Every day, the White House gets thousands of letters from folks across the country. And every night, I read 10 of them. Earlier this year, I got a letter from a woman named Rebekah, from the Twin Cities. And this past week, I went to Minneapolis to answer Rebekah’s letter in person — because in many ways, Rebekah’s story over the past five years is the story of America the past five years.
Rebekah and her husband, Ben, were newly married when the recession pulled the rug out from under them. Ben’s business dried up, and Rebekah — who had been waiting tables — took out student loans to retrain for a new career
It’s been a long, hard road, but today Rebekah and Ben have bounced back. They’ve paid off debt. Last year, they bought their first home. And yet, life still isn’t easy. “We did everything right,” Rebekah wrote. “The truth is, in America, where two people have done everything they can to succeed and fight back from the brink of financial ruin … it’s virtually impossible to live a simple middle-class life.”
As a country, we have made it through some very tough times. Today, over the past 51 months, our businesses have created 9.4 million new jobs. Our housing market is rebounding. Our auto industry is booming. Our manufacturing sector is adding jobs for the first time since the 1990s. And more than 8 million Americans have signed up for private insurance plans through the Affordable Care Act
And yet, all across this country, there are people like Rebekah who work hard, do everything right and still feel like the odds are stacked against them.
I ran for president because of people like Rebekah. I ran because I believe this country is at its best when we’re all in it together — when everyone has a voice, when everyone has a fair shot and when everyone does their fair share.
That’s why I’ve put forward an opportunity agenda to create more good jobs, help more Americans earn the skills and education to do those jobs, and make sure hard work pays off — with wages you can live on, savings you can retire on and health care that’s there for you when you need it. Because I believe our economy grows best when it grows not from the top down, but from the middle out — when the middle class is rising and thriving.
But so far this year, Republicans in Congress have blocked or voted down every serious idea to strengthen the middle class. They’ve said “no” to raising the minimum wage, “no” to fair pay, “no” to extending unemployment insurance for more than 3 million Americans looking for a new job.
As president, I will always look to work with Republicans and Democrats wherever I can. But I will not allow gridlock, inaction or willful indifference to threaten hardworking families. That’s why my administration acted without Congress to raise more workers’ wages by requiring federal contractors to pay their employees a fair wage of at least $10.10 an hour. That’s why we’ve helped nearly 5 million Americans making student loan payments cap those payments at 10 percent of their income. And that’s why we’ve made sure that more women have the protections they need to fight for fair pay in the workplace and launched new hubs to attract more high-tech manufacturing jobs to America.
We’ve also rallied others to the cause. Since I first asked Congress to raise the minimum wage, 13 states and D.C. have raised theirs — including Minnesota, where more than 450,000 people are poised to get a raise. And companies like the Gap have followed suit — not just because it’s the right thing to do, but because it’s good for business.
Still, we could be doing so much more if Republicans in Congress were less interested in stacking the deck for those at the top and more interested in growing the economy for everybody.
That’s why, as we look forward to the Fourth of July, I’ll be calling on Congress to adopt a kind of economic patriotism — one that says that, here in America, we rise and fall together. Because we have a lot of work to do — from putting more people to work rebuilding our roads, bridges and airports to guaranteeing every child access to a quality education. That’s what Republicans in Congress should be focused on.
For my part, I’ll keep standing up for people like Rebekah. And I’ll keep fighting to put opportunity within reach for everyone who’s willing to work for it.
Barack Obama is president of the United States.