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Obama: Income inequality a defining challenge

By Jim Kuhnhenn

Associated Press

LAST UPDATED: 07:56 a.m. HST, Dec 04, 2013

WASHINGTON » President Barack Obama turned his focus today to the pocketbook issues that Americans consistently rank as a top concern, arguing that the dream of upward economic mobility is breaking down and the growing income gap is a "defining challenge of our time."

"The basic bargain at the heart of our economy has frayed," the president said in remarks at a nonprofit community center a short drive from the White House in one of Washington's most impoverished neighborhoods.

The president vowed to focus the last three years of his presidency on addressing the discrepancy and a rapidly growing deficit of opportunity that he said is a bigger threat than the fiscal deficit.

Obama's remarks on the economy come as he seeks to move past the health care woes that have consumed his presidency in recent months. He acknowledged his administration's "poor execution" in rolling out the flawed website that was supposed to be an easy portal for purchasing insurance, while blaming Republicans for a "reckless" shutdown of the government.

"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," Obama said. But he added that Americans' frustrations also run high to try to meet ends meet, no matter how hard they work.

The speech comes amid growing national and international attention to economic disparities — from the writings of Pope Francis to the protests of fast-food workers in the U.S. The president cited the pope's question of how it isn't news when an elderly homeless person dies from exposure, but news when stock market loses two points.

Obama said increasing income inequality is more pronounced in the United States than other countries. He said Americans should be offended that a child born into poverty has such a hard time escaping it. "It should compel us to action. We're a better country than this," the president said.

Obama did not propose any new policy initiatives in the speech, sponsored by the Center for American Progress, a think tank with close ties to the White House. But he reiterated his call for an increase in the minimum wage and other measures he's been backing to help lower income Americans.

