SOTU: Quick reactions to class themes in President’s speech

Half of Americans are working-class or poor, yet all I heard about in the State of the Union address was the middle class, and now I’m annoyed. I wrote down all of President Obama’s references to class issues.  Here are my quick (possibly overly sarcastic) responses to those references.

** WE’VE CREATED 8 MILLION NEW JOBS” / “THE UNEMPLOYMENT RATE IS THE LOWEST IN 5 YEARS”

The fact that we’ve added 8 million jobs is good, but the majority of those jobs are low wage jobs that don’t provide people a “middle-class” lifestyle. Also, unemployment jumps from 6.7% to more than 13% when you include people who have stopped looking for work and are only employed part-time.

** THE BUDGET DEAL PROTECTS THE MIDDLE CLASS

Obama states that this budget deal protects the middle class from harmful cuts. Okay. But what about poor and low-income folks?!!? That’s half the country. Are they not people?

This is the same budget that cut long term unemployment insurance for 1.3 million people. Also, separate from the budget, but speaking of cuts, congress just cut $800 million/year from food stamps–one of the most effective anti-poverty programs.

** “LADDERS OF OPPORTUNITY INTO THE MIDDLE CLASS”

It’s great President Obama acknowledged the inequality, low wages, and lack of mobility that exist in our country. That is exciting. Also, his executive order to set a minimum wage of $10.10/hour for federal contract workers is a big deal. $10.10/hour, however, is not enough. No matter how hard someone works, $10.10/hour won’t lift them and their family out of poverty or low-income status. Let’s start talking about $15/hour.

** WORKING WITH LOCAL GOVERNMENTS TO END HOMELESSNESS

This sounds good, but it worries me. Does this mean helping homeless folks find jobs, housing, and food, or does it mean further dehumanizing homeless people by criminalizing them and putting them in prison?

** LOWERING TAX RATES FOR BUSINESSES THAT CREATE JOBS AT HOME

Does this mean more tax cuts for corporations to whom we already give so much of our tax dollars? Those corporations actively work to create inequality and class injustice.

** WE NEED TO RESTORE UNEMPLOYMENT INSURANCE

Yes. I agree.

** ACCESS TO A QUALITY EDUCATION

Obama’s words on education and income are a mixed bag. While I agree with him that education, especially early childhood education, is the best anti-poverty program, I thought he really marginalized poor folks when he talked about access to a college education. Obama stated that he wants to make sure “no middle class kid is priced out of an education,” but never talked about low-income kids’ access to a college education.

** HELPING “YOUNG MEN OF COLOR TO STAY ON THE RIGHT TRACK AND REACH THEIR FULL POTENTIAL”

So Trayvon Martin lost his life because he was on the wrong track? Thousands of men of color are stopped and frisked because they are on the wrong track? Half of black men are arrested before they turn 25 because half of black men are on the wrong track?

I am utterly confused by this statement about young men of color staying on the right track. This is a CRAZY statement. Poverty among men of color has a lot more to do with our racist justice system, capitalism’s inherent racism, and white supremacy than to do with “stay[ing] on the right track.”

** CLOSING THE GENDER INCOME GAP

YES. The intersection between gender and class is a huge one. Women are underpaid as a result of patriarchy and it’s messed up. I’m glad the President brought this up, but where is the policy or proposed legislation to back it up? I don’t watch Mad Men.

** AFFORDABLE CARE ACT REDUCES POVERTY AND GIVES FOLKS ACCESS TO HEALTHCARE

While many of us would have loved a single payer system or a public option, I still believe that ACA does a lot to combat poverty and to make healthcare more accessible. Since October, more than 6 million people have enrolled in medicaid and more than 2 million have signed up for health insurance through the exchanges set up by the ACA. Now we just need every state to opt into the medicaid expansion.

** WORKING TO END EXTREME POVERTY IN AFRICA

I hear Obama here and I get that he has to say this. America is not in a bubble.

But I do think it’s a slap in the face to talk about ending poverty in Africa and barely discuss doing so here in America.

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