President Obama addressed a wide range of issues during his State of the Union on Tuesday, including immigration, the minimum wage, gun control — and fatherhood.
On immigration, a topic which has gained much traction since the November election — in which over two thirds of Hispanic voters chose Obama — the president argued that reform should include “a path that includes passing a background check, paying taxes and a meaningful penalty, learning English, and going to the back of the line behind the folks trying to come here legally,” as well as fixing immigration bureaucracy.
“Let’s get it done,” he said.
Obama also addressed low-wage pay. Not only did he urge Congress to pass the Paycheck Fairness Act, which would help women fight wage inequality, but he said that the U.S. should “raise the federal minimum wage to $9.00 an hour,” adding that the country should “tie the minimum wage to the cost of living, so that it finally becomes a wage you can live on.”
The National Employment Law Project praised Obama’s support for an increase. “The president said he was putting jobs and the economy front and center tonight – and that’s exactly what he did by calling for a minimum wage increase. President Obama’s remarks tonight show he understands that a higher minimum wage is key to getting the economy back on track for working people and the middle class,” Christine L. Owens, the organization’s executive director, said in a press release.
Kristin Rowe-Finkbeiner, executive director of MomsRising, said in a press release that the Paycheck Fairness Act “would penalize employers for violation of equal pay laws, prohibit retaliation against employees who ask about wage practices, empower women to negotiate for equal pay, and strengthen equal pay laws. This bill is crucial to family economic security, as well as to our national economy.”
On gun control, he did not discuss many specifics of various proposals aside from background checks — but did say, “Each of these proposals deserves a vote in Congress. If you want to vote no, that’s your choice. But these proposals deserve a vote. Because in the two months since Newtown, more than a thousand birthdays, graduations, and anniversaries have been stolen from our lives by a bullet from a gun.”
The parents of Hadiya Pendleton, the 15-year-old girl killed by a gun just a week after playing with her band at President Obama’s inauguration — “deserve a vote,” Obama said.
“Gabby Giffords deserves a vote. The families of Newtown deserve a vote. The families of Aurora deserve a vote. The families of Oak Creek, and Tucson, and Blacksburg, and the countless other communities ripped open by gun violence – they deserve a simple vote.”
U.S. Senator Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) said in a press statement, “Gun violence survivors seated in the House Chamber, including my State of the Union guest Matt Gross, brought a human face to the scourge of gun violence, and we must act now to stop the bloodshed. With the President’s strong commitment and the American people’s clear support behind us, I am confident that we can pass common-sense reforms that reduce gun violence and protect our families.”
Obama also made a reference to fatherhood and low-income marriage. “And we’ll work to strengthen families by removing the financial deterrents to marriage for low-income couples, and doing more to encourage fatherhood – because what makes you a man isn’t the ability to conceive a child; it’s having the courage to raise one,” he said.
But not everyone agrees with the implications of that statement. Stephanie Coontz, author and professor at The Evergreen State College, wrote late last year for CNN, that “nonmarriage is often a result of poverty and economic insecurity rather than a cause.”
And a Time article from 2008, in response to a previous remark from Obama on fatherhood, said, “Stereotypes about negligent black fathers persist, promoted most vehemently by Bill Cosby, who has embarked on a national crusade against the alleged misbehavior of poor black families. And yet such stereotypes may have little basis in reality. Research by Boston College social psychologist Rebekah Levine Coley found that black fathers not living at home are more likely to keep in contact with their children than fathers of any other ethnic or racial group.”
Watch video of Obama’s call for a minimum wage increased below, courtesy of TPM TV: