we know it's harder to find a job today without some higher education, so we have helped more students go to college with grants and loans that go father than before. we have made it more practical to repay those loans. we're also pursuing an aggressive strategy to promote innovation that reigns in tuition costs. we have got to lower costs so that young people are not burdened by enormous debt when they make the right decision to get higher education. and next week michelle and i will bring together college presidents and nonprofits to help more low-incoming students attend and succeed in college. [ applause ] >> but while -- while higher education may be the surest path to the middle class, it's not the only one. we should offer our people the best technical education in the
word. that's why we have connected local businesses with community colleges so workers can learn the skills that earn them more money. and i know all of you have champi championed making high quality preschool available to ever child in america. [ applause ] >> we know that kids in in these programs grow up likely to get more education, earn higher wages, form more stable families of their own. it starts a virtuous cycle not a vicious one, and we should invest in that. we should give all of our children that chance. and as we empower our young
people for future success, the third part of this middle class economics is empowering our workers. it's time to ensure our collective bargaining laws function as they are supposed to so unions have a level playing field to organize -- to organize for a better deal for workers, and better wages for the middle class. it's time to pass the paycheck fairness act so women will have better tools to fight pay discrimination. it's time to pass the employment non-discrimination act to worker can't be fired for who they are or who they love. [ applause ] >> and even though we're bringing manufacturing jobs back to america, we're creating more good-paying jobs in education and health care services, we know we're going to have a greater and greater portion of
our people in the service sector, and we know that there are airport workers, and fast-food workers and nurse assistants, and retail salespeople who work their tails off. [ applause ] >> and are still living at or barely above poverty. and that's why it is well past the time to raise a minimum wage that is below where it was when harry truman was in office. [ applause ] >> this shouldn't be an idealogical question. it was adam smith, the father of free market economics, who once said they who feed, clothe, and lodge the whole body of the people should have such a share of the produce of their own labor as to be themselves
tollerably well-fed, clothed and washed. let me translate. that means if you work hard, you should make a desent living. [ applause ] >> if you work hard you should be able to support a family. now we all know the arguments that have been used against the higher minimum wage. some say it actually hurts low-wage workers. there's no solid evidence that a higher minimum wage costs jobs, and research shows it raises incomes for low-wage workers and boosts short-term economic growth. [ applause ] >> others argue if we raise minimum wage companies will pass that cost on to consumers.
but a growing core us of businesses small and large argue differently. there are companies that provide decent wages, training for their workers, benefits, and deliver a great product to consumers. rei a company my secretary of interior used to run. there are companies out there that do right by their workers. they recognize paying a decent wage helps their bottom line. it means workers have more money to spend, to save, maybe eventually start a business of their own. a brood majority of americans agree we should raise the minimum wage. that's why last month, voters in this new jersey decides to become the 20th state to rise their's even higher. and the d.c. council voted to do
it too. i agree with those voters. [ applause ] >> i agree with those voters and i'm going to keep pushing until we get a higher minimum wage across the entire country. it will be good for our economy and our families. [ applause ] >> number four, as i alluded to earlier, we still need targeted programs for the communities and workers that have been hit hardest by economic change in the great recession. these communities are no longer limited to the inner city. they are found in neighborhoods hammered by the housing crisis, manufacturing towns hit hard by years of pant plant -- plants packing up. land locked rural areas where young folks feel like they need to leave just to find a job.
