For his weekly address released on Saturday morning, Feb. 1, 2014 President Barack Obama decided to revisit his State of the Union, and it the most important program he introduced promising to improve economic opportunity. The President also recapped his two-day post State of the Union policy tour on Wednesday and Thursday, Jan. 29 and 30 where sold his economic opportunity program and signed memorandums and executives orders that started the process. The President has vowed to help lower income Americans bridge the divide and have an opportunity to become part of the middle class. Since Congress has been reluctant to pass many of the items on his legislative agenda, Obama has decided to take the initiative and use executive orders to advance his economic agenda and get the ball rolling, part of his promise to make 2014 a "year of action" on the economy. However, there are still elements where Obama needs Congress to act, and is urging to them to follow his lead.
In his weekly address entitled "Restoring Opportunity for All" Obama called it "the three-minute version" of his State of the Union Address. The economic program the President introduced in his State of the Union Address was sweeping covering education from pre-K to university, job training, manufacturing hubs, energy independence, tax reform, retirement savings account, tax credits, unemployment benefits overhaul and immigration reform all centered on job creation and granting Americans "opportunity." The program would bridge the widening gap between the rich or poor including pay equity, and raising the minimum wage.
President Obama boasted about the economic recovery under his watch and the increase in the number of jobs, with the unemployment rate is currently at 6.7 percent; "After four years of economic growth with eight million new private sector jobs, our unemployment rate is the lowest it's been in more than five years. And with the economy speeding up, companies say they intend to hire more people this year."
The President brought back a word he tried to avoid in his State of the Union, but was the theme of his December speech introducing this focus in his Presidency, inequality. Obama argued that that gap between rich and poor is widening during the economic recovery, and too many Americans are being left behind; "But while those at the top are doing better than ever, average wages have barely budged. Inequality has deepened. Too many Americans are working harder and harder just to get by. And too many still aren't working at all."
The President summarized the core elements of his program his introduced during the State of the Union, swiftly outlining; "The opportunity agenda I laid out on Tuesday has four parts. This week, I took them on the road. Job one is more new jobs: jobs in construction and manufacturing, jobs in innovation and energy."
President Obama also summarize the policy tour he subsequently went on to sell and gain support for his agenda, while explaining each element in more detail. Each stop dealt with one specific part of the program. At the General Electric Waukesha Gas Engines Facility, in Wisconsin and the third stop on his tour Obama spoke about technical job training program that will include; apprenticeships and partnerships between community college and employers. Obama explained; "In Wisconsin, I talked with plant workers at GE about part two: training more Americans with the skills to fill those new jobs." There Obama signed an executive order to review all federal job training programs, and Vice President Joe Biden will be in charge of the initiative.
At the last stop of his tour the President spoke McGavock Comprehensive High School in Nashville, Tennessee where he outlined his education initiatives, including "universal" Pre-K programs, ConnectED providing broadband and wireless access for schools, and relieving student loan debt. Obama recounted; "In Tennessee, I talked with students about part three: guaranteeing every child access to a world-class education, from early childhood, through college, and right into a career." The President also wants to replicate McGavock's curriculum that both prepares students for college, but also has practical education.
On the President first day of his tour President Obama spoke at the Costco store in Lanham, Maryland about equal pay for work which particularly applies to women and raising the minimum wage, and the afternoon Obama spoke at the United States Steel Corporation Irvin Plant in West Mifflin, Pennsylvania about the creation of a retirement savings plan called myRA standing for "my retirement account." The President them signed a memorandum creating program allows for workers to add small amounts to the account until they transfer it into an IRAs. The President delineated in his weekly address; "And with steelworkers in Pittsburgh, and retail workers in Maryland, I laid out part four: making sure hard work pays off for men and women, with wages you can live on, savings you can retire on, and health insurance that's there for you when you need it."
Concluding, President Obama renewed his pledge to help Americans live comfortably in the middle class; "These ideas will strengthen the middle class and help more people work their way into the middle class." He also promised to do what he can and not wait for Congress; "Some of them will require Congress. But wherever I can take steps to expand opportunity for more families on my own, I will. I'm going to ask business leaders, education leaders, and philanthropic leaders to partner with us to advance these goals."
- President Barack Obama's Weekly Address: Restoring Opportunity for All, Feb. 1, 2014 -- Transcript | Download mp4 | Download mp3
- President Barack Obama's Remarks on a World-Class Education, Jan. 30, 2014 - Video
- President Barack Obama's Remarks on Opportunity for All and Skills for America's Workers, Jan. 30, 2014 - Video
- President Barack Obama's Remarks by the President on Retirement, Jan. 29, 2014 - Video
- President Barack Obama's Remarks On Minimum Wage, Lanham, MD, Jan. 29, 2014 - Video
- President Barack Obama's State of the Union Address, Jan. 28, 2014 - Video
Bonnie K. Goodman is the Editor of the Academic Buzz Network, a series of political, academic & education blogs which includes History Musings: History, News & Politics. She has a BA in History & Art History & a Masters in Library and Information Studies, both from McGill University, and has done graduate work in Jewish history at Concordia University as part of the MA in Judaic Studies program. Her specializations are US, Canadian & Israeli politics.