In the rich oratory of an inaugural address, President Obama sketched out a vision Monday for addressing the problems that have been afflicting the American economy — not just since the financial crisis and recession but for long before.
Obama said the government must play a bigger role in ensuring that the middle class benefits from the nation’s economic growth, after many years when middle-class wages stagnated. He argued that the country needs better railroads and highways to make it more attractive to businesses and better schools and colleges to train students for the jobs of the future — which often demand math and science skills. And amid calls to impose discipline on the federal budget, he defended the value of a costly social safety net, describing it as a critical support for Americans willing to “to take the risks that make this country great.”
Compare Bush, Clinton and Reagan’s first-term popularity with Obama’s; and scroll down to see what happened in their second terms.
By using the word “gay” in his inaugural speech, Obama makes history and elevates a struggle.
THE FIX | To distill Obama's speech to a single sentence: "I'm the president, deal with it."
READ MORE | Coverage of the president’s inauguration, and analysis of what to expect in Obama’s next four years.
Washington Post photographers revisit scenes from President Obama’s first inauguration to see how this year compares.
Explore this interactive gigapixel panorama of the area outside the Capitol. Tag yourself and others.
The words were geared toward a different economy than the one he inherited four years ago. Then, he faced a crisis that threatened to cause another Great Depression and a colossal breakdown in Americans’ quality of life. His first-term economic achievements were largely in response to that challenge.
In his second term, Obama is looking to tackle problems that were festering long before the financial crisis that immediately preceded his first term. The country faces a fast-growing national debt as a result of waves of retiring workers who expect health care and pension benefits. Businesses see crumbling infrastructure and a workforce whose education and skills have begun to trail that of many countries’ workers. Globalization and advances in technology threaten to further push down wages for middle-class Americans and exacerbate inequality.
Obama addressed these challenges in his speech. “We understand that outworn programs are inadequate to the needs of our time,” he said. “So we must harness new ideas and technology to remake our government, revamp our tax code, reform our schools, and empower our citizens with the skills they need to work harder, learn more, reach higher.”
In more concrete terms, the second-term economic agenda is expected to include efforts to boost government spending on roads, bridges and other infrastructure and further support for developing sources of clean energy. Obama is expected to continue to pursue policies that focus on education and developing the workforce’s skills — with a particular focus on manufacturing. And he will oversee the implementation of the Affordable Care Act, his expansion of health care that will shape the future of the economy for years to come.
According to aides, Obama will continue to try to accelerate economic growth to bring down unemployment — one of the two basic objectives of Obama’s second-term economic agenda. The other is to make sure that the economy’s growth benefits more middle-class Americans.
“The key challenge is how to ensure that there are good middle-class jobs with rising wages for the broader working population,” said Brian Deese, a top Obama economic aide. “There are a number of long-term pressures on that — and challenges to that — from technological trends, demographic trends.