President Obama emphasizes middle-class economics during Lawrence speech

By Amelia Arvesen
KU Statehouse Wire Service

LAWRENCE – President Obama’s visit to Lawrence was a rarity. Thursday he became the first sitting president in more than 100 years to speak at the University of Kansas.

Although a presidential visit is uncommon in Kansas, the President’s message addressed the common concerns of those in attendance.

Obama emphasized three points of middle-class economics: the nation’s need for affordable child care, access to affordable education, and building the most competitive economy possible, all points he touched on in Tuesday’s State of the Union address.

“When I look out at this crowd, it’s your generation in particular that is going to have to decide what this future looks like,” Obama said. “Are we going to accept an economy where only a few of us do spectacularly well or do we commit ourselves to an economy that generates opportunity and rising income for everybody who’s willing to work hard to make it happen?”

Kansas residents are considered middle class with median household incomes at $51,000, according to the United States Census Bureau. In Lawrence, 78.6 percent of KU students are considered middle class, according the Office of Institutional Opportunity and Access.

A blue poster hung behind the stage Thursday printed with the same words Obama reiterated throughout his speech: middle-class economics. He said the phrase means making sure every American has a fair shot at contributing to the success of the United States.

“We’ve got to make sure that all people have the tools and support that they need to take advantage of this growing economy,” he said.

The economy is just beginning to see wages rise, Obama said, and he believes the proposed policies will offer security to families, provide access to improving work skills, and support a competitive economy.
“Let’s keep it going.”

KU student Alyssa Cole, a Lawrence resident, McNair scholar and single mother, introduced Obama on Thursday. In her speech she said she was almost forced to choose between obtaining an education, working, or staying home to care for her children.

“In the United States, we should have the opportunity to pursue a career and an education while at the same time building quality lives for ourselves and for our children,” Cole said. “I am happy to see that the president is pushing to expand these opportunities.”

If individuals flourish, then families will flourish, which means the entire economy is more productive, Obama said. But, he said, right now high quality child care is expensive, costing more than one year of attending a state university in 31 states.

His plan includes providing affordable child care for more than 1 million children, offering tax cuts up to $3,000 per child, per year, improving the quality of childcare options and increasing the quality of facilities.

He drew a correlation between the time young adults begin to pay off student loans and the time they decide to start a family.

“I’m assuming some of you will have a little bit of school debt,” he said. “Just a little.”

Obama continues to support affordable education. In June, he capped student loan payments at 10 percent of monthly income. Most recently in the State of the Union address and Thursday, he said he’d like to offer free community college to make it as universal as high school.

Kaitlyn Foster, a senior from Free State High School, said she hoped Obama would address income inequality and college affordability.

“I thought his dedication to helping students obtain education to entertain an evolving workforce was admirable,” Foster said.

The third part of middle-class economics, Obama said, is building the most competitive economy possible to encourage investment in new resources, products and jobs. He used Lawrence’s expansion of high speed broadband as an example, a topic widely debated among residents.

By putting money back into American’s pockets, adding a little bit of cushion gives people a fair shot at success, but Obama said too often Congress gets stuck wondering how to pay for such investments.

“As Americans, we don’t mind paying our fair share of taxes as long as everyone else does too,” he said.

In his introduction, Obama said during the past six years the nation rose to No. 1 in the production of wind power, created 11 million new jobs, increased the number of young people graduating from college to an all-time high, and provided health coverage to 10 million Americans who were previously uninsured.

Although he said he knows it can seem politics are more divided than ever, he believes Americans have more in common than not.

Alan Martin, a musical education Ph.D. student from Scotland, said Obama touched on topics important for Americans and people from outside of the United States who face similar circumstances.

“I think that what he’s doing is bridging a gap in politics that’s going to not just affect domestic politics but international politics as well,” Martin said.

Amelia Arvesen is a University of Kansas senior from San Ramon, Calif., majoring in journalism. Contact: [email protected] or @AmeliaArvesen

One Response to President Obama emphasizes middle-class economics during Lawrence speech

  1. Insuregent says:

    A real waste of taxpayers dollars to bring this individual to the state to do more campaigning.
    The cost for additional protection for his parade to and from Jayhawk Country is nothing more than an additional burden to a state that already has more financial woes than it can handle.

    Not to mention a governor and legislature that have little practical financial experience !!

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