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dontbelieveinmyths wrote:
Distribute the wealth. Get something for nothing.
on December 4,2013 | 07:09AM
Nevadan wrote:
The growing income gap is a "defining challenge of our time."? No. It was accelerated by Obama. Instead of bailing out the middle class, as Franklin D Roosevelt did in the '30s, he bailed out the big banks who caused the collapse in 2008 in the first place.
on December 4,2013 | 10:03AM
Kuokoa wrote:
There is inequality in everything for you socialists!
on December 4,2013 | 07:09AM
eoe wrote:
The only people getting something for nothing is the rich. They get peace and the ability to conduct commerce freely from the police force they complain bitterly about funding, and a vast prison system warehouses anybody who steals from them. Their workers are educated for free for them by the state in universal K-12 education. Their products go to market on roads built and maintained by the government. When their stores and factories catch on fire, the government comes to put out the fire. Their contracts are enforced by courts that they complain about. Overseas, they extract resources from countries and are protected by the might of the American military. Meanwhile, poor people get scraps and then are called moochers by the right wing sock puppet army.
on December 4,2013 | 07:21AM
Pacej001 wrote:
Wow! A guest appearance by the merged consciousnesses of Carl Marx and Noamm Chomsky. Your daddies would be proud. Just a guess here, but you seem to be one of those "glass half empty" citizens, true? No point in wasting the time involved in picking apart your steaming pile of overstatements and vitriol.
on December 4,2013 | 07:50AM
eoe wrote:
Wow, what biting insight. You sure showed me.
on December 4,2013 | 08:03AM
Pacej001 wrote:
Given the free availability of historical fact, no one with beliefs such as yours can be shown anything.
on December 4,2013 | 08:52AM
eoe wrote:
Roads aren't built by the government? Citizens aren't educated by the government? Prisons don't contain lawbreakers? I don't understand. Please enlighten me.
on December 4,2013 | 09:00AM
Pacej001 wrote:
I don't think you can be enlightened.
on December 4,2013 | 09:20AM
lee1957 wrote:
"The only people getting something for nothing is the rich." Consider yourself enlightened!
on December 4,2013 | 10:39AM
Denominator wrote:
The roads were built with taxes. The taxes aren't coming from the poor. Very complex issue. Work on it before you comment.
on December 4,2013 | 12:10PM
calentura wrote:
@ eoe. Why so upset, sir..? Obama is focused like a laser on it. Even though nothing's changed in his first five years, he'll be working 24-7 on this issue until he retires to host Sports Center. Or maybe you were being sarcastic, too.
on December 4,2013 | 09:20AM
lee1957 wrote:
Undoubtedly one of the most inane posts in months.
on December 4,2013 | 10:38AM
Charliegrunt wrote:
Once again President Obama is pandering to demands rather than looking at the situation. The US is not a socialist country and true Americans should not want it to be. Except for native Americans, those who came to this country, or their ancestors who did, came for the OPPORTUNITY it offered. I have not read or heard anything in history that this country offered more than that. He and his supporters forget that as a democratic industrial nation, we are competing with the rest of the world for the sale and export of what we produce. We are falling behind. It's easy to blame it all on industry and forget that unions were so enwrapped in pay and benefits, they forgot the time when "Made In USA" signified quality. As a result, we are falling behind and out of competition. Our schools and the workers they produce are falling behind. Immigration is also a problem. Fast food places, as a rule, depend more heavily on those on their first job: teenagers and immigrants. Now, they want $15/hr. Many can't even get an order right, and quite a few are surly. Soon, the fast food industry will rely more on computerization. Mr. President the first task in problem solving is to identify problem. You have failed.
on December 4,2013 | 07:22AM
Pacej001 wrote:
".. the first task in problem solving is to identify problem." Profoundly correct. Unfortunately, our ruling class has decided they're just too smart to be involved with all those messy intermediate problem solving steps and just jump to a predetermined conclusion.
on December 4,2013 | 08:56AM
eoe wrote:
The fact that you think that was profound, correct, or even coherent is sad. That was just a random jumble of inchoate republican bogeymen. So let me summarize: it is all the fault of unions, immigrants, minorities, and possibly communists.
on December 4,2013 | 09:16AM
Pacej001 wrote:
Now, let' reread my post slowly (lips moving approved). The first step in problem solving is to identify (define, understand, comprehend) the problem. That's all I was commenting on, concluding that our ruling class, the Obama administration, has generally skipped step one and gone directly to some preconceived ideologically based conclusion, confusing their half-baked prejudices with what works in the real world. ---- Assuming that maldistribution of wealth is the problem you're talking about, here are the facts: 1. We've been the main beneficiary of a spectacular growth in prosperity due to geographical luck, a form of government that allowed/encouraged individual freedom, and the destruction of most of the world's industrial capacity during WWII. 2. As time has passed, the world has caught up with us (the recovery of Europe, the conversion of communist China to capitalist China) in terms of industrial capacity and education. 3. We are in a new competitive environment, but our institutions that produce the intellectual capital and economic value haven't risen to the challenge. Even though we spend more on public education than all but a couple of the OECD countries, we consistently rank low in student knowledge. From 25%-30% of high school students don't graduate, guaranteeing a life of poverty and social dependance. Our unionized auto industry is inferior to foreign competitors. 4. Our immigration system encourages the poorest, least productive while discouraging the best and brightest from coming here.
