01.28.14

Rep. Schiff Floor Speech Previewing the State of the Union: President and Congress Must Address Inequality Gap

Washington, DC –Today, Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Burbank) previewed the President’s State of the Union address on the House Floor, urging his colleagues and the President to take up the challenge of the growing inequality gap, first by extending emergency unemployment insurance for those still looking for work, and raising the minimum wage:

“We should never seek to punish success or, as some describe it, ‘soak the rich,’ but we must take steps to address the problem of growing inequality, both in the short-term and over the longer-term as well. I believe that there are two things that Congress and the President can do to give Americans in the middle and those who aspire to join it the chance to move up.

“First, we need to extend emergency unemployment assistance for those who are still looking for work and cannot find a job on their own.  The weekly litany of those who are losing benefits is disheartening – we must not turn our back on our fellow Americans. Second, we need to raise the minimum wage nationwide and it is shameful that it has been five years since the last increase.  In fact, according to one study, the minimum wage today is actually worth $2 less than in 1968.  Raising the minimum to just over $10 as I support, would push millions of hard-working Americans out of poverty and stimulate economic activity throughout the country…

“Tonight the President will challenge us to join him in an effort to reinvigorate the American Dream for another generation. Let us join him in that sacred task.”

Watch the speech below, or click here:

 Full text of his speech is below:

This evening, from the dais behind me, President Obama will deliver his State of the Union message.  And while there are hopeful signs and a brightening of the economic outlook for the country as a whole, the President will almost certainly concentrate on the battles ahead.

Even as America struggles to shake off the effects of the worst downturn since the Great Depression, our economy and our society are being challenged by a yawning inequality gap that affects tens of millions of American families and threatens to erode the underpinnings of our social contract.

Last fall, economists Emmanuel Saez and Thomas Piketty released an analysis of 2012 tax returns and found that the top ten percent of American earners took more than half of the country’s total income in 2012, the highest level ever recorded.  The top one percent received more than 20% of all the income earned by Americans, a level not seen since 1928, the year before the stock market crash and the beginning of the depression.

Top earners have also recovered more quickly over the last three years as their wages and investments have recouped value at a much brisker clip than those of the rest of Americans. 

Inequality has also been a persistent political theme in the last few years, here and around the world and helped to launch the Occupy Wall Street movement.  Last year, Pope Francis spoke out against what he termed “an economy of exclusion,” while New York City’s new mayor, Bill deBlasio, won election by highlighting inequality there.  President Obama, himself, made expanding opportunity a major theme in a speech in December and he has discussed the issue at length in his past two State of the Union addresses.  I expect him to return to the theme tonight and in the coming months as the 113th Congress as we prepare to go to the polls in November.

But if there is consensus that an overly-high concentration of wealth spawns a host of economic, social and political ills, but that agreement has not fostered a concerted strategy on expanding opportunity and closing the wealth gap.

America has always rewarded hard work and the possibility for a better life has been part of the attraction for generations of immigrants and others struggling to climb the economic ladder.  But economic mobility, as a recent study from Harvard and Cal demonstrates, varies greatly within the United States. And while economic mobility has not changed significantly over time, it is consistently lower in the U.S. than in most developed countries

We should never seek to punish success or, as some describe it, “soak the rich,” but we must take steps to address the problem of growing inequality, both in the short-term and over the longer-term as well. I believe that there are two things that Congress and the President can do to give Americans in the middle and those who aspire to join it the chance to move up.

First, we need to extend emergency unemployment assistance for those who are still looking for work and cannot find a job on their own.  The weekly litany of those who are losing benefits is disheartening – we must not turn our back on our fellow Americans.

Second, we need to raise the minimum wage nationwide and it is shameful that it has been five years since the last increase.  In fact, according to one study, the minimum wage today is actually worth $2 less than in 1968.  Raising the minimum to just over $10 as I support, would push millions of hard-working Americans out of poverty and stimulate economic activity throughout the country.

These two steps could be part of a short-term solution that stops the bleeding, but real change requires giving American workers the education and training to compete domestically and internationally for the high-skill, high-wage jobs that are the ticket to the middle class.  Investing in education and building schools and curricula for the 21st  Century is a long-term project, but it is the one that has the greatest potential in terms of economic growth and increased opportunity, while preserving the spirit of free enterprise and entrepreneurship that built this country.

Mr. Speaker, tonight the President will challenge us to join him in an effort to reinvigorate the American Dream for another generation. Let us join him in that sacred task.