President Obama Speaks on Education and the Economy

The President:
Hello, Warrensburg! (applause) Hello, Mules! (applause) Hello, Jennies! (applause) Well, I know it’s hot. (laughter) That’s why I took off my jacket. If you’ve still got yours
on feel free to take it off. It is great to be
back in Missouri. It’s great to be
back in the Midwest. It’s great to be here at UCM. (applause) I want to thank your outstanding
president, Dr. Chuck Ambrose, for having me here today. (applause) Give Brian a big round of
applause for the introduction. (applause) You’ve got your
outstanding governor, Jay Nixon, in the house. (applause) Your mayor, Charlie Rutt,
is here. (applause) And I brought a special guest
with me who is celebrating her birthday today — your
senator, Claire McCaskill. (applause) I figured the least I could
do is give her a ride on Air Force One
for her birthday. (laughter) So we’ve got Mules in the house. We’ve got Jennies in the house. We’ve got governors,
we’ve got senators, and now we’ve probably got
some very confused people watching at home,
because who is Jennie? (laughter) I want to thank all the
students who came out on a summer afternoon. I know that summer is — especially a day as
pretty as today, it’s tempting
to be outside. I know classes don’t start
for a few more weeks. You could be over on Pine
Street beating the heat. (applause) Now that I think about it, it may be good that you’re here
instead of getting into trouble. (laughter) I’ve just come from Knox
College in Galesburg, Illinois, where I gave a pretty long
speech on the economy. I will not repeat
the whole thing here. (applause) But what I did want
to talk about today is what I’ve talked about when
I gave my first big speech as a senator eight years ago, and that’s where we as a
country need to go to give every American a chance to get
ahead in the 21st century. And UCM understands
how important that is. (applause) Just a little context here — in the period after
World War II, you had a growing middle
class that was the engine of our prosperity. The economy did well
in part because everybody was participating. And whether you owned a company,
or you swept the floors of that company, or you
worked anywhere in between, America offered a basic
bargain: If you work hard, then you will be rewarded
with fair wages and benefits. You’ll have the chance
to buy your own home. You’ll have the chance
to save for retirement. You’ll have the protection
of decent health insurance. But most of all, you’ll have the
chance to pass on a better life to your kids. And then what happened was
that engine began to stall. The bargain began to fray. So technology made
some jobs obsolete — nobody goes to a
bank teller anymore. You want to schedule a trip
somewhere, you get online. Global competition sent
some jobs overseas. When I was in Galesburg, we
talked about the Maytag plant that used to make household
brands there and people — thousands of people used
to work in the plant and it went down to Mexico. Then Washington doled
out bigger tax cuts to folks at the top
income brackets, smaller minimum wage increases
for people who were struggling. You combine all this and the
income of the top 1 percent quadrupled from 1979 to 2007, but the typical family’s
incomes barely budged. So a lot of middle-class
families began to feel that the odds were stacked against
them — and they were right. And then for a while, this was
kind of papered over because we had a housing bubble going on,
and everybody was maxing out on their credit cards,
everybody was highly leveraged, there were a lot of
financial deals going around. And so it looked
like the economy was going to be doing okay, but then by the
time I took office, the bottom had fallen out. And it cost, as we know,
millions of Americans their jobs or their homes or their savings. And that long-term erosion
of middle-class security was evident for
everybody to see. Now, the good news is,
five years later, five years after the
crisis first hit, America has fought its way back. So together, we saved
an auto industry. We took on a broken
health care system. We invested in new American
technologies to reverse our addiction to foreign oil. We doubled the production
of clean energy. Natural gas took off. We put in place tough
new rules on big banks and mortgage lenders and
credit card companies. We changed the tax code so it
was fair for middle-class folks and didn’t just benefit folks
at the very top like me. (laughter) No, it’s true, because
things were skewed too much towards folks who were already
blessed, already lucky. And you take all that together
and now you add it all up. What we’ve seen is over
the past 40 months, our businesses have created
more than 7.2 million new jobs. This year, we’re off to our
strongest private sector job growth since 1999. (applause) Our exports have surged,
so we sell more products made in America to the rest of
