For the cubicle-bound:
Below is text as prepared for delivery of an economic speech delivered Wednesday at Knox College in Galesburg, Ill. by President Barack Obama.
Eight years ago, I came here to deliver the commencement address for the class of 2005. Things were a little different back then. I didn’t have any gray hair, for example. Or a motorcade. I didn’t even have a teleprompter. It was my first big speech as your newest senator, and I spent my time talking about what a changing economy was doing to the middle class - and what we, as a country, needed to do to give every American a chance to get ahead in the 21st century.
You see, I’d just spent a year traveling this state and listening to your stories - of proud Maytag workers losing their jobs when their plant moved down to Mexico; of teachers whose salaries weren’t keeping up with the rising cost of groceries; of young people who had the drive but not the money to afford a college education.
They were the stories of families who worked hard and believed in the American Dream, but felt that the odds were increasingly stacked against them. And they were right.
In the period after World War II, a growing middle class was the engine of our prosperity. Whether you owned a company, swept its floors, or worked anywhere in between, this country offered you a basic bargain - a sense that your hard work would be rewarded with fair wages and benefits, the chance to buy a home, to save for retirement, and, above all, to hand down a better life for your kids.
But over time, that engine began to stall. That bargain began to fray. Technology made some jobs obsolete. Global competition sent others overseas. It became harder for unions to fight for the middle class. Washington doled out bigger tax cuts to the rich and smaller minimum wage increases for the working poor. The link between higher productivity and people’s wages and salaries was severed - the income of the top 1% nearly quadrupled from 1979 to 2007, while the typical family’s barely budged.
Towards the end of those three decades, a housing bubble, credit cards, and a churning financial sector kept the economy artificially juiced up. But by the time I took office in 2009, the bubble had burst, costing millions of Americans their jobs, their homes, and their savings. The decades-long erosion of middle-class security was laid bare for all to see and feel.
Today, five years after the start of that Great Recession, America has fought its way back.