While several Ohio State student leaders said they thought raising the federal minimum wage was a key point for students in the State of the Union address, their opinions conflicted over how realistic the proposal was.
Opportunity was the overall theme of President Barack Obama’s State of the Union address Tuesday night.
The president focused on some positives that have come from the last few years – the lowest unemployment in five years, the manufacturing sector adding jobs for the first time since the 1990s, producing more oil in America than the amount being bought from foreign countries – and said because those things have come from “grit and determined effort,” hard work is essential for more improvement in the country.
The president mentioned goals including creating opportunity for middle class security, for the economy and for education.
OSU Undergraduate Student Government Vice President Josh Ahart said of all of the things Obama spoke about, education was the most important.
“The president called for a lot of things, and as far as OSU goes, affordable education and student loan reform are the most important things he called for,” said Ahart, a fourth-year in public affairs.
Citing the economic impact it would have on families, the president urged Congress to raise the federal minimum wage to $10.10 per hour from $7.25, and promised to issue an executive order for federally funded wages to be set at that minimum.
“This will help families. It will give businesses customers with more money to spend. It doesn’t involve any new bureaucratic program,” Obama said. “Give America a raise.”
Obama could raise the federally funded minimum wage with an executive order, but would need Congressional action for the non-federally funded minimum wage to be raised.
Ahart said, though, he doesn’t think that raise will happen.
“Minimum wage reform was probably the most unrealistic goal to come out of the State of the Union. Minimum wage affects people across the country, and students especially. I think we need to pass reform, but I don’t think it will happen,” Ahart said.
College Democrats President Vince Hayden, a third-year in political science, disagreed with Ahart.
“The executive orders, such as the one on raising the federal minimum wage, are the most realistic things to come into effect,” Hayden said.
Hayden added, though, he doesn’t think much will come out of the speech as a whole.
“I don’t think the State of the Union will ultimately have a lot of impact, despite our hopes. It was a partisan speech, and I think there are too many hardline Republicans for Congress to work together,” he said.
College Republicans President Samuel Zuidema, a third-year in American history and American politics, said he, like Hayden, thinks minimum wage was the most realistic goal Obama mentioned.
“The executive order regarding minimum wage is the most likely thing to come from the State of the Union,” Zuidema said.
But even then, he added, it probably won’t happen.
“Minimum wage doesn’t have a chance going through Congress,” Zuidema said. “Businesses just won’t be able to afford it, and aren’t in that position in the current economy. It seems by saying that, the president is disconnected.”
The president also called for efforts to promote workplace equality for women, who make, on average, 77 cents to every dollar men earn.
“This year, let’s all come together – Congress, the White House and businesses from Wall Street to Main Street – to give every woman the opportunity she deserves. Because I firmly believe when women succeed, America succeeds,” Obama said.
Ahart agreed with what Obama said regarding equal pay for women.
“It was awesome that he talked about women deserving equal pay, that’s a no brainer,” Ahart said.
Educational opportunity was another topic Obama emphasized as needing more attention.
“It’s not enough to train today’s workforce. We also have to prepare tomorrow’s workforce, by guaranteeing every child access to a world-class education,” he said.
Obama’s educational opportunity ideas include providing pre-K programs to all 4 year olds, increasing connections between high schools and colleges, as well as employers, and offering students financial incentives to keep costs down.
Ahart said with USG working on lowering costs for students through its affordability initiative, some of what Obama was especially timely.
“More access to college and keeping costs low are priorities for USG which was good to hear,” Ahart said.
Hayden said Obama’s message about education was universal.
“I think whether you’re a Democrat or a Republican, you can appreciate what the president said about education,” Hayden said.
Obama urged for a reform of the tax code, which he said would provide more incentives for companies to insource jobs and would save money that could then be used to create jobs improving American infrastructure.
He also called for fixing the “broken immigration system” through bipartisan efforts as a way to help the economy.
“Independent economists say immigration reform will grow our economy and shrink our deficits by almost $1 trillion in the next two decades,” Obama said.
Zuidema said he thinks “immigration (reform) will be up in the air.”
Obama called for Vice President Joe Biden to lead a revamp of the federal job training programs, and promised to connect more business to community colleges and long-term unemployed workers, in an effort to stimulate the economy.
On the topic of health care, Obama focused on getting Americans to enroll in the new Affordable Care Act system.
“I ask every American who knows someone without health insurance to help them get covered by March 31. Moms, get on your kids to sign up. Kids, call your mom and walk her through the application,” Obama said.
Obama wrapped up his State of the Union address by noting that more progress is possible.
“The America we want for our kids – a rising America where honest work is plentiful and communities are strong; where prosperity is widely shared and opportunity for all lets us go as far as our dreams and toil will take us – none of it is easy,” Obama said. “But if we work together; if we summon what is best in us, with our feet planted firmly in today but our eyes cast toward tomorrow – I know it’s within our reach.”
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