was the engine
of our prosperity. Now, we can’t look at the past
through rose-colored glasses. The economy didn’t
always work for everyone. Racial discrimination locked
millions out of poverty — or out of opportunity. Women were too often
confined to a handful of often poorly
paid professions. And it was only through
painstaking struggle that more women, and minorities, and Americans with disabilities
began to win the right to more fairly and fully
participate in the economy. Nevertheless, during the
post-World War II years, the economic ground felt stable
and secure for most Americans, and the future looked
brighter than the past. And for some,
that meant following in your old man’s footsteps
at the local plant, and you knew that
a blue-collar job would let you
buy a home, and a car, maybe a vacation once
in a while, health care, a reliable pension. For others,
it meant going to college — in some cases, maybe the first
in your family to go to college. And it meant graduating without
taking on loads of debt, and being able to
count on advancement through a vibrant job market. Now, it’s true that those at
the top, even in those years, claimed a much larger share
of income than the rest: The top 10 percent consistently
took home about one-third of our national income. But that kind of inequality
took place in a dynamic market economy where everyone’s wages
and incomes were growing. And because of upward mobility,
the guy on the factory floor could picture his kid
running the company some day. But starting in the late ’70s, this social compact
began to unravel. Technology made it easier for
companies to do more with less, eliminating certain
job occupations. A more competitive world lets
companies ship jobs anywhere. And as good manufacturing jobs
automated or headed offshore, workers lost their
leverage, jobs paid less and offered fewer benefits. As values of
community broke down, and competitive
pressure increased, businesses lobbied Washington to
weaken unions and the value of the minimum wage. As a trickle-down ideology
became more prominent, taxes were slashed
for the wealthiest, while investments in things
that make us all richer, like schools and infrastructure,
were allowed to wither. And for a certain
period of time, we could ignore this
weakening economic foundation, in part because more families
were relying on two earners as women entered the workforce. We took on more debt financed
by a juiced-up housing market. But when the music stopped,
and the crisis hit, millions of families
were stripped of whatever cushion
they had left. And the result is an economy
that’s become profoundly unequal, and families
that are more insecure. I’ll just give you
a few statistics. Since 1979, when I
graduated from high school, our productivity is up
by more than 90 percent, but the income of the typical
family has increased by less than eight percent. Since 1979, our economy has
more than doubled in size, but most of that growth has
flowed to a fortunate few. The top 10 percent
no longer takes in one-third of our income —
it now takes half. Whereas in the past, the average
CEO made about 20 to 30 times the income of the
average worker, today’s CEO now
makes 273 times more. And meanwhile, a family in the
top 1 percent has a net worth 288 times higher than
the typical family, which is a record
for this country. So the basic bargain at the
heart of our economy has frayed. In fact, this trend towards
growing inequality is not unique to America’s market economy. Across the developed world,
inequality has increased. Some of you may have
seen just last week, the Pope himself spoke about
this at eloquent length. “How can it be,” he wrote,
“that it is not a news item when an elderly homeless
person dies of exposure, but it is news when the stock
market loses two points?” But this increasing
inequality is most pronounced in our country, and it
challenges the very essence of who we are as a people. Understand we’ve never
begrudged success in America. We aspire to it. We admire folks who start
new businesses, create jobs, and invent the products
that enrich our lives. And we expect them to be
rewarded handsomely for it. In fact, we’ve often accepted
more income inequality than many other nations for
one big reason — because we were convinced
that America is a place where even if you’re
born with nothing, with a little hard work you
can improve your own situation over time and build something
better to leave your kids. As Lincoln once said,
“While we do not propose any war upon capital, we do wish to allow the
humblest man an equal chance to get rich with
everybody else.” The problem is that alongside
increased inequality, we’ve seen diminished levels of
upward mobility in recent years. A child born in the
top 20 percent has about a 2-in-3 chance of
staying at or near the top. A child born into the
bottom 20 percent has a less than 1-in-20 shot
at making it to the top. He’s 10 times likelier
to stay where he is. In fact, statistics
show not only that our levels of
income inequality rank near countries
like Jamaica and Argentina, but that it is harder today for
a child born here in America to improve her station
in life than it is for children in most of our wealthy allies — countries like Canada
or Germany or France. They have greater mobility
than we do, not less. 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 and
it should compel us to action. We are a better