on December 4,2013 | 10:17AM
eoe wrote:
First, my post was not about your post, it was about the OP. Second I ironically 100% agree with 1-4. While 1-4 are valid, and your points are good, many people do not agree that those factors are causing income inequality. Paul Krugman in a 2002 essay: "Globalization can explain part of the relative decline in blue-collar wages, but it can't explain the 2,500 percent rise in C.E.O. incomes. Technology may explain why the salary premium associated with a college education has risen, but it's hard to match up with the huge increase in inequality among the college-educated, with little progress for many but gigantic gains at the top. The superstar theory works for Jay Leno, but not for the thousands of people who have become awesomely rich without going on TV."
on December 4,2013 | 10:52AM
Pacej001 wrote:
5. Forgot to add the fact that our high tech economy itself drives us toward wealth disparity because it is knowledge-intensive, not labor-intensive.
on December 4,2013 | 10:57AM
eoe wrote:
Which Krugman also covers.
on December 4,2013 | 11:16AM
Charliegrunt, you made some good points, however, your ability to place the blame for decades of losing ground cannot be placed solely on the head of 1 man. Why not own up to a part of the problem as we all should. It is our responsibility as Americans to own up to our shortcomings and hold those accountable for where we are. We need to elect the right people, work together to rebuild our once prominent country and take back our neighborhoods from the drug lords, gangmembers, and crooked politicians. Bottom line-it doesnt start and end with Obama, but rather we as a nation. I could go on discussing the inequities of our country, but I am not as you have listed many of our problems. Why not promote the idealism of DOING THE RIGHT THING>
on December 4,2013 | 11:21AM
Ronin006 wrote:
The "defining challenge of our time," Mr. President, is to get all the deadbeats you put on welfare back on to the rolls of working Americans. He is once again using class warfare to take attention away from the disaster known as Obamacare.
on December 4,2013 | 07:35AM
Ronin006 wrote:
Why was this comment sent for approval? “The "defining challenge of our time," Mr. President, is to get all the deadbeats you put on welfare back on to the rolls of working Americans. The President once again is using class warfare to take attention away from the disaster known as Obamacare.”
on December 4,2013 | 07:37AM
Ronin006 wrote:
Sure there is income inequality in the US. That is because some people are smarter than others and work harder than others to make more money. That is the way it should be.
on December 4,2013 | 07:55AM
The inequality will always be there, but, how the government taxes the inequality is also an inequality and THAT is a big part of the problem. You have major companies and people earning unGodly amounts of money and not being taxes appropriately in comparrison to the middle class. And that is NOT the way it shold be.
on December 4,2013 | 11:36AM
Pacej001 wrote:
This is a political move called "changing the subject". Like the three year old caught with the cookies, surrounded by the broken cooky jar, chocolate on face, Mr. Obama now want's to talk about the economy, to whip up that good old class war fever he's so good at. Anything but the slow-motion collapse of our national health delivery structure he's set in motion. ------ Unfortunately for him, the subject (Obamacare) isn't going anywhere. Real people are being damaged by his decisions (or lack of them) and he will not escape judgement.
on December 4,2013 | 07:55AM
ahi1pfb wrote:
All this as he plans to spend millions of tax payer dollars on another Christmas vacation in Hawaii. Remember when presidents use to just go to Camp David for Christmas. In his Socialist ideology only the political elite have money and power. The rest of the people are equally poor. Have we forgotten all about the Soviet Union.
on December 4,2013 | 07:59AM
entrkn wrote:
This is one of the biggest issues facing civilization today.
on December 4,2013 | 08:02AM
calentura wrote:
Absolutely, entrain. Understanding how so many people on earth believe this bs is a huge issue.
on December 4,2013 | 09:08AM
fairgame947 wrote:
He has established a citizenry that has their "hand out" wanting something for doing nothing. That just doesn't work!
on December 4,2013 | 08:35AM
eoe wrote:
Yes, he has been amazingly effective in creating a time machine, travelling back in time to the 1920s and every decade since, and singlehandedly building what you call the "hand out citizenry" and what most normal people would call "the social safety net" of things like SNAP, medicare, medicaid and social security. Like you rightists are always claiming, he really is the messiah.
on December 4,2013 | 08:59AM
South76 wrote:
Social safety net??? These programs are going under...I am putting money into these programs and when I finally get a chance to take it easy, these safety nets you are talking about will be under water....it's like being taxed without representation. I would like to take that money and invest it somewhere else where I know it will make a profit when I try to collect.
