President Obama's Rendering of a Strengthened American Economy

Feb 13, 2013

By Elizabeth Lower-Basch

In the 2013 State of the Union address last night, President Obama set out an ambitious agenda to strengthen the American economy, and ensure that the fruits of economic growth are broadly shared.  This included a number of proposals in areas that CLASP works, including expanding access to early childhood education, promoting better connections between education and employers, creating subsidized employment opportunities for disconnected youth and long-term unemployed workers, improving job quality, and targeting high poverty communities for more intensive interventions.  Some of these proposals are new, while others remain on the unfinished agenda from his first term.  The President proposes to combine efforts to support widespread economic growth with specific "ladders of opportunity" aimed at those who might otherwise be left behind even as the economy recovers. These policies would help to reverse widely noted declines in economic mobility and opportunity.

The State of the Union address is the political equivalent of an artist's conceptual rendering of a proposed building, shaded in pastel colors, with café diners on sidewalks out front drinking coffee under blue skies.  It portrays a vision of what the American future could look like, and asks us whether this is the direction we wish to go.  The President's budget, expected out next month, is the equivalent of the architect's blueprint, telling us exactly what it would take to make this vision a reality. 

Some proposals, such as raising the federal minimum wage, do not require new government spending, but others do.  In his speech, the President was clear that the proposals he was making would not add to the deficit, and are consistent with the budget framework agreed to in August 2011, which significantly constrains federal discretionary spending over the next decade.  Therefore, these proposals will be paid for.  It is not clear at this point how much new investment in these areas the President is calling for, or what other programs will be cut to offset new costs.  We will need to look at these details carefully, just as one must scrutinize the blueprints before committing to build.  But we applaud President Obama's vision, and his commitment to rebuilding the ladders of opportunity for all who live in this country.

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