Udo von Massenbach
Following is a transcript of President Obama’s speech in Galesburg, Ill., as provided by the White House.
Mr. OBAMA: Hello, Galesburg! (Applause.) Well, it’s good to be home in Illinois! (Applause.) It is good to be back. It’s good to be back. Thank you. Thank you so much, everybody. (Applause.) Thank you. Everybody, have a seat, have a seat. Well, it is good to be back.
I want to, first of all, thank Knox College — (applause) — I want to thank Knox College and your president, Teresa Amott, for having me here today. Give Teresa a big round of applause. (Applause.) I want to thank your Congresswoman, Cheri Bustos, who’s here. (Applause.) We’ve got Governor Quinn here. (Applause.) I’m told we’ve got your Lieutenant Governor, Sheila Simon, is here. (Applause.) There she is. Attorney General Lisa Madigan is here. (Applause.)
I see a bunch of my former colleagues, some folks who I haven’t seen in years and I’m looking forward to saying hi to. One in particular I’ve got to mention, one of my favorites from the Illinois Senate — John Sullivan is in the house. (Applause.) John was one of my earliest supporters when I was running for the U.S. Senate, and it came in really handy because he’s got, like, 10 brothers and sisters, and his wife has got 10 brothers and sisters — (laughter) — so they’ve got this entire precinct just in their family. (Laughter.) And they all look like John — the brothers do — so he doesn’t have to go to every event. He can just send one of his brothers out. (Laughter.) It is good to see him.
Dick Durbin couldn’t make it today, but he sends his best. And we love Dick. (Applause.) He’s doing a great job. And we’ve got one of my favorite neighbors, the Senator from Missouri, Claire McCaskill, in the house, because we’re going to Missouri later this afternoon. (Applause.)
And all of you are here, and it’s great to see you. (Applause.) And I hope everybody is having a wonderful summer. The weather is perfect. Whoever was in charge of that, good job. (Laughter.)
So, eight years ago, I came here to deliver the commencement address for the class of 2005. Things were a little different back then. For example, I had no gray hair — (laughter) — or a motorcade. Didn’t even have a prompter. In fact, there was a problem in terms of printing out the speech because the printer didn’t work here and we had to drive it in from somewhere. (Laughter.) But it was my first big speech as your newest senator.
And on the way here I was telling Cheri and Claire about how important this area was, one of the areas that I spent the most time in outside of Chicago, and how much it represented what’s best in America and folks who were willing to work hard and do right by their families. And I came here to talk about what a changing economy was doing to the middle class — and what we, as a country, needed to do to give every American a chance to get ahead in the 21st century.
See, I had just spent a year traveling the state and listening to your stories — of proud Maytag workers losing their jobs when the plant moved down to Mexico. (Applause.) A lot of folks here remember that. Of teachers whose salaries weren’t keeping up with the rising cost of groceries. (Applause.) Of young people who had the drive and the energy, but not the money to afford a college education. (Applause.)
So these were stories of families who had worked hard, believed in the American Dream, but they felt like the odds were increasingly stacked against them. And they were right. Things had changed.
In the period after World War II, a growing middle class was the engine of our prosperity. Whether you owned a company, or swept its floors, or worked anywhere in between, this country offered you a basic bargain — a sense that your hard work would be rewarded with fair wages and decent benefits, the chance to buy a home, to save for retirement, and most of all, a chance to hand down a better life for your kids.
But over time, that engine began to stall — and a lot of folks here saw it — that bargain began to fray. Technology made some jobs obsolete. Global competition sent a lot of jobs overseas. It became harder for unions to fight for the middle class. Washington doled out bigger tax cuts to the very wealthy and smaller minimum wage increases for the working poor.
And so what happened was that the link between higher productivity and people’s wages and salaries was broken. It used to be that, as companies did better, as profits went higher, workers also got a better deal. And that started changing. So the income of the top 1 percent nearly quadrupled from 1979 to 2007, but the typical family’s incomes barely budged.
