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:
Harry Dingle was relieved that it wasn't any worse. At least, the 76-year-old retiree said, President Reagan wasn't announcing a cut in Social Security benefits.
"He's freezing everybody, but as long as I'm getting what I'm already getting, it's all right with me," said Dingle, who came with his wife Theodoshia to watch the president's speech last night in a community center near their Alexandria home.
For Dingle, who retired in 1972 after 37 years as a laborer and truck driver for Alexandria, Reagan's speech did little to dispel his impression of a president out of touch with poor, elderly, black Americans.
"This man ain't doing nothing but talk," said Dingle, who had worried that a cut in the $12,000 he and his wife receive each year in Social Security and retirement benefits could jeopardize the mortgage payments on their four-bedroom house. "He ain't doing nothing to help nobody, " said Dingle. Of course, he added, he wasn't really expecting much from the speech anyway. But Mrs. Dingle, who had hoped that the president would announce a more comprehensive jobs program, said she thought the American people deserved a little better than what Reagan gave them.
"He says he wants us to sacrifice," said Mrs. Dingle, who retired in 1974 after 30 years as an elevator operator and maintenance worker for the federal government. "How can we sacrifice? We haven't got anything left to sacrifice. He's taking away what little we have."