If his first term will forever be remembered for health care reform, then Obama made clear Tuesday that turning around America's economy and creating jobs ranks high among his goals for the second term. "It is our generation's task, then, to reignite the true engine of America's economic growth -- a rising, thriving middle class," he said.
Raise the minimum wage. In perhaps the boldest stroke of the evening, Obama called for bumping up the national minimum wage to $9 an hour. Currently, the figure stands as $7.25 an hour, which results in a $14,500-a-year-salary for a full-time worker. That's below the poverty line for a family with two kids, Obama noted. "That's wrong," the president said. The last time the minimum wage was raised was in 2009. And as The Washington Post notes, such an increase would represent the largest minimum wage since 1981, after adjusting for inflation.
Invest in worker training for a digital economy. Obama cited success in creating jobs in the manufacturing sector, which he said has added 500,000 jobs over the past three years. The availability of cheap labor overseas shouldn't prevent manufacturing jobs here in America, he argued, and so the sector must adapt to the digital age. He mentioned the success of a so-called innovation institute in Youngstown, Ohio, which turned a closed warehouse into a training station for 3-D printing. Three more such hubs throughout the country will soon be opened, the president said.
Create jobs in the energy sector. By 2020, America is poised to surpass Saudi Arabia as the world's biggest oil producer, the International Energy Agency says. (The U.S. is already the world's largest producer of gas, recently surpassing Russia.) This development is an obvious opportunity for jobs creation. The kind of jobs that Obama foresaw in his speech include those that make more efficient use of the new energy, such as work on technical innovations that would double "the distance our cars will go on a gallon of gas."
Spark a new 'new deal.' Obama returned once again to the issue of jobs creation through infrastructure, a drive that both harkens back to the presidency of Franklin Roosevelt and fell by the wayside after his 2011 jobs speech to a joint session of Congress. This time around, Obama made sure to couch the issue in a market context, presumably to gain the support of business leaders. He said that by putting workers on the 70,000 deficient bridges in a "Fix-It-First" program, industry will get what it needs most: "modern ports to move our goods; modern pipelines to withstand a storm."
Give students a practical education. That America needs to rethink how it educates its youth to prepare them for the workplace of the future has been said before. Obama embraced the view in his State Of The Union address, saying the country needs to "equip graduates for the demands of a high-tech economy." Rewards would go to schools that develop partnerships with colleges and with employers that have a focus on the hard sciences, though he didn't provide much in the way of specifics. (He was similarly vague about plans to put returning veterans back to work.)
But how will he get Republicans to support his agenda? Mindful of his political moment, and the drive on the right to cut all new spending, Obama stressed that "nothing I'm proposing tonight should increase our deficit by a single dime." The attempt to transform America as a middle-class-centric society will need all the help it can get.
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