on December 4,2013 | 09:18AM
eoe wrote:
Well maybe you should get your party to attempt to save it the system, as every single main stream economist thinks it could be saved with some tweaking. But yours is the party of no. No compromise. No ideas. No taxes. No government. Would rather see the ship go down with all aboard than work with the other people to help bale water.
on December 4,2013 | 09:30AM
Pacej001 wrote:
You actually think that "some tweaking" will solve our $86trillion unfunded Federal liability problem. That's a present value number, meaning it's the amount we need to have in hand right now to meet our future obligations, most of which are due to unsustainable entitlements.--------- At least the Republicans have offered something to prevent our inevitable financial disaster (House budget resolution in 2010/Ryan proposals). Meanwhile, the progressives offer nothing, denying the problem exists. Oh, sure the democrats do have proposals to raise taxes, but the problem is this. There simply aren't enough rich people to go around to support our unchecked entitlements and, at some point, we will find that duplicating the overtaxation of the French will yield the same result, a stagnant economy, declining financial stability, and permanent double digit unemployment.
on December 4,2013 | 10:34AM
eoe wrote:
Its interesting that most mainstream economists think the debt is closer to 16, but of course you cite the 1 guy who says it is 86. Thats fine. If it is 86 we are doomed, whats your solution? Bankruptcy? Disband the entire federal government including the military and all federal programs? Because those would be your options if that were the case.
on December 4,2013 | 11:20AM
Pacej001 wrote:
Debt is over $17 trillion which, when added to our unfunded future liabilities, comes to around $86 trillion. The figure comes from a Wall Street journal article which I believe accurately captures the problem. However, if that doesn't seem like a good enough source, just google "unfunded federal liability" and many, many sources of similar estimates will show up. (http://online.wsj.com/news/articles/SB10001424127887323353204578127374039087636) -------- Solution? I don't have one other than trimming government expenses and entitlements and doing everything to maximize economic growth, the latter being our only hope.------ The one thing I do know is that expanding entitlements and government is a national death sentence.
on December 4,2013 | 12:13PM
eoe wrote:
And you call me glass half empty.
on December 4,2013 | 11:21AM
Pacej001 wrote:
These are simple facts, neither optimistic or pessimistic in nature. Denying them doesn't make them go away (may work for short term political gain, but not in the long term).
on December 4,2013 | 12:14PM
Mythman wrote:
So when Pres Obama issues the executive order near the end of his second term which allegedly converts the state's OHA scheme, in which the state is a noble land trust based on the charitable ali'i land trust royal land patent mahele model and all the state laws that go with it, into a new "tribe" this will enhance income equality for native Hawaiians? How by making KSBE even more powerful and driving a wedge into the Native American franchise in the rest of the states by introducing a hybrid scheme that threatens to wreck the whole system so our royal land trusts can have things their way without any interference. Sounds like a recipe for economic disaster not a solution for income inequality, Mr President. God help us if the Fix is in...
on December 4,2013 | 09:07AM
Bdpapa wrote:
I don't think he understands that there will always be inequality. It is at every level. If I work and make the same money as my com worker and he sacrifices and saves, lives frugally, and improves his financial condition and I just spent as soon as I got it, in 30 years I don't deserve any of his comforts that he saved and paid for. Does the President want him to give me some of his savings?
on December 4,2013 | 09:34AM
ufried wrote:
once a community agitator, always a community agitator...
on December 4,2013 | 10:02AM
false wrote:
The road to hell (detroit), was paved with good intentions (democrats)
on December 4,2013 | 10:10AM
Nevadan wrote:
Thanks for the reminder. The Economists listed nine states as candidates for the next Detroit. The available pensions in these states are less than 60%. Hawaii is one of them. Neil is more prone to pleasing his bosses, the unions, than doing what he needs to do. We saw yesterday that a federal judge placed Detroit on the chopping block, and its retirees may only get a few dimes to the dollar.
on December 4,2013 | 10:25AM
A major component in the problem is the inequality of taxes paid by the rich. They claim they pay a major portion of the tax revenue, which cannot be denied-BUT, based on ratios and percentages, they actually pay a small percentage of income compared to the middle class. There has got to be something done to balance things out. There should be a straight % of taxes for all.
on December 4,2013 | 10:15AM
Pacej001 wrote:
"..based on ratios and percentages, they actually pay a small percentage of income compared to the middle class. " I don't think you're right in this statement. Looking at IRS statistics, as taxable income levels increase, each quintile pays a higher effective tax rate than the one below it. Meaning, the top 20% pay more than the 20% below it. If you have a reference that disputes that, I'd love to see it.
on December 4,2013 | 10:55AM
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