Washington, DC…Elkhart, Indiana was the first town I visited as President. I’d been on the job for three weeks, and we were just a few months into the worst economic crisis of our lifetimes. Elkhart was hit harder than most. Unemployment there peaked at nearly twenty percent shortly after my visit. Nearly one in five people there were out of work. This week, I returned to Elkhart. Unemployment there has now fallen to around four percent. More families are back on sturdy ground; more are covered by health insurance; more of their kids are graduating from high school. And it’s no accident – it’s because people there worked hard, and sacrificed, and looked out for each other.
But it’s also because we made a series of smart decisions early in my presidency. To rescue the auto industry. To help families refinance their homes. To invest in things like high-tech manufacturing, clean energy, and the infrastructure that creates good new jobs – not to mention the job training that helps folks earn new skills to fill those jobs.
The results are clear. America’s businesses have created 14.5 million new jobs over 75 straight months. We’ve seen the first sustained manufacturing growth since the nineties. We’ve cut unemployment by more than half. Another 20 million Americans have health insurance. And we’ve cut our deficits by nearly 75 percent.
We haven’t fixed everything. Wages, while growing again, need to grow faster. The gap between the rich and everyone else is still way too wide. Republicans in Congress have repeatedly blocked investments and initiatives that would have created jobs faster. But the middle class isn’t getting squeezed because of minorities, or immigrants, or moochers, or anyone else we’re told to blame for our problems. If we’re going to fix what needs fixing, we can’t divide ourselves. We’ve got to come together, around our common economic goals. We’ve got to push back against policies that protect powerful special interests, and push for a better deal for all working Americans.
That’s the choice you’ll get to make this year. Between policies that raise wages, and policies that won’t. Between strengthening Social Security and making it more generous, or making it harder to help people save and retire. Between strengthening the rules we put on Wall Street to prevent another crisis, or dismantling them. Between a tax code that’s fair for working families, or wasteful tax cuts for a fortunate few at the very top.
Over the past seven years, we’ve proven that progress is possible. But it’s not inevitable. It depends on us. It depends on the choices we make. And if we come together, around our common values, and our belief in opportunity for everyone who puts in the effort – then we’ll deliver on a brighter future for all of us. Thanks, and have a great weekend.