EvanstonNorthwestern University

Obama Touts Economic Gains, Brings Fundraising Trip to Close

By Scott Sutton

Posted: Thursday, Oct. 2, 2014

EVANSTON –  President Barack Obama may not be on the ballot for the midterms in November, but many of his policies certainly are.

That was the message the president tried to convey during his 54-minute speech at Northwestern University's Kellogg School of Management on Thursday, during which he touched on a broad range of subjects under the umbrella of American economic recovery and touted many of his economic successes.

“Today, our businesses are hiring 200,000 Americans a month,” said Obama, who completed a two-day Democratic fundraising campaign in Chicago with the speech. “The unemployment rate has come down from a high of 10 percent in 2009, to 6.1 percent today.

"Over the past 4 1/2 years, our businesses have created 10 million new jobs – the longest uninterrupted stretch of private sector job creation in our history. Right now, there are more job openings than at any time since 2001. All told, the United States has put more people back to work than Europe, Japan, and every other advanced economy combined.”

But, Obama said, much of that recovery isn’t being felt by the middle class because of stagnant wages there and huge increases in pay for the highest earners. For instance, he cited that the average American household is only taking home the same pay they were in 1997.

“America's economic greatness has never trickled from the top down – it grows from a rising, thriving middle class,” he said.

The president went on to tout successful policy initiatives his administration had implemented in order remedy the shrinking pocket books of the middle class. He noted that America is now the No. 1 oil and gas producer in the world because of his office’s investments and that he Affordable Healthcare Act has decreased insurance costs by about $1,800 for the average American household.

Obama also mentioned that he is trying to make it easier to pay for college, a remark that drew a loud cheer from the student-filled auditorium.

“There's a reason fewer Republicans are preaching doom on deficits – because they're now manageable,” he said. “There's a reason fewer are running against Obamacare – because while good, affordable health care might still be a fanged threat to freedom on Fox News, it's working pretty well in the real world.”

On issues where little tangible progress has been made, such as immigration and education reform, the president again put blame on the Republicans for their inaction in Congress and piecemeal approach to reform. He called for the entrepreneurship of young people like those in the audience help make the change. 

“Now, none of these policies on their own will get us where we need to be,” he said. “But if we do these things systematically, the cumulative impact will be huge.”

The speech came amid turmoil in Washington for Obama. Secret Service Director Julia Pierce resigned on Wednesday after multiple security breaches at the White House, following the large-looming foreign issues of ISIS and the military action in Syria. Having the speech at Northwestern allowed the president a reprieve from issues in Washington and to utilize his stronghold and home base of Chicago.

But, perhaps more importantly, the message came during the middle of an election season in which Democrats stand to lose control of the Senate and initiatives like raising the minimum wage will appear on ballots in five states, including Illinois. On Wednesday night, the president attended a $50,000-a-plate fundraiser in the city for Gov. Pat Quinn, who, along with Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) and Mayor Rahm Emanuel, attended the speech.

Obama said that this year’s midterm elections could “set the stage for American greatness.”

The importance of the upcoming elections was not lost on those who attended the speech.

“As far as the message it was a bit more campaign-y than I might have expected,” said business student Sean Elliott, “but there was definitely some good stuff in there about education.”

Elliott’s friend, Dan Sammarco, said: “We are both business students and the whole student loan issue really hits home for us. Especially since we are in business school it is expensive, but it was really interesting that he came here to the source to kind of energize the people who can make a change.”

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