country than this. So let me repeat: The combined
trends of increased inequality and decreasing mobility pose
a fundamental threat to the American Dream, our way of life, and what we stand for
around the globe. And it is not simply a moral
claim that I’m making here. There are practical consequences
to rising inequality and reduced mobility. For one thing, these trends
are bad for our economy. One study finds that
growth is more fragile and recessions are more
frequent in countries with greater inequality. And that makes sense. When families have
less to spend, that means businesses
have fewer customers, and households rack up greater
mortgage and credit card debt; meanwhile, concentrated wealth
at the top is less likely to result in the kind of broadly
based consumer spending that drives our economy, and together with
lax regulation, may contribute to risky
speculative bubbles. And rising inequality and
declining mobility are also bad for our families and
social cohesion — not just because we tend to
trust our institutions less, when there’s greater inequality. And greater inequality is
associated with less mobility between generations. That means it’s not just
temporary; the effects last. It creates a vicious cycle. For example, by the time
she turns three years old, a child born into a low-income
home hears 30 million fewer words than a child
from a well-off family, which means by the time she
starts school she’s already behind, and that deficit can
compound itself over time. And finally, rising inequality
and declining mobility are bad for our democracy. Ordinary folks can’t write
massive campaign checks or hire high-priced
lobbyists and lawyers to secure policies that tilt
the playing field in their favor at everyone else’s expense. And so people get the bad taste
that the system is rigged, and that increases
cynicism and polarization, and it decreases the
political participation that is a requisite part of
our system of self-government. So this is an issue that
we have to tackle head on. And if, in fact, the majority
of Americans agree that our number-one priority
is to restore opportunity and broad-based growth
for all Americans, the question is
why has Washington consistently failed to act? And I think a big reason is
the myths that have developed around the issue of inequality. First, there is the myth that
this is a problem restricted to a small share of
predominantly minority poor — that this isn’t
a broad-based problem, this is a black problem
or a Hispanic problem or a Native American problem. Now, it’s true that the painful
legacy of discrimination means that African Americans, Latinos,
Native Americans are far more likely to suffer from
a lack of opportunity — higher unemployment,
higher poverty rates. It’s also true that women still
make 77 cents on the dollar compared to men. So we’re going to need
strong application of antidiscrimination laws. We’re going to need
immigration reform that grows the economy and
takes people out of the shadows. We’re going to need targeted
initiatives to close those gaps. [applause] But here’s an important point. The decades-long shifts in the
economy have hurt all groups: poor and middle class;
inner city and rural folks; men and women;
and Americans of all races. And as a consequence,
some of the social patterns that contribute to
declining mobility that were once attributed
to the urban poor — that’s a particular
problem for the inner city: single-parent households
or drug abuse — it turns out now we’re seeing
that pop up everywhere. A new study shows that
disparities in education, mental health, obesity, absent
fathers, isolation from church, isolation from
community groups — these gaps are now as much
about growing up rich or poor as they are about anything else. The gap in test scores between
poor kids and wealthy kids is now nearly twice what it is between white kids
and black kids. Kids with working-class parents
are 10 times likelier than kids with middle-
or upper-class parents to go through a time when
their parents have no income. So the fact is this:
The opportunity gap in America is now as much about class
as it is about race, and that gap is growing. So if we’re going to
take on growing inequality and try to improve upward
mobility for all people, we’ve got to move
beyond the false notion that this is an issue
exclusively of minority concern. And we have to reject a politics
that suggests any effort to address it in a meaningful way
somehow pits the interests of a deserving middle
class against those of an undeserving poor
in search of handouts. [applause] Second, we need to dispel the
myth that the goals of growing the economy and reducing
inequality are necessarily in conflict, when they should
actually work in concert. We know from our history
that our economy grows best from the middle out, when growth is
more widely shared. And we know that beyond
a certain level of inequality, growth actually
slows altogether. Third, we need to set aside
the belief that government cannot do anything
about reducing inequality. It’s true that government
cannot prevent all the downsides of the technological change
and global competition that are out there right now, and some of those forces
are also some of the things that are helping us grow. And it’s also true that
some programs in the past, like welfare before
it was reformed, were sometimes poorly designed,