the world than ever before. (applause) We produce more natural gas
than any country on Earth. We’re about to produce more
of our own oil than we buy from overseas, and that’s the
first time that’s happened in nearly 20 years. (applause) The cost of health care is
growing at its slowest rate in 50 years, so we’re slowing
the growth of health care costs. (applause) And our deficits are falling at
the fastest rate in 60 years. (applause) Deficits have been
cut by almost half from the time I took office. So we did this together, because Americans are gritty
and resilient and work hard. We’ve been able to
clear away the rubble of the financial crisis. We’re starting to lay
a new foundation for more durable
economic growth. And with the new revolutions
in energy and technology and manufacturing and health care,
we’re actually poised — we’re in a position to reverse all those forces that
battered middle-class families for too long. We can start building now
an economy where everybody who works hard can get ahead. That’s all good. That’s the good news. But, Missouri, I’m here to
tell you what you already know, which is we’re not there yet. In some ways, the trends that have been building
for decades — this winner-take-all
economy where a few do better and better, but everybody else
just treads water — all those trends were made
worse by the recession. And reversing these trends
has to be Washington’s number one priority. (applause) It has to be Washington’s
number one priority. (applause) Putting people back to work,
making sure the economy is working for everybody,
building the middle class, making sure they’re secure —
that’s my highest priority. That’s what I’m interested in. (applause) Because when the
economy is working for middle-class families, it solves an awful lot
of other problems. Now the poor start having
ladders of opportunity they can climb into
if they work hard. A lot of the social
tensions are reduced, because everybody is
feeling pretty good. Now, unfortunately, over the past couple of
years in particular, Washington hasn’t just
ignored this problem — they’ve actually made it worse. And I am interested in
working with everybody, and there are a bunch
of not just Democrats, but also Republicans
who recognize that Washington is not working. But we’ve also seen
a group of folks, particularly in the House, a
group of Republicans in Congress that — they suggested they
wouldn’t vote to pay the bills that Congress had
already run up. And that fiasco harmed a
fragile recovery back in 2011. We’ve got a growing number of
Republican senators who are trying to get things done with
their Democratic counterparts — just passed an immigration
bill that economists say is going to boost our economy
by more than a trillion dollars. (applause) But so far, at least, there’s a
faction of House Republicans who won’t let the bill go
to the floor for a vote. And if you ask them, well, okay,
what’s your economic agenda for the middle class, how are
we going to grow our economy so everybody prospers,
they’ll start talking about out-of-control government
spending — although, as I said, government spending has actually
gone down and deficits are going down — or they’ll
talk about Obamacare, the whole idea that somehow
if we don’t provide health insurance
to 50 million Americans that’s going to
improve the economy. Never mind the fact that our
jobs growth is a lot faster now than it was during
the last recovery when Obamacare wasn’t around. So we’ve got some basic
challenges that we’re just going to have to meet. We’ve cut our deficit. We’re creating jobs at
nearly twice the pace. We are providing health care
for Americans that need it. But we now have to get back
and focus on what’s important. An endless parade of
distractions and political posturing and phony scandals
can’t get in the way of what we need to do. (applause) And I’m here to say
it’s got to stop. We’ve got to focus on
jobs and the economy, and helping middle-class
families get ahead. And if we do that, we’re going to solve
a whole lot of problems. (applause) And as we’re thinking
about these issues, we can’t get involved
in short-term thinking. We can’t have all
the same old debates. That’s not what the
moment requires. We’ve got to focus
on the core economic issues that matter to you. And as Washington
is now preparing for another debate
about the budget, the stakes could
not be higher. If we don’t make the investments
America needs to make this country a magnet for good jobs,
if we don’t make investments in education and manufacturing
and science and research and transportation and
information networks, we will be waving the white
flag while other countries forge ahead in a global economy. (applause) If we just stand
by and do nothing, we’re saying it’s okay
for middle-class folks to keep taking it on the chin. And I don’t think it’s okay. And that’s why I came
here to Warrensburg today. I need you involved
