President Obama on Tuesday bemoaned growing income inequality and declining economic opportunity, sounding the populist economic themes that he has invoked at critical moments in his presidency.
“There’s a dangerous and growing inequality and lack of upward mobility that has jeopardized middle-class America’s basic bargain: that if you work hard, you have a chance to get ahead,” Obama said at an event hosted by the left-leaning Center for American Progress at an arts and education center in Southeast Washington.
Obama invoked his and wife Michelle’s humble beginnings and the economic activism of past presidents Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt and Franklin D. Roosevelt in making the case that the country needs to do more to shrink the wage gap and ensure that children born to poverty have a chance to climb the economic ladder.
On issues such as the minimum wage, immigration, education, health care and jobs, Obama said the choices the nation’s political leaders make will have impact years down the road.
“The decision we make on these issues over the last few years will determine whether our children will grow up in an America where opportunity is real,” he said.
Asking why Washington has failed to address growing economic inequality, Obama blamed what he described as several myths, including the notion that inequality is specifically a problem of blacks, Latinos or Native Americans. While he said it was true that these groups are affected disproportionately, “the decades-long shift in the economy has hurt all groups.”
Obama said that deep anxiety over the economy shows up in frustrations about Washington. He took some blame for those frustrations, citing his administration's “poor execution” of the Affordable Care Act in recent months.
“Nobody’s acquitted themselves very well in the past few months,” Obama said.