And towards the end of those three decades, a housing bubble, credit cards, a churning financial sector was keeping the economy artificially juiced up, so sometimes it papered over some of these long-term trends. But by the time I took office in 2009 as your President, we all know the bubble had burst, and it cost millions of Americans their jobs, and their homes, and their savings. And I know a lot of folks in this area were hurt pretty bad. And the decades-long erosion that had been taking place — the erosion of middle-class security — was suddenly laid bare for everybody to see.
Now, today, five years after the start of that Great Recession, America has fought its way back. (Applause.) We fought our way back. Together, we saved the auto industry; took on a broken health care system. (Applause.) We invested in new American technologies to reverse our addiction to foreign oil. We doubled wind and solar power. (Applause.) Together, we put in place tough new rules on the big banks, and protections to crack down on the worst practices of mortgage lenders and credit card companies. (Applause.) We changed a tax code too skewed in favor of the wealthiest at the expense of working families — so we changed that, and we locked in tax cuts for 98 percent of Americans, and we asked those at the top to pay a little bit more. (Applause.)
So you add it all up, and over the past 40 months, our businesses have created 7.2 million new jobs. This year, we’re off to our strongest private sector job growth since 1999.
And because we bet on this country, suddenly foreign companies are, too. Right now, more of Honda’s cars are made in America than anyplace else on Earth. (Applause.) Airbus, the European aircraft company, they’re building new planes in Alabama. (Applause.) And American companies like Ford are replacing outsourcing with insourcing — they’re bringing jobs back home. (Applause.)
We sell more products made in America to the rest of the world than ever before. We produce more natural gas than any country on Earth. We’re about to produce more of our own oil than we buy from abroad for the first time in nearly 20 years. (Applause.) The cost of health care is growing at its slowest rate in 50 years. (Applause.) And our deficits are falling at the fastest rate in 60 years. (Applause.)
So thanks to the grit and resilience and determination of the American people — of folks like you — we’ve been able to clear away the rubble from the financial crisis. We started to lay a new foundation for stronger, more durable economic growth. And it’s happening in our own personal lives as well, right? A lot of us tightened our belts, shed debt, maybe cut up a couple of credit cards, refocused on those things that really matter.
As a country, we’ve recovered faster and gone further than most other advanced nations in the world. With new American revolutions in energy and technology and manufacturing and health care, we’re actually poised to reverse the forces that battered the middle class for so long, and start building an economy where everyone who works hard can get ahead.
But — and here’s the big “but” — I’m here to tell you today that we’re not there yet. We all know that. We’re not there yet. We’ve got more work to do. Even though our businesses are creating new jobs and have broken record profits, nearly all the income gains of the past 10 years have continued to flow to the top 1 percent. The average CEO has gotten a raise of nearly 40 percent since 2009. The average American earns less than he or she did in 1999. And companies continue to hold back on hiring those who’ve been out of work for some time.
Today, more students are earning their degree, but soaring costs saddle them with unsustainable debt. Health care costs are slowing down, but a lot of working families haven’t seen any of those savings yet. The stock market rebound helped a lot of families get back much of what they had lost in their 401(k)s, but millions of Americans still have no idea how they’re going to be able to retire.
So in many ways, the trends that I spoke about here in 2005 — eight years ago — the trend of a winner-take-all economy where a few are doing better and better and better, while everybody else just treads water — those trends have been made worse by the recession. And that’s a problem.
This growing inequality not just of result, inequality of opportunity — this growing inequality is not just morally wrong, it’s bad economics. Because when middle-class families have less to spend, guess what, businesses have fewer consumers. When wealth concentrates at the very top, it can inflate unstable bubbles that threaten the economy. When the rungs on the ladder of opportunity grow farther and farther apart, it undermines the very essence of America — that idea that if you work hard you can make it here.
And that’s why reversing these trends has to be Washington’s highest priority. (Applause.) It has to be Washington’s highest priority. (Applause.) It’s certainly my highest priority. (Applause.)
Unfortunately, over the past couple of years, in particular, Washington hasn’t just ignored this problem; too often, Washington has made things worse. (Applause.)
And I have to say that