in this debate to remind Washington
what’s at stake. And over the next several weeks,
in towns just like this one, I’m going to lay out my
ideas for how we build on the cornerstones of what
it means to be middle class, what it takes to work your way
into the middle class — a good job with good wages
in durable, growing industries; a good education for our
kids and our workers; a home to call your own;
affordable health care that’s there for you when you or your
family members get sick — (applause) — a secure retirement
even if you’re not rich — (applause) — more ladders of
opportunity for people who want to earn their
way into the middle class as long as they’re
willing to work for it. And what we need what we need
is not a three-month plan, or even a three-year plan —
we need a long-term plan based on steady, persistent effort to
reverse the forces that have conspired against middle-class
families for decades. And I am confident —
I know — there are members
of both parties who understand what’s at stake. So I welcome ideas from anybody
across the political spectrum. But I’m not going to allow
gridlock or inaction or willful indifference to
get in this country’s way. We’ve got to get moving. (applause) So where I can act on
my own, I’m going to. I’m not going to
wait for Congress. (applause) Because the choices that we
make now aren’t just going to determine what happens to
the young people here at this school, it’s going to
determine what happens to your kids and your grandkids. So one thing I really
want to focus on here, because UCM is doing some
extraordinary things, I want to focus on just briefly
that second cornerstone — an education that
prepares our kids and our workers for the global
competition that you’ll face. That is why I wanted to
highlight what’s happening here at the University
of Central Missouri, because you guys are
doing some things right. (applause) In an age where business
knows no borders, jobs are going to seek out the
countries that have the most talented, skilled citizens,
and those are the folks who are going to make
a good living. The days when the wages for a
worker with a high-school degree could keep pace with the
earnings of somebody with a college degree —
those days are over. You can see it all
throughout the Midwest, where you’ve got folks
who a generation ago could just walk into a factory
or a plant, didn’t have a lot of skills, get trained on the job,
make a good living, live out a middle-class life. That’s not going
to happen anymore. Technology,
global competition — those things are not going away. So we can either
throw up our hands and resign ourselves
to lower living standards, or we can do what
America has always done — we can adapt,
we can pull together, we can fight back, we can win. (applause) And if we don’t invest
in American education, then we’re going to put
our kids, our workers, our countries, our businesses
at a competitive disadvantage. Because if
you think it’s — if you think education
is expensive, you should see how much
ignorance is going to cost in the 21st century. It’s going to be expensive. (applause) So what do we need
to do on education? Number one, it’s got to
start in the earliest years. And that means
working with states to make high-quality
preschool available for every four-year-old
in America. (applause) Every study shows this
is a smart investment, encourages healthy behaviors, increases our kids’
success in the classroom, increases their earning
power as they grow up, reduces rates of teen pregnancy,
reduces criminal behavior. It’s really important. And any working parent will
tell you that knowing your kid is in a safe place
to learn is a big relief, so it’s also important
for the parents. This idea of early
childhood education, it shouldn’t be partisan. States with Republican
governors are doing it just like a lot of Democratic
governors are doing it. Our kids don’t care
about politics. We should prove that
we care about them and make this thing happen. And I am going to
keep on pushing, as long as I am President,
until we have a situation where every kid is getting a
good, healthy start in life and are prepared
when they go to school. (applause) We’re going to take
action on proven ideas to upgrade our schools
that don’t require Congress. So for example, last month, I announced a goal of connecting
99 percent of America’s students to high-speed Internet
within five years. We’re going ahead
and taking steps for that to happen right now. Now, some of you
may have gone to schools where you had internet
in every classroom, but a lot of schools right now, they’ve got maybe
a computer lab, but if you go in the classroom,
kids, they don’t have it. In America, in this country,
every child at every desk should have access to
the entire world’s information, and every teacher should have
the cutting-edge technology to help their kids
succeed and learn. We’re going to make that happen. (applause) We’ve got to rethink
