Business, Economics and Jobs

Obama's economy speech focuses on securing the middle class American dream


President Barack Obama gave what the White House had billed as an important speech on the economy at Knox College in Illinois, on Wednesday.

In the first of a series of speeches around the country, Obama refocused attention on creating jobs for the middle class. He outlined the measures he would push for including boosting manufacturing jobs, education and infrastructure.

Obama also said home ownership, a secure retirement and affordable health care were vital to a thriving middle class.

"You can make it too! That's the American idea," Obama said near the end of his speech, in which he outlined six cornerstones for a more stable middle class.

Obama's cornerstones were: good jobs, education, home ownership, secure retirement, health care and equal opportunity.

"Today, five years after the start of the Great Recession, America has fought its way back," Obama said, though he clarified that there was still a long way to go.

Obama made the case for a strong middle class, saying, "When middle class families have less to spend, businesses have fewer customers."

He chided some Republican lawmakers who refused to work with Democrats on solving economic problems and labeled the sequester a "meat cleaver" approach to cutting spending. Obama also used the speech as an opportunity to defend Obamacare and push for immigration reform.

Obama called for Congressional action, scolding Washington for an "endless parade of distractions, political posturing and phony scandals" and "manufactured crisis."

The audience at Knox College applauded Obama's statement on taking executive action if Congress failed to act. The crowd also cheered his plan to reverse the hike in student interest rates and raise the minimum wage.

"I have now run my last campaign," Obama said. "I care about one thing and one thing only, and that’s how to use every minute of the 1,276 days remaining in my term to make this country work for working Americans again."

Though the housing market has improved and consumer confidence has risen for the past year, the unemployment rate remains at 7.6 percent, with 11.8 million people still out of work and 8.3 million underemployed in part-time jobs.

Administration officials and Democrats hope Obama's speech could reinvigorate the conversation about the economy, according to Politico. They also hope it will warn Republicans off bruising fiscal fights over the debt ceiling and government funding that could risk a government shutdown.

However, House Speaker John Boehner had dismissed Obama's speech on Wednesday before it even happened. Speaking to the House floor, Boehner called the speech a "hollow shell" and "an Easter egg with no candy in it."

"The White House says it's not expected to say anything new, there are no new proposals in this speech. The president himself said it isn't going to change any minds," said Boehner. "So what exactly will change? What's the point? What's it going to accomplish?"

"You probably got the answer. Nothing."