created disincentives to work. But we’ve also seen how
government action time and again can make an enormous difference
in increasing opportunity and bolstering ladders
into the middle class. Investments in education,
laws establishing collective bargaining,
and a minimum wage — these all contributed to
rising standards of living for massive
numbers of Americans. [applause] Likewise, when previous
generations declared that every citizen
of this country deserved a basic measure of security — a floor through which
they could not fall — we helped millions of
Americans live in dignity, and gave millions
more the confidence to aspire to something better, by taking a risk
on a great idea. Without Social Security,
nearly half of seniors would
be living in poverty — half. Today, fewer than 1 in 10 do. Before Medicare,
only half of all seniors had some form
of health insurance. Today, virtually all do. And because we’ve
strengthened that safety net, and expanded pro-work and
pro-family tax credits like the Earned
Income Tax Credit, a recent study found that
the poverty rate has fallen by 40 percent since the 1960s. And these endeavors didn’t
just make us a better country; they reaffirmed that
we are a great country. So we can make a
difference on this. In fact,
that’s our generation’s task — to rebuild America’s
economic and civic foundation to continue the expansion of
opportunity for this generation and the next generation. [applause] And like Neera,
I take this personally. I’m only here because
this country educated my grandfather
on the GI Bill. When my father left and
my mom hit hard times trying to raise my sister and me
while she was going to school, this country helped make
sure we didn’t go hungry. When Michelle, the daughter of
a shift worker at a water plant and a secretary, wanted to
go to college, just like me, this country helped us afford
it until we could pay it back. So what drives me as
a grandson, a son, a father — as an American — is to make sure that
every striving, hardworking, optimistic kid in America has the same incredible chance
that this country gave me. [applause] It has been the driving force between everything we’ve
done these past five years. And over the course
of the next year, and for the rest
of my presidency, that’s where you should
expect my administration to focus all our efforts. [applause] Now, you’ll be pleased
to know this is not a State of the Union Address. [laughter] And many of the ideas that can
make the biggest difference in expanding opportunity
I’ve presented before. But let me offer
a few key principles, just a roadmap that I believe
should guide us in both our legislative agenda
and our administrative efforts. To begin with,
we have to continue to relentlessly push
a growth agenda. It may be true that
in today’s economy, growth alone does not guarantee
higher wages and incomes. We’ve seen that. But what’s also true
is we can’t tackle inequality if the economic pie
is shrinking or stagnant. The fact is if you’re a
progressive and you want to help the middle class
and the working poor, you’ve still got to be concerned
about competitiveness and productivity
and business confidence that spurs private
sector investment. And that’s why from
day one we’ve worked to get the economy growing
and help our businesses hire. And thanks to their
resilience and innovation, they’ve created nearly
8 million new jobs over the past 44 months. And now we’ve got to grow
the economy even faster. And we’ve got to keep working to
make America a magnet for good, middle-class jobs
to replace the ones that we’ve lost
in recent decades — jobs in manufacturing
and energy and infrastructure
and technology. And that means simplifying
our corporate tax code in a way that closes
wasteful loopholes and ends incentives
to ship jobs overseas. [applause] And by broadening the base,
we can actually lower rates to encourage more
companies to hire here and use some of
the money we save to create good jobs
rebuilding our roads and our bridges
and our airports, and all the infrastructure
our businesses need. It means a trade agenda
that grows exports and works for the middle class. It means streamlining
regulations that are outdated or unnecessary or too costly. And it means coming together
around a responsible budget — one that grows our economy
faster right now and shrinks our long-term deficits, one that
unwinds the harmful sequester cuts that haven’t
made a lot of sense — [applause] — and then frees up resources
to invest in things like the scientific research that’s
always unleashed new innovation and new industries. When it comes to our budget,
we should not be stuck in a stale debate from two
years ago or three years ago. A relentlessly growing deficit
of opportunity is a bigger threat to our future than our rapidly
shrinking fiscal deficit. [applause] So that’s step one towards
restoring mobility: making sure our economy is growing faster. Step two is making sure we
empower more Americans with the skills and education they
need to compete in a highly competitive global economy. We know that education is the
most important predictor of income today, so we launched a
Race to the Top in our schools. We’re supporting states
that have raised standards for teaching and learning. We’re pushing for redesigned
high schools that graduate more kids with the technical
training and apprenticeships, and in-demand, high-tech skills
that can lead directly to a good job
