With his health Care law's the Affordable Care Act's Marketplace, HealthCare.gov, repaired and working better, President Barack Obama has returned his attention to the economy. On Friday, Dec. 6, 2013 the November jobs report was released showing unemployment has gone down to 7 percent, the lowest rate in five years. A day after, early Saturday morning, Dec. 7, 2013 the President's weekly address was released entitled; "Calling on Congress to Extend Unemployment Benefits this Holiday Season," urging Congress to extend those benefits for the over a million Americans would lose the benefits at the end of the year without the extension Earlier in the week on Wednesday, Dec. 4, the President delivered a major economic address on economic mobility, inequality and the solutions to it at the THEARC, the Town Hall Education Arts Recreation Campus in Southeast Washington, DC and hosted by the Center for American Progress.
President Obama dedicated his weekly address released on Saturday, Dec. 7 to urging Congress to extend unemployment benefits for 1.3 million Americans, who will lose them at the end of the month and year. The Emergency Unemployment Compensation (EUC) program increasing access to unemployment benefits enacted in 2008 during the height of financial crisis is set to expire. Republicans including Speaker of the House John Boehner, R-OH oppose the extension especially in light of the positive jobs report, saying it "discourage[s] calls for more emergency government 'stimulus.'"
Obama began and ended his address by making the relation between the holiday and Christmas spirit and passing the extension; "The holiday season is a time for remembering the bonds we share, and our obligations to one another as human beings." And ending by stating; "So this holiday season, let's give our fellow Americans who are desperately looking for work the help they need to keep on looking."
The President used the argument that keeping Americans on the unemployment benefits helps the economy grow; "We need to do everything we can to help businesses create more good jobs that pay good wages even faster. Because the hole that we're still digging out of means that there are still millions of Americans looking for work - often because they've been laid off through no fault of their own."
Obama emphasized how essential the benefits are to the American families receiving them; "For many families, it can be the difference between hardship and catastrophe." However, the President pointed out it goes beyond just helping families in need, returning to his major point that it helps the economy. As Obama explained; "If Congress refuses to act, it won't just hurt families already struggling - it will actually harm our economy. Unemployment insurance is one of the most effective ways there is to boost our economy. When people have money to spend on basic necessities, that means more customers for our businesses and, ultimately, more jobs. And the evidence shows that unemployment insurance doesn't stop people from trying hard to find work."
Concluding, the President indicated the Republicans are responsible for the bill not be extended; "For decades, Congress has voted to offer relief to job-seekers - including when the unemployment rate was lower than it is today. But now that economic lifeline is in jeopardy. All because Republicans in this Congress - which is on track to be the most unproductive in history - have so far refused to extend it."
The President's call for an extension of benefits comes only a day after his administration received good news when the November jobs report was released. The Labor Department's report revealed that 203,000 jobs were added in November and that the unemployment rate fell from 7.3 percent to 7 percent, a five year low and a positive break that shows that the economy is improving. Still the President expressed concerned about Americans that still do not have jobs, and those at the lower ranks of the economic ladder, and that is the message of his new economic push.
President Obama economic themed weekly address stems from the 50-minute major speech he delivered on economic inequality on Wednesday, Dec. 4 "hosted by the Center for American Progress at Town Hall Education Arts Recreation Campus" in Southeast Washington, DC. The President stated economic inequality is the "defining challenge of our time," and "a fundamental threat to the American Dream." CBS News stated the speech is a follow up to the President's Dec. 2011 speech on the economy delivered in Osawatomie, Kansas. A White House aide divulged that the speech includes themes and elements that will be present in the President Obama's upcoming State of the Union address in January.
The President took on a different angle to the economy and to the middle class and jobs challenges Americans face, by focusing on the growing problem of economic inequality, and lack of mobility in the United States. Obama emphasized; "This is the defining challenge of our time: making sure our economy works for every working American. That's why I ran for president. It was the center of last year's campaign. It drives everything I do in this office."