so we have put forward new plans to help these communities and their residents because we watched cities like pittsburgh or my hometown of chicago revamp themselves, and if we give more cities the tools to do it, not hands out, but a hand up, industries like detroit can do it too. so in a few weeks we'll announce the first of these promise zone where we're support local efforts, focused on national goals. ♪ [ applause ] >> and we're also going to do more for the long-term unemployed. for people who have been out of work for more than six months often through no fault of their own. life is a catch-22. companies won't give their resume an honest look, because they have been laid off so long,
but they have been laid off so long, because companies won't give their resume an honest look. and i challenged ceos to give these americans a fair shot. and next month many of them will join us at the white house for an announcement about this. fifth, we have got to revamp retirement to protect americans in their golden years, to make sure another housing collapse doesn't steal their savings and their homes and strengthen the safety net for a new age. today nearly half of full-time workers and 80% of part-time workers don't have a pension or retirement account at their job. about half of all households don't have any requirement savings, so we're going to have to do more to encourage private
savings, and shore up social security. we do it to reduce risk in our society, by giving people the ability to take a chance and catch them if they fall. one study shows that more than half of americans will experience poverty at some point during their adult lives. think about that. this is not an isolated situation. more than half of americans at some point in their lives will experience poverty. that's why where we have nutrition assistance or the program known as snap because it makes a difference for a mother who is working, but is just having a hard time putting food on the table for her kids. that's why we have unemployment insurance because it makes a difference for a father who lost his job, and is out there looking for a few one, that he
can keep a roof or -- over his kids heads. by the way christmas is not the time to tell these people they have lost their unemployment insurance. [ applause ] >> the point is these programs are not typically hammocks. they are almost always temporary means for hard-working people to stay afloat while they try to find a new job, or are going to school to retain themselves for the jobs that are out there. or sometimes just to cope with a bout of bad luck. progressives should be open to reforms that strengthen these programs, for example, we should be willing to look at fresh ideas to revamp unemployment disability programs, to
encourage faster and higher rates of reemployment without cutting benefits. we shouldn't weaken protections built over generations, because given the constant churn in today's economy, and the disabilities that many of our friends and neighbors live with, they are needed more than ever. we should strengthen them and adapt them to new circumstances so they work even better. but understand that these programs of social insurance benefit all of us, because we don't know when we might have a run of bad luck. [ applause ] >> we don't know when we might lose a job. of course for decades there was one younging gap in the safety net that did more than anything else to expose working families to insecurities of today's economy. namely our broken health care system. and that's why we fought for the
affordable care act -- [ applause ] >> -- because 14,000 americans -- [ laughter ] [ applause ] >> because 14,000 americans lost their health insurance every single day, and even more died each year because they didn't have health insurance at all. we did it because millions of families who thought they had coverage were driven into bankruptcy by out of pocket costs that they didn't realize would be there. 10s of millions of our fellow citizens couldn't get any coverage at all. dr. king said injustice in health care is the most shocking and inhumane. well not anymore. [ applause ] >> because in the -- [ applause ] >> -- in the three years since we passed this law the share of americans with insurance are up,
the growth of health care costs are down to the slowest rate in 50 years, more people have insurance, and more have new benefits and protections, a hundred million americans who have gained the right for free preventive care, the more than 7 million americans who saved an average of $1,200 on their annual prescription, more people without insurance have gained insurance. more than 3 million young americans have been able to stay on their parent's plan. the more than half a million americans and counting who are poised to get coverage on january 1st, some for the first time, and it is these americans that will ultimately determine the fate of this law, not any poll. [ applause ] >> it's the measurable outcomes
and reduced bankruptcies and reduced hours that have been lost because somebody couldn't make it to work, and healthier kids with better performance in schools, and young entrepreneurs who have the freedom to try a knew idea. those are the things that will reduce the major source of inequality and help ensure more americans get the start that they need to success in the future. the law is already working in major ways that benefit millions of americans right now, even as we have begun to slow the rise in health care costs, which is good for family budgets, state budgets, and budgets for businesses small and large. this law is going to work, and for the sake of our economic security, it needs to work. [ applause ] >> and as people in states as
different as california and kentucky sign up, they are proving they want that economic security. if the senate republican leader still thinks he is going to be able to repeal this some day, he might want to check with the more than 60,000 in his home state who are already set to finally coverage that frees them from the fear of financial ruin and lets them afford to take their kids to see a doctor. [ applause ] >> so let me end by addressing the elephant in the room here, which is the seeming inability to get anything done in washington these days. i realize we are not going to resolve all of our political debates over the best ways to reduce inequality and increase upward mobile this year or next year or in the next five years.