and a middle-class life. We know it’s harder to find
a job today without some higher education, so we’ve helped more
students go to college with grants and loans
that go farther than before. We’ve made it more practical
to repay those loans. And today, more students are
graduating from college than ever before. We’re also pursuing an
aggressive strategy to promote innovation that reins
in tuition costs. We’ve got lower costs so that
young people are not burdened by enormous debt when they
make the right decision to get higher education. And next week, Michelle and
I will bring together college presidents and non-profits to
lead a campaign to help more low-income students attend
and succeed in college. [applause] But while higher education may
be the surest path to the middle class,
it’s not the only one. So we should offer our people
the best technical education in the world. That’s why we’ve worked to
connect local businesses with community colleges,
so that workers young and old can earn the new skills
that earn them more money. And I’ve also embraced an idea
that I know all of you at the Center
for American Progress have championed — and, by the way,
Republican governors in a couple of states
have championed — and that’s making high-quality
preschool available to every child in America. [applause] We know that kids in these
programs grow up likelier to get more education,
earn higher wages, form more stable
families of their own. It starts a virtuous cycle,
not a vicious one. And we should invest in that. We should give all of
our children that chance. And as we empower our young
people for future success, the third part of this
middle-class economics is empowering our workers. It’s time to ensure our
collective bargaining laws function as they’re
supposed to — [applause] — so unions have a level
playing field to organize for a better deal for workers
and better wages for the middle class. It’s time to pass the Paycheck
Fairness Act so that women will have more tools to
fight pay discrimination. [applause] It’s time to pass the Employment
Non-Discrimination Act so workers can’t be fired for
who they are or who they love. [applause] And even though we’re bringing
manufacturing jobs back to America, we’re creating more
good-paying jobs in education and health care and
business services; we know that we’re going to have
a greater and greater portion of our people in the
service sector. And we know that there
are airport workers, and fast-food workers,
and nurse assistants, and retail salespeople who
work their tails off and are still living at
or barely above poverty. [applause] And that’s why it’s well past
the time to raise a minimum wage that in real terms
right now is below where it was when Harry Truman
was in office. [applause] This shouldn’t be an
ideological question. It was Adam Smith, the father
of free-market economics, who once said,
“They who feed, clothe, and lodge the whole body of the
people should have such a share of the produce of their own
labor as to be themselves tolerably well fed,
clothed, and lodged.” And for those of you who
don’t speak old-English — [laughter] — let me translate. It means if you work hard,
you should make a decent living. [applause] If you work hard, you should
be able to support a family. Now, we all know the
arguments that have been used against a higher minimum wage. Some say it actually hurts
low-wage workers — businesses will be
less likely to hire them. But there’s no solid evidence that a higher minimum
wage costs jobs, and research shows
it raises incomes for low-wage workers and boosts
short-term economic growth. [applause] Others argue that if we
raise the minimum wage, companies will just pass
those costs on to consumers. But a growing chorus of
businesses, small and large, argue differently. And already, there are
extraordinary companies in America that provide decent
wages, salaries, and benefits, and training for their workers, and deliver a great
product to consumers. SAS in North Carolina offers
childcare and sick leave. REI, a company my Secretary
of the Interior used to run, offers retirement plans and strives to cultivate
a good work balance. There are companies out there
that do right by their workers. They recognize that
paying a decent wage actually helps their
bottom line, reduces turnover. It means workers have more
money to spend, to save, maybe eventually start
a business of their own. A broad majority
of Americans agree we should raise
the minimum wage. That’s why, last month,
voters in New Jersey decided to become the 20th state
to raise theirs even higher. That’s why, yesterday,
the D.C. Council voted to do it, too. I agree with those voters. [applause] I agree with those voters,
and I’m going to keep pushing until we get a higher minimum
wage for hard-working Americans across the entire country. It will be good for our economy. It will be good
for our families. [applause] Number four,
as I alluded to earlier, we still need targeted programs
for the communities and workers that have been hit
hardest by economic change and the Great Recession. These communities are no longer
limited to the inner city. They’re found in neighborhoods
hammered by the housing crisis, manufacturing towns hit hard
by years of plants packing up, landlocked rural areas where
young folks oftentimes feel like they’ve got to leave
just to find a job. There are communities
