WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama prodded Congress to raise wages and secure the social safety net as he issued an overarching appeal Wednesday to correct economic inequalities that he said make it harder for a child to escape poverty. "That should offend all of us," he declared. "We are a better country than this."
Obama argued that the dream of upward economic mobility is breaking down and that the growing income gap is a "defining challenge of our time."
"The basic bargain at the heart of our economy has frayed," the president said in remarks at a community center a short drive from the White House.
The speech coincided with growing national and international attention to economic disparities — from the writings of Pope Francis to the protests of fast-food workers in the United States.
And he noted that in the United States, a child born into the bottom 20 percent of income levels has less than a 5 percent chance of making it to the top income levels and is 10 times likelier to stay where he is — worse than other industrial countries such as Canada, Germany and France.
Obama specifically called on Congress to increase the federal minimum wage from the current $7.25 an hour. A Democratic bill by Sen. Tom Harkin of Iowa would raise the threshold to $10.10 an hour in three steps and tie automatic annual increases to changes in the cost of living.
A vote in the Senate is not expected in December. Whenever it is debated, the measure seems unlikely to win the 60 votes it would need to clear the Senate due to GOP opposition.