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Opinion: Obama’s State of Union Address

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Tuesday night, President Barack Obama gave his fifth State of the Union Address, addressing what he hopes to accomplish during his second term of office. Typically, State of the Union addresses are a list of unrealistic promises rather than great speeches, but the President was able to provide some stirring moments.

From growing our economy, investing in education, expanding access to affordable healthcare or keeping our communities safe, Obama addressed all of these issues to the American public. Obama proposed a vision for a smart, efficient government, which will help expand the middle class and build a brighter future for all Americans. He said, “It’s not a bigger government we need, but a smarter government that sets priorities and invests in broad-based growth.”

To begin his speech, Obama summed up the progress made since he took office: bringing home the soldiers from the Middle East, six million new jobs created, less foreign oil and healing housing and stock markets. He said, “Consumers, patients, and homeowners enjoy stronger protections than ever before. Together, we have cleared away the rubble of crisis, and can say with renewed confidence that the state of our union is stronger.” While the state of our country has slightly improved, we still have a long way to economic recovery, and the president outlined his plans to further that.

The first issue Obama addressed was the economy and job creation. He stated, “It is our generation’s task … to reignite the true engine of America’s economic growth—a rising, thriving middle class.” Obama prided himself and his administration on the fact that in the past 35 months, U.S. businesses have added more than 6.1 million jobs. Although this is true, it is significantly misleading. This statistic references the lowest point in jobs in February 2010; there are still over three million less jobs today than when the recession began in December 2007. While there has been significant job growth in the past two years, the job market is still far from healed.

One of Obama’s plans to fix this is to increase minimum wage to nine dollars an hour. At the time, this number surprised me, as minimum wage was only $5.15 when I started my first job in 2007. My original thought was that with higher wages, employers would be able to hire fewer employees, and rather than boosting the economy, the unemployment rate would increase. During the height of the ‘70s recession, however, minimum wage was $2, which due to inflation, would be equal to $9.13 today.

While the cost of living, not to mention the cost of gasoline to get to work, has dramatically increased over the past few decades, the minimum wage has not equally increased to cover these costs. Obama stated that a full-time worker making minimum wage earns $14,500, and a family whose parents work for minimum wage lives under the poverty line living paycheck to paycheck. As Roosevelt clearly demonstrated by implementing a federal minimum wage in the midst of the Great Depression, a rational benchmark for pay, directly tied with the cost of living, is necessary for economic recovery.

The hot issue right now in Washington and across the nation is gun control, which was deeply discussed in the president’s address. Obama told the story of the 15-year-old girl who had performed at his second inauguration and a week later was shot and killed in a Chicago park after school. The most stirring and retweeted quote of the evening was when Obama said, “They deserve a vote. Gabby Giffords deserves a vote. The families of Newtown deserve a vote.”

The president stated, “Senators of both parties are working together on tough new laws to prevent anyone from buying guns for resale to criminals.” The question is: how is this possible? Drugs are illegal, but people still buy them on the street, will guns not be bought in the same way? The president proposed background checks that will make it harder for criminals to get their hands on a gun, but this doesn’t fix the problem. Adam Lanza didn’t have a criminal record; Seung-Hui Cho, James Eagan Holmes and Jared Lee Loughner didn’t have criminal records before their respective shootings.

Adam Lanza was believed to have had a personality disorder and was somewhat autistic. Cho had been declared mentally ill and was ordered to seek treatment. Holmes was a psychiatric patient with dysphoric mania. Loughner had a history of abusing alcohol and drugs, as well as a diagnosed paranoid schizophrenic. The perpetrators of these large massacres aren’t criminals, and criminal background checks will not stop these events from happening. Legislation should additionally require mental background checks to prevent these massacres and school shootings.

The president expressed to the American public, “As long as you’re out here fighting every day to better your lives … then I’ll be back in Washington fighting for you.” While President Obama’s proposals have excellent intent, they don’t completely fix the issues. Additionally, most of the issues that the president addressed are legislature dependent, and unless the parties in Congress work together, nothing will be accomplished.

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