Obama speaks on improving middle class in Michigan visit

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President Obama speaks at a Wayne Ford Motor plant Wendnesday. Buy this photo

By Emma Kinery, Daily Staff Reporter
Published January 7, 2015

WAYNE, Mich. — President Barack Obama visited a Ford Motor manufacturing plant Wednesday to speak with plant employees as part of a three-stop tour to promote his upcoming State of the Union address.

During his remarks, Obama previewed his address to the nation, noting that he intends to emphasize policies designed to build on his administration’s achievements over the last few years. He also used his venue to highlight Detroit and the auto industry’s improvements as one example of the country’s progress during his time in office.

In addition to a stop in Michigan, President Obama will visit Arizona on Thursday to talk about the housing market and Tennessee on Friday to discuss higher education affordability. The State of the Union address is Jan. 20.

On Wednesday, Obama said he saw the auto industry's recovery resulted not only from his administration’s policies, but also the resilience of the state’s workers.

“That’s how things work best, when everybody’s in it, when workers and businesses work together,” Obama said. “Shared sacrifice leads to shared prosperity.”

The president also detailed the importance of manufacturing for the economy, and said it affects not only the employees of an individual plant, but also the local economy and ultimately the U.S. economy.

“Plants like this one didn't just build cars,” he said. “They built the middle class.”

Continuing to build up the middle class through economic stimulus was a key point throughout the event, which also included Secretary of Labor Thomas Perez and Ford employee Mia Dew.

“We have to make sure these rising tides lift all boats, and not just the yachts,” Perez said in his opening remarks.

Along with his discussion of the auto industry, Obama also highlighted his administration’s efforts to increase apprenticeship programs. Last year, Obama called on more businesses to create and expand apprenticeship programs, and recently, the Obama administration invested $100 million in an apprenticeship grant competition. Obama said these efforts have contributed to the largest increase in apprenticeships in nearly a decade.

“We want young people to see that they have opportunities,” Obama said. “They don’t all have to go to a four year college; they can get an apprenticeship, save some money, start working, build a family, buy a house.”

He added that nationally, 87 percent of apprentices are employed after they complete their apprenticeship program, with an average starting wage of $50,000.

Perez also emphasized apprenticeships as “the other college, except you don’t have any of the debt.”

Apprenticeships are also an idea Republican Gov. Rick Snyder has focused on during his tenure. Last May, Snyder announced the creation of the Michigan Advanced Technician Training Program.

The program started this September and currently works with 11 companies. Snyder has stated he hopes to expand enrollment to 90 students next year, as well as the number of companies involved.

In his speech Wednesday, Obama specifically praised the UAW-Ford Joint Apprenticeship Program. The program is not affiliated with the Michigan Advanced Technician Training Program, but both focus on encouraging technical training.

As he ended his speech, the president echoed his support for Detroit, as well as his faith in an economic recovery.

“We may not all root for the (Detroit) Lions, but America is rooting for Detroit,” he said. “America’s coming strong. America’s coming back. And I'm going to be on your side every step of the way.”

In response to Obama’s remarks, Michigan GOP Chairman Bobby Schostak issued a statement Wednesday evening criticizing what he called the president’s attempts to take credit for the auto industry’s recovery.

“It is not surprising that the president chose states with Republican governors for his ‘three-city national tour,’ ” the statement read. “In the wake of Republicans sweeping victory in Michigan and across the nation, President Obama should take note of the commonsense, responsible policies that are driving the economies in the states like ours.”