Obama's soft sell on income inequality

January 28, 2014: 11:20 PM ET
State of the Union in 90 seconds
NEW YORK (CNNMoney)

President Obama's State of the Union speech was billed as focusing on income inequality, an issue he's promised to devote himself to addressing in 2014.

And, true, he topped it with some emphatic observations about the widening income and opportunity gap in America.

But it was short on rhetoric and heavy on wonk. He used the bulk of his speech to list a bevy of policies, many of which he has already started or proposed before.

We've gleaned a few choice comments about income inequality -- a phrase he never actually uttered in the address, which was titled "Opportunity for All."

On opportunity:

-- What I believe unites the people of this nation, regardless of race or region or party, young or old, rich or poor, is the simple, profound belief in opportunity for all -- the notion that if you work hard and take responsibility, you can get ahead.

-- Opportunity is who we are. And the defining project of our generation is to restore that promise.

-- [T]he best measure of opportunity is access to a good job.

-- [O]ur opportunity agenda won't be complete -- and too many young people entering the workforce today will see the American Dream as an empty promise -- unless we do more to make sure our economy honors the dignity of work, and hard work pays off for every single American.

On the divide between rich and poor:

-- Today, after four years of economic growth, corporate profits and stock prices have rarely been higher, and those at the top have never done better. But average wages have barely budged. Inequality has deepened. Upward mobility has stalled. The cold, hard fact is that even in the midst of recovery, too many Americans are working more than ever just to get by -- let alone get ahead. And too many still aren't working at all.

-- [H]ere in America, our success should depend not on accident of birth, but the strength of our work ethic and the scope of our dreams.

-- Americans understand that some people will earn more than others, and we don't resent those who, by virtue of their efforts, achieve incredible success. But Americans overwhelmingly agree that no one who works full time should ever have to raise a family in poverty.

On workplace fairness:

-- A woman deserves equal pay for equal work. She deserves to have a baby without sacrificing her job. A mother deserves a day off to care for a sick child or sick parent without running into hardship -- and you know what, a father does, too. It's time to do away with workplace policies that belong in a "Mad Men" episode.

On closing the gap for the next generation:

-- It's the spirit of citizenship -- the recognition that through hard work and responsibility, we can pursue our individual dreams, but still come together as one American family to make sure the next generation can pursue its dreams as well.

-- 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.

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