In his State of the Union address, President Reagan focused heavily on the concerns of the middle class, requesting patience with the nation's economic problems and offering new programs to broaden educational opportunities, provide jobs and contain inflation.
At the same time, he called on the middle class to make some sacrifices--including a six-month delay in cost-of-living increases for Social Security recipients, a one-year freeze on federal pay and pensions, and a willingness to accept a standby tax increase.
To get a sense of how his address was received here, six Washington Post reporters watched the speech at the homes of some middle-income residents of the Washington area.
While the selection was not scientific and their opinions clearly cannot reflect the full range of opinion, the people interviewed were chosen from specific segments of the population: a couple just starting out, a working mother who is raising two children by herself, a retired couple, a laid-off worker, a mid-level federal worker, and a man with a small business.
Here's how they reacted:
Susan Harte says there are times during the school day when she can't believe her own rhetoric as she tries to sell her pupils at Marshall Road Elementary School in Fairfax County on the standard image of America as a nation of opportunity.
"All this opportunity I tell my kids about--I'm not sure those opportunities and jobs are there anymore," said the 41-year-old teacher. "I don't know that the everyday working person has an advocate in Ronald Reagan."
As far as Hart was concerned, the president was giving the nation some of that same rhetoric last night. "It's a good thing for Reagan to remind us that we have good values and high ideals," said the divorced working mother who did not vote for Reagan two years ago. "But if you aren't satisfied in terms of basic survival, you can't spend your energies on high ideals."
Harte, who earns under $25,000 a year and supplements her income by tutoring pupils in remedial subjects, said many of Reagan's proposals for improving the situation of the working middle class will do little to help her and her two teen-age daughters.
For example, she said, Reagan's proposal for tax incentives to help save money for college educations will do little to help Harte send her two daughters to college. "It's hard to pull in your belt and save at the same time," said Harte. "I don't ever have any money to save. How can I use a savings as an incentive?"
As Reagan listed his plans for economic recovery, Harte blurted at the small black and white television set in her living room, "If you can do all of that in two years, Ronald, you're going to be doing a great job."