In his speech introducing the topic as a major policy concern of the administration, the President recounted an economic history, starting at Abraham Lincoln, leaping to Theodore Roosevelt's New Nationalism, to Franklin Delano Roosevelt's New Deal, then the rise of the middle class after the end of World War II, and Lyndon Johnson's Great Society, delineating all the social programs that were created and helped increase mobility and opportunities.
It all came to a steaming halt with the economic and unemployment problems in the late 1970s that led to the economic inequality problem that commenced and never disappeared. As the President explained; "But by the late 1970s, this social compact began to unravel as jobs began to disappear and our economic foundation weakened. Inequality started to grow, and it got harder for children of lower-income families to move upward."
To drive his point home the President chose to quote a recent comment of Pope Francis' on the issue, with Obama stating; "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?" Continuing, the President believes the problem is greater in the U.S. than elsewhere; "But this increasing inequality is most pronounced in our country, and it challenges the very essence of who we are as a people."
Obama then described the data that proves how impossible it is now for upward mobility; "Today, a family in the top 1 percent has a net worth 288 times higher than the typical family. And a child born in the top 20 percent has about a 2-in-3 chance of staying at or near the top, while a child born into the bottom 20 percent has a less than a 1-in-20 shot at making it to the top."
President Obama believes it is appalling that this is happening in U.S., and this should never be the case; "The idea that so many children are born into poverty in the wealthiest nation on Earth is heartbreaking enough." He believes it is problem that should concern all Americans; "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."
President Obama reiterated his point about the problem and the threat it poses on to the country; "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."
In debunking myths, Presidet Obama pointed out the affect on the economy; "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 the problem is just as much a class issue than that of race; "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."
President Obama however, believes we can still do something about it, and change the trend; "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."
Obama outlined policy solutions that would help; education; higher education with easy access to student aid and universal preschools, manufacturing jobs, higher minimum wage, initiatives to revamp urban and rural communities, break the stigma of "long term unemployment," and ensuring the future of social security
The President tried to make situation personal, including anecdotes about his family and First Lady Michelle Obama's family, and the opportunities that afforded them the chance of upward mobility, saying "I take this personally." President Obama emphasized in his message that it because it so personally important to him, that he will make the ending economic inequality a major focus in his remaining three years as President; "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. 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."
President Obama however, continued to sell and push his health care law in the address, linking its success as essential to economic success; "This law's going to work and for the sake of our economic security it needs to work," He tried to point out that the numbers of Americans the law is helping is more important than the poll numbers, all while again acknowledging the trouble rollout, but the President indicated, "the law is already working in major ways that benefit millions of Americans right now." The President believes the new health care law is key to helping end economic inequality, saying the law "will ultimately reduce a major source of inequality and help ensure more Americans get the start that they need to succeed in the future."
President Obama could not go the whole speech without insulting the Republicans, blaming them yet again for the "reckless" government shutdown, opposition to the Affordable Care Act, and as the reason legislation is rarely passed in Congress. He also challenged them to submit their own legislative solutions; "You owe it to the American people to tell us what you are for, not just what you're against. That way, we can have a vigorous and meaningful debate. That's what the American people deserve. That's what the times demand."
The President also ended his speech with a message that rebuts the Republicans' central position; government does not solve problems only interferes. President Obama and Democrats believe that government helps especially in relieving the economic problems of the down trodden as Obama recounted. The President concluded; "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… But government can't stand on the sidelines in our efforts."
The new focus on economic inequality is partially meant for the President to change the conversation away from the healthcare law, even with the Marketplace website more or less repaired. President Obama's poll numbers are now hitting the thirty percentages the lowest approval rating figures of his presidency, falling with each poll released, mostly because of the disaster health care law rollout. With the economy improving and unemployment rates dropping, now is a good opportunity to stress the economy, as a means of rebounding those fast falling poll numbers, and help Democrats' chances in the 2014 midterm elections.
President Barack Obama's Remarks on Economic Mobility, Dec. 4, 2013
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.