Though evidence abounds that the U.S. economy is rebounding, many Americans don’t feel better off because wage growth throughout the recovery that followed the 2008 financial crisis has barely kept up with inflation. President Obama vowed to address that problem tonight in his State of the Union address.
It won’t be easy. Although the White House advocates raising the federal minimum wage, for instance, Republicans in Congress
have argued that a pay hike will kill jobs. Obama
also wants to overhaul the nation's tax code, which he described in his speech as being “riddle with wasteful, complicated loopholes.”
In view of the ongoing political conflict that has blocked a more forceful legislative response to the sluggish recovery, Obama chose Tuesday night to speak in broad strokes about the challenges facing Americans.
“Inequality has deepened,” he told a
joint session of Congress in his fifth State of the Union speech. “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. And too many still aren’t
working at all.”
“Say yes,” he said. “Give America a raise.”
Obama noted that, adjusting for inflation, the minimum wage is “20 percent less than when Ronald Reagan stood here.” In the year since Obama called on Congress to raise the minimum wage, five states have raised theirs, while more than two dozen other states are considering a hike.
Not surprisingly, Obama also gave a spirited defense of the Affordable Care Act, his signature legislative achievement that came under fire after the botched roll-out of the government’s website.
Meanwhile, Obama chastised the GOP over what he called “a rancorous
debate over the size of the federal government." While such a debate is useful, Obama said that October's government
shutdown and the fight over the debt ceiling needlessly put the “full faith and credit” of the U.S government
Despite the strong rhetoric, the speech was relatively light on specific policy prescriptions for reducing inequality and stimulating economic growth. Among Obama's few concrete proposals was for what described as a new savings bond aimed at helping Americans save for retirement. The program, called My RA, "encourages folks to build
a nest egg" and "guarantees a decent return with no risk of losing
what you put in," he said, promising immediately to direct the U.S. Treasury Department to develop the program.