our high schools so that our kids graduate
with the real-world skills that this new age demands. We’ve got to reward the
schools that forge partnerships with local colleges
and businesses, and that focus on
the fields of the future like science and technology
and math and engineering. And I’m going to use
the power of my office over the next few months
to highlight a topic that affects
probably everybody here, and that is the soaring
cost of higher education. (applause) Now, three years ago,
I worked with Democrats to reform the student loan
system so that taxpayer dollars weren’t going to pad
the pockets of big banks, and instead were
going to help students get a college education. So millions of students
were helped by that. We took action to cap loan
repayments at 10 percent of monthly incomes for
responsible borrowers. A lot of young people
don’t know this, but if you’ve
taken out federal loans, then if you choose
a job, let’s say, that doesn’t pay as much
as you’d like or you deserve, if you’re a teacher
or some other profession, you only have to pay 10 percent
of your income, which means that you can afford
to go to college and know that you’re not going to be broke
when you graduate — which is important. And not enough young
people are using this. (applause) As we speak —
and then, as we speak, we’re working with both parties
to reverse the doubling of student loan rates that
happened a few weeks ago because Congress didn’t
get its act together. We’ve got to get
student loan rates — interest rates back down. (applause) So these are all good steps,
but here’s the problem — and this is where
what’s happening at University of Central
Missouri is so important. We can put more and more
money into student loans, we can put more and
more money into grants, but if college costs
keep on going up, then there’s never going
to be enough money. I can keep student
loan rates low, but if you’re borrowing
$80,000 for college, or $100,000 and you get out, it doesn’t
matter whether interest rate is 3.5 or 8.5, you’re still going to
have trouble repaying it. It’ll take you longer
to buy a house. If you’ve got an
idea for a business, it’s going to
take you longer to invest in
starting your business. So we’ve got to do something
about college costs. Families and taxpayers can’t
just keep paying more and more into an undisciplined system. We’ve got to get a
better bang for our buck. (applause) So states have to do their part
by prioritizing higher education in their budgets — (applause) — because part of the reason
tuition has been skyrocketing is colleges aren’t —
state-funded colleges aren’t getting
as much funding, and so then tuition is
going up on the backs of students and families. But we’ve also got to test new
ways of funding based not just on how many students enroll,
but how well they do. And colleges have
to do their part by keeping costs from going up. So here at Central Missouri, you are a laboratory for
this kind of innovation. I had a great discussion with not only the president
of this university but also the superintendent
of schools here, the head of the
community colleges. What’s happened at UCM
is you’ve partnered with the Lee’s Summit
School District, with the Metropolitan
Community College, with local health care,
engineering, energy, and infrastructure firms — all industries that are
going to drive job growth in the future — and everybody is now
working together to equip students
with better skills, allow them to graduate
faster with less debt, and with the certainty of
being able to get a job at the other end. (applause) That’s a recipe for
success over the long term. So we’ve got students at
Summit Technology Academy — (applause) — there we go. Those students, they’re
beginning to accrue credits towards an associate’s degree while they’re still
in high school, which means they can
come here to earn a bachelor’s degree in two years
and graduate debt free. (applause) Debt free, on a fast track. (applause) And because the
community colleges and industries are involved, students are making
quicker decisions about the industries that
are going to create jobs, and the businesses are helping
to design the programs to make sure that they have
the skills for those jobs so that not only are you
graduating debt free, but you also know that you’ve
got a job waiting for you on the other end. (applause) Now, that is exactly the
kind of innovation we need when it comes to college costs. That’s what’s happening
right here in Warrensburg. And I want the entire
country to notice it, and I want other colleges to take a look at
what’s being done here. And I’ve asked my team to shake
the trees all across the country for some of the best
ideas out there for keeping college costs down, so that as students
prepare to go back to school, I’m in a position to lay out what’s going to be an aggressive
strategy to shake up the system to make sure that
