As the 2016 presidential race picks up and President Barack Obama enters his final 16 months in office, the Obama administration kicked off a nationwide tour Wednesday focused on providing Americans affordable access to education and job training — reflecting a continued commitment to their initiative to elevate Americans to the middle class.
WARREN, Mich. — As the 2016 presidential race picks up and President Barack Obama enters his final 16 months in office, the Obama administration kicked off a nationwide tour Wednesday focusing on a familiar message — the importance of bolstering the nation’s middle class.
The president and Dr. Jill Biden, a professor at Northern Virginia Community College and the wife of Vice President Joe Biden, addressed a crowd of several hundred people at Macomb Community College. During the event, Obama rolled out a $175 million apprenticeship grant program through the U.S. Department of Labor and rallied support for a proposal he announced in January to provide a guaranteed two free years of community college.
Obama announced this plan in his State of the Union address with the goal of offering responsible students the opportunity to attend two years of community college for free. He emphasized the need for every student to have a chance to succeed, arguing that the benefits of a community college degree and job skills training include the chance to live a more prosperous life.
In Macomb, Biden said giving every American the highest quality education possible is the best way to ensure people from all backgrounds have a chance to succeed.
“Our administration believes you should have the education and skills you need to succeed without being saddled with decades of debt,” she said. “Because it’s too hard to get ahead when you start off from so far behind.”
This is the third time Obama has visited Warren. He campaigned there in 2008, and the city hosted his first visit to Michigan as president in 2009. It was in Macomb that the president first discussed his commitment to encouraging Americans to attend community college and investing in community college programs that serve local needs.
The president has visited Michigan 17 times since he took office and has continually used the state as a platform to discuss the middle class.
In 2012, he spoke at the University to address the rising cost of higher education, adding that receiving an education is too valuable to carry such a restrictive cost.
The president visited the University again in 2014 to advocate for raising the federal minimum wage from $7.25 to $10.10 an hour. He argued that workers who hold steady jobs should not be stuck in poverty because they receive low wages.
In his speech at Macomb, Obama said after World War II, the United States was the best-educated nation in the world, contributing to the rise of a great American middle class.
“In places like Macomb County, you could feel secure knowing that if you worked hard, you’d get a chance to find a good job, buy a home, raise a family, send your kids to college,” he said. “We didn’t promise everybody that they would get rich, but we promised that everybody who worked hard would have a chance to get there, and have the dignity of a decent-paying job with decent-paying benefits. That’s what it meant to be middle class.”
In more recent decades, Obama said, the economy has changed, and attempts to better it — including tax cuts for the upper class — created hardships for the middle class.
“We together have spent the last seven years (since the 2008 recession) fighting back, getting focused on middle class economics once again,” he said.
This effort, he said, includes job creation, the provision of health insurance for all Americans and a commitment to revive the U.S. auto industry.
“We placed our bets on American businesses and American workers, and that bet is paying off,” he said. “Michigan is coming back.”
The president cautioned that making comeback is not enough: For the sake of future generations, he said, the country has to do better for its citizens — not just restore a previous standard of living. He argued that wealth inequality remains a challenge, adding that jobs still do not pay enough and wages are still flat.
“A big part of making sure today’s economy works better for ordinary folks goes back to the issue of education,” he said. “Every American willing to work hard should have a shot at higher education because as the economy globally becomes more competitive, everybody’s got to upgrade their skills a little bit.”
According to Obama, a post-secondary education of some kind will be a requirement for two out of every three jobs by 2020. Specialized skills, he argued, will be necessities in the search for a good job.
“Having a credential above and beyond your high school diploma, that’s the surest ticket to the middle class,” he said. “And in global competition for jobs and industries, having the best educated workforce in the world is the surest way for America to stay on top.”