but it is important that we have a serious debate about these issues. for the longer that current trends are allowed to continue, the more it will feed the cynicism and fear that many americans feel right now. they will never see their own children land a good job that supports a family. and that's why even as i will keep on offering my own ideas for expanding opportunity, i'll also keep challenging and welcoming those who oppose my ideas to offer their own. if republicans have concrete plans that will reduce inequality, build the middle class, provide more ladders of opportunity to the pour, let's hear them. i want to know what they are. if you don't any we should raise
minimum wage, let's here your ideas. if you don't think every child should have access to preschool tell me what you would do differently to give them a better shot. if you still don't like obamacare, and i know you don't, then you should explain how exactly you would cut costs and cover more people and make insurance more secure. you owe it to the american people to tell us what you are for. not just what you are against. [ applause ] >> that way we can have a vigorous and meaningful debate. that's what the american people deserve. that's what the times demand. it's not enough anymore to just
say we should get our government out of the way and let the unfettered market take care of it. [ applause ] >> for our experience tells us that is just not true. i have never believed that government can solve every problem or should, and neither do you. we know that ultimately our strength is grounded in our people, individuals out there striving, working, making things happen. it depends on community, a rich and generous sense of community. that's at the core of what happens at the ark here every day. you understand that turning back rising inequality and expanding opportunity requires parents taking responsibility for their kids, kids taking responsibility to work hard. it requires religious leaders to
rebuild neighborhoods block by block, civic organizations that can help train the unemployed. it requires companies and ceo's to set an example by providing decent wages and salaries and benefits for their workers, and a shot for somebody who is down on his or her luck. we know that's our strength, our people, our communities, our businesses. but government stand on the sidelines in our efforts, because government is us. it can and should reflect our deepest values and commitments. and if we refocus our energies on building an economy that grows for everybody, and gives every child in this country a fair chance of success, then i remain confident that the future still looks brighter than the past, and that the best days for
this country we love are still ahead. thank you everybody. god bless you. president obama wrapping up a major speech. he started out by painting a bleak picture of america's social and economic landscape, calling the growing income gap the defining challenge of our time. he then went into his solutions familiar democratic talking points including what he calls the benefits of his signature health care law. let's bring in mike viqueira in washington. mike this seemed like a speech to the democratic base. >> i think you are absolutely right. in a way he talked about all of those issues that are near and dear to the left and the timing perhaps not accidental is due to the fact the left is feeling
very discouraged right now. and the president has been moving to shore up his support as he heads into the last three years of his presidency and really tries to get things done. music to the ears of the left, talking about strengthening unions, gay rights legislation, in the workplace, raising the minimum wage, and the affordable care act an empowering tool, all under that overarching theme, stephanie of economic disparity and it's no secret, and the president obviously has the statistics to back it up that there is a growing gap in this country. the top 1% seeing their incomes tripled since 1979 while the middle class struggles along at 1% annually. so the president giving his
speak there, not breaking any new ground any policy proposals we have heard before, but certainly a populous theme struck by the president today. >> stephanie: all right. mike, thank you. let's bring in a senior reporter at the center for public integrity. dave these were the bread and butter issues for democrats. what kind of headwinds does the president face on passing universal preschool and more investment? higher education? >> he has incredibly headwinds plastering him in the face right now, which is why you can consider this speech drawing a big bullseye on the elections in 2014. if asked what the president has done in the last couple of months they would probably say,
well, he got pummelled on health care and he pardoned a couple of turkeys. so this play well with the base when it comes to midterm elections. >> the solutions on how to tackle the income gap, dave thank you. coming up next, a major u.s. employer has a strong message for perspective employees, smokers are not welcome. new details on what lead to that deadly plane crash in new york.
smokers at work. the insurance company, significant ga now says it won't higher people who test positive for tobacco use. cigna is one of the leading insurance companies on the planet. and today the company announced it is changing its hiring policy. telling future employees you cannot work for us if you smoke, chew tobacco or use e-cigarettes. on tuesday the company announced starting january 1st, 2014, all perspective employees will not only be tested for drug use, but also nicotine use. >> a nationwide company is going to have to taylor their policies to the particular state it is. >> it plans to roll out its policies in select states where is it legal to do so, currently
21 states allow companies to test for nicotine in a statement cigna tells al jazeera . . . cigna believes the company has a responsibility to encourage its employees to be healthy and lead by example. the move is also designed to reduce long-term healthcare costs. smoking is estimated to be responsible for almost $200 million in economic losses. so who else is testing for smokers? industry experts say mostly healthcare related businesses. cigna is joining a long list of companies that include . . .
snow? minnesota. and an additional three to six inches is possible. what it feels like on your skin 30 to 40 below zero. so very some cold air there. then the cold air moves south and we see warm air developing as the storm develops in the panhand panhandle of texas. then you will get sleet or freezing rain, and the amounts could be a quarter to a half inch of ice accumulation here in texas and oklahoma you will be waking up to that friday morning. so power outages and slippery roads are possible. stephanie? >> thank you, dave. and thank you for watching al jazeera america. "the stream" is next, and for news updates throughout the day,
you can head to our website, any time, aljazeera.com. thanks for watching. >> hi, i'm lisa fletcher, and you're in "the stream." it's a major buzz kill that impacts us all. why are so many bees dying, and what's being done to help the hives survive. so the next time you're eating, think about this. every third bite of food can be traced back to bees. the typy insects produce more than just honey. bees help to pollinate 98% of flowers and crops. they're an integral part of the ecosystem th