middle-class students, working-class students, poor kids who have the drive
and the wherewithal and want to get a good
college education, they can get it
without basically mortgaging their entire future. We can make this happen
but this is an example of the kind of thing
we’ve got to focus on instead of a bunch of
distractions in Washington. (applause) Tackling college costs,
creating more good jobs, establishing a better bargain
for middle-class families and everybody trying to
work to join into it, an economy that grows
not from the top down but from the middle out — that’s not just what
I’m going to focus on for the next few months, that’s what I’m going
to be focused on for the remainder
of my presidency. And I’m going to take these
plans all across the country, and I’m going to ask folks
for help because, frankly, sometimes I just can’t
wait for Congress. It just takes them a long
time to decide on stuff. (applause) So we’re going to reach out
to CEOs and we’re going to reach out to workers, and we’re going to reach out
to college presidents and we’re going
to reach out to students. We’ll talk to Democrats
and independents — and, yes, I will be asking
Republicans to get involved because this has to be our core
project for the next decade. I want to lay out my ideas
to give the middle class a better shot in
the 21st century. And look, I want Republicans
to lay out their ideas. If they’ve got a better idea
to bring down college costs that we haven’t thought of, let’s hear them. I’m ready to go. If they’ve got a better
plan to make sure that every American
knows the security of affordable health care, then please share
it with the class. Raise your hand. (applause) But what you can’t do is just
manufacture another crisis because you think it
might be good politics, just as our economy is
getting some traction. What you can’t do is
shut down our government just because I’m for
opening the government. (applause) You can’t threaten not to pay
the bills this country racked up or to cut investments in
education and science and basic research that
are going to help us grow. If we’re going to manage
deficits and debt, let’s do it in a sensible way. We can do this if
we work together. And it may seem hard right now, but if we’re willing to take
a few bold steps — if Washington will just
shake off its complacency, set aside the kind
of slash-and-burn partisanship that we’ve seen over
the past few years — I promise you, our economy will be
stronger a year from now, just like it’s stronger
now than it was last year. And then it will be stronger
five years from now, and then it will be
stronger 10 years from now. (applause) And more Americans will have
the pride of a first paycheck. And more Americans will have the
satisfaction of starting their own business and flipping
that sign that says “open”. More folks will have the thrill
of marching across the stage to earn a diploma from a
university like this, and then know that they’ve got
a job waiting for them when they graduate. What makes us special —
a lot of times we talk about American exceptionalism and how much
we love this country, and there are so many wonderful
things about our country. But what makes us
the envy of the world has not just been
our ability to generate incredible wealth
for a few people; it’s the fact that we’ve
given everybody a chance to pursue their own true
measure of happiness. (applause) That’s who we are. We haven’t just wanted
success for ourselves; we want it for our neighbors. We want it for
our neighborhoods. That’s why we don’t call it
Bob’s dream or Barbara’s dream or Barack’s dream — we call it
the American Dream. (applause) It’s one that we share. That’s who we are — the idea that
no matter who you are, what you look like,
where you come from, who you love, you can make it here in
America if you’re trying hard. (applause) That’s what a college
education can be all about. That’s what inspires
your President, that’s what inspires
the faculty. That’s why when we see
young people like you, we’re inspired — because you’re an
expression of that idea. And we’ve got to make
sure that that continues — not just for this generation,
but for the next generation. And I’ve got a hundred — I’ve got 1,267 days
left in my presidency. And I’m going to spend
every minute, every second, as long as I have the privilege
of being in this office, making sure that I am doing
every single thing that I can so that middle-class
families, working families, people who are out there
struggling every single day — that they know that that work
can lead them to a better place. And we’re going to make sure
that that American Dream is available for everybody, not just now, but in the future. (applause) So thank you, Missouri. Thank you, UCM. Thank you, Mules. Thank you, Jennies. God bless you. God bless the United
States of America. Let’s get to work. (applause)

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