that just aren’t generating enough jobs anymore. So we’ve put forward new plans
to help these communities and their residents,
because we’ve watched cities like Pittsburgh or my hometown
of Chicago revamp themselves. And if we give more
cities the tools to do it — not handouts, but a hand up — cities like Detroit
can do it, too. So in a few weeks,
we’ll announce the first of these
Promise Zones, urban and rural communities
where we’re going to support local efforts focused
on a national goal — and that is a child’s course
in life should not be determined by the zip code he’s born in, but by the strength
of his work ethic and the scope of his dreams. [applause] And we’re also going
to have to do more for the long-term unemployed. For people who have been out of
work for more than six months, often through no fault of
their own, life is a catch-22. Companies won’t give their
résumé an honest look because they’ve been
laid off so long — but they’ve been
laid off so long because companies won’t give
their résumé an honest look. [laughter] And that’s why
earlier this year, I challenged CEOs from some
of America’s best companies to give these
Americans a fair shot. And next month, many of them
will join us at the White House for an announcement about this. Fifth, we’ve got to revamp
retirement to protect Americans in their golden years, to make
sure another housing collapse doesn’t steal the
savings in their homes. We’ve also got to strengthen
our safety net for a new age, so it doesn’t just protect
people who hit a run of bad luck from falling into poverty, but also propels them
back out of poverty. Today, nearly half
of full-time workers and 80 percent
of part-time workers don’t have a pension or
retirement account at their job. About half of all households don’t have any
retirement savings. So we’re going to have to
do more to encourage private savings and shore up the promise
of Social Security for future generations. And remember, these are
promises we make to one another. We don’t do it to
replace the free market, but we do it to reduce risk in
our society by giving people the ability to take a chance
and catch them if they fall. One study shows that more
than half of Americans will experience
poverty at some point during their adult lives. Think about that. This is not an
isolated situation. More than half of Americans
at some point in their lives will experience poverty. That’s why we
have nutrition assistance or the program known as SNAP, because it makes a
difference for a mother who’s working,
but is just having a hard time putting food on the
table for her kids. That’s why we have
unemployment insurance, because it makes a difference
for a father who lost his job and is out there looking for
a new one that he can keep a roof over his kids’ heads. By the way, Christmastime is
no time for Congress to tell more than 1 million of these
Americans that they have lost their unemployment insurance,
which is what will happen if Congress does not
act before they leave on their holiday vacation. [applause] The point is these programs
are not typically hammocks for people to just
lie back and relax. These programs are almost
always temporary means for hardworking people to stay
afloat while they try to find a new job or go into school
to retrain themselves for the jobs that are out there, or sometimes just to cope
with a bout of bad luck. Progressives should be open to
reforms that actually strengthen these programs and make
them more responsive to a 21st century economy. For example, we should
be willing to look at fresh ideas to
revamp unemployment and disability
programs to encourage faster and higher
rates of re-employment without cutting benefits. We shouldn’t weaken fundamental
protections built over generations, because given
the constant churn in today’s economy and the disabilities
that many of our friends and neighbors live with,
they’re needed more than ever. We should strengthen them and
adapt them to new circumstances so they work even better. But understand that these
programs of social insurance benefit all of us, because we
don’t know when we might have a run of bad luck. [applause] We don’t know when
we might lose a job. Of course, for decades,
there was one yawning gap in the safety net that did more
than anything else to expose working families
to the insecurities of today’s economy — namely, our broken
health care system. That’s why we fought for
the Affordable Care Act — [applause] — because 14,000 Americans
lost their health insurance every single day, and even more died each year because they didn’t have
health insurance at all. We did it because
millions of families who thought they had
coverage were driven into bankruptcy by
out-of-pocket costs that they didn’t
realize would be there. Tens of millions of
our fellow citizens couldn’t get any
coverage at all. And Dr. King once said,
“Of all the forms of inequality, injustice in health care is the
most shocking and inhumane.” Well, not anymore. [applause] Because in the three years
since we passed this law, the share of Americans
with insurance is up, the growth of
health care costs are down to their slowest
rate in 50 years. More people have insurance,
and more have new benefits and protections —
100 million Americans who have gained the right
for free preventive care like mammograms
and contraception; the more than 7 million
Americans who have saved an average of $1,200 on
