Obama built Tuesday night’s State of the Union address around a series of economic proposals that he believes would benefit an imperiled middle class. He chose North Carolina — whose voters voted for him in 2008 and for Republican opponent Mitt Romney last fall — to begin an outside-the-Beltway effort to underscore the urgency of his agenda.
His proposals, including a 25 percent hike in the minimum wage, are likely to meet fierce resistance in a divided Congress. House Speaker John A. Boehner (Ohio) and other Republicans signaled immediate opposition Wednesday to a higher minimum wage and other economic plans outlined by the president.
But Obama intends to use backdrops such as this one, with the real-life trappings of American manufacturing, to rally support at a time of deep economic uncertainty. “I need Congress to do its part,” Obama said to applause. “We’ve got to stop with some of the politics we see in Washington sometimes that’s focused on who’s up and who’s down.”
His ideas to help boost American manufacturing, squeezed by cheaper competition in a global economy, center on spending new money on job training, ending tax breaks for companies that move manufacturing jobs to other countries, and urging businesses to look to the United States first to invest in research and factories by lowering the effective tax rate paid by manufacturing companies.
His advisers say the proposals will not add to the deficit, only reallocate money already in the budget.
Obama’s challenge to revive a struggling middle-class economy is a big one here and in other states where manufacturing jobs have migrated overseas or been replaced by technology.
In North Carolina, the unemployment rate is 9.2 percent, more than a point above the national average. State lawmakers said this week that they will cut unemployment benefits, given such costs’ drag on public finances. Other states are doing the same.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, only three job categories showed declines in Asheville’s workforce over the past year: manufacturing; government; and the mining, logging and construction sector.
About 8 percent of Asheville’s labor force works in manufacturing. Those jobs have declined by 2.2 percent over the past year, and only the logging, mining and construction sector lost more. Obama advisers say a weak fourth quarter nationally may have played a part in the local manufacturing decline.
Obama chose the Linamar factory in the Blue Ridge Mountains of western North Carolina as a parable for what he hopes will be America’s manufacturing rebirth. His advisers say he is seeking to build on the 500,000 manufacturing jobs the national economy has created in the past three years, something they say few predicted.