CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Worsening inequality between the elite 1 percent of super-rich Americans and the rest of the U.S. populace is a curse upon the nation. The once-dominant middle class is struggling to hold onto fragile careers and slipping security. The ominous gap between the privileged and others was the chief focus of President Obama's State of the Union address Tuesday night.
"Those at the top have never done better," he said, "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 to get ahead. And too many still aren't working at all. So our job is to reverse these trends."
He outlined a series of goals to provide more opportunity for average families: Expand college access. Raise the minimum wage. Boost pre-school for 4-year-olds. Increase job training. Extend unemployment support. Change tax laws to reward corporations that bring jobs back to America, rather than ship them overseas. Install broadband in every school. Guarantee equal pay for women. Etc.
Calling for a "year of action," the president said he will act on his own, without Congress, to set a $10.10 minimum wage for workers performing federal contracts, and also create new U.S. savings bonds for Americans who lack pensions from jobs.
West Virginia's Sen. Jay Rockefeller summed up the president's message well:
"We know that the wealthiest 1 percent of Americans take home nearly 20 percent of our nation's total household income -- representing a kind of inequality that is truly staggering and does a tremendous disservice to our children and our families. Addressing this inequality is at the heart of the many strides that have been made over the years. The Children's Health Insurance Program, the Child Tax Credit, the Earned Income Tax Credit, Medicaid -- all of these programs were created and strengthened by giving families a seat at the table they wouldn't otherwise have."
Republicans, who chiefly serve the wealthy, probably will continue opposing efforts to aid ordinary families. Since the GOP controls the House of Representatives, it has power to block many reforms.
But remember this: The 1 percent can cast only 1 percent of votes. We hope the other 99 percent of Americans back candidates who will strive to reverse the ugly spread between the elite and the rest.