their prescription medicine; every American who won’t
go broke when they get sick because their insurance can’t
limit their care anymore. More people without insurance
have gained insurance — more than 3 million young
Americans who have been able to stay on their parents’ plan, the more than half
a million Americans and counting who are
poised to get covered starting on January 1st,
some for the very first time. And it is these numbers —
not the ones in any poll — that will ultimately determine
the fate of this law. [applause] It’s the measurable outcomes
in reduced bankruptcies and reduced hours
that have been lost because somebody
couldn’t make it to work, and healthier kids with
better performance in schools, and young entrepreneurs
who have the freedom to go out there
and try a new idea — those are the things that will
ultimately reduce a major source of inequality and help ensure
more Americans get the start that they need to
succeed in the future. I have acknowledged
more than once that we didn’t roll
out parts of this law as well as we should have. But the law is
already working in major ways that benefit
millions of Americans right now, even as we’ve begun to slow
the rise in health care costs, which is good
for family budgets, good for federal
and state budgets, and good for the budgets
of businesses small and large. So this law is going to work. And for the sake of our economic
security, it needs to work. [applause] And as people in states as
different as California and Kentucky sign up every single
day for health insurance, signing up in droves,
they’re proving they want that economic security. If the Senate Republican leader
still thinks he is going to be able to repeal this someday,
he might want to check with the more than 60,000 people in his
home state who are already set to finally have
coverage that frees them from the fear of financial ruin,
and lets them afford to take their
kids to see a doctor. [applause] So let me end by addressing
the elephant in the room here, which is the seeming inability
to get anything done in Washington these days. I realize we are not going to
resolve all of our political debates over the best ways to
reduce inequality and increase upward mobility
this year, or next year, or in the next five years. But it is important
that we have a serious debate about these issues. For the longer that current
trends are allowed to continue, the more it will feed the
cynicism and fear that many Americans are
feeling right now — that they’ll never
be able to repay the debt they took on
to go to college, they’ll never be able
to save enough to retire, they’ll never see their own
children land a good job that supports a family. And that’s why, even as I will
keep on offering my own ideas for expanding opportunity,
I’ll also keep challenging and welcoming those who oppose
my ideas to offer their own. 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. If you don’t think we should
raise the minimum wage, let’s hear your idea to
increase people’s earnings. If you don’t think every child
should have access to preschool, tell us what
you’d do differently to give them a better shot. If you still don’t
like Obamacare — and I know you don’t — [laughter] — even though it’s built on
market-based ideas of choice and competition
in the private sector, then you should explain how,
exactly, you’d cut costs, and cover more people,
and make insurance more secure. You owe it to the American
people to tell us what you are for,
not just what you’re against. [applause] That way we can have a
vigorous and meaningful debate. That’s what the
American people deserve. That’s what the times demand. It’s not enough anymore to
just say we should just get our government out of the way and let the unfettered
market take care of it — for our experience tells
us that’s just not true. [applause] Look, I’ve never believed that
government can solve every problem or should —
and neither do you. We know that
ultimately our strength is grounded in our people — individuals out there,
striving, working, making things happen. It depends on community, a rich and generous
sense of community — that’s at the core
of what happens at THEARC here every day. You understand that turning back
rising inequality and expanding opportunity requires parents
taking responsibility for their kids, kids taking
responsibility to work hard. It requires religious leaders
who mobilize their congregations to rebuild neighborhoods
block by block, requires civic organizations
that can help train the unemployed,
link them with businesses for the jobs of the future. It requires companies
and CEOs to set an example by providing decent wages, and salaries,
and benefits for their workers, and a shot for somebody
who is down on his or her luck. We know that’s our strength —
our people, our communities, our businesses. But government can’t stand on
the sidelines in our efforts. Because government is us. It can and should reflect our
deepest values and commitments. And if we refocus our energies
on building an economy that grows for everybody, and gives
every child in this country a fair chance at success, then I
remain confident that the future still looks brighter
than the past, and that the best days for this
country we love are still ahead. [applause] Thank you, everybody. God bless you. God bless America. [applause]

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