President Obama Begins Hard Economic Conversation with America

In his speech yesterday announcing the American Graduation Initiative, President Obama sounded a new, tougher tone about the past and future of the American economy. NDN has long argued that, prior to the Great Recession, everyday Americans – faced with declining incomes, stagnating wages, and rising healthcare, energy, and pension costs – had been in a recession for nearly a decade. In his speech, the President discussed that fact, noting that we have to do more to ensure broad based American prosperity.

Here's what the President said about how we got here and the New Foundation we must create (emphasis added):

…the hard truth is, is that some of the jobs that have been lost in the auto industry and elsewhere won't be coming back.  They're the casualties of a changing economy.  In some cases, just increased productivity in the plants themselves means that some jobs aren't going to return.  And that only underscores the importance of generating new businesses and new industries to replace the ones that we've lost, and of preparing our workers to fill the jobs they create.  For even before this recession hit, we were faced with an economy that was simply not creating or sustaining enough new, well-paying jobs.

So now is the time to change all that.  What we face is far more than a passing crisis.  This is a transformative moment.  And in this moment we must do what other generations have done.  It's not the time to shrink from the challenges we face or put off tough decisions.  That's what Washington has done for decades, and it's exactly why I ran for President -- to change that mindset.  Now is the time to build a firmer, stronger foundation for growth that will not only withstand future economic storms, but that will help us thrive and compete in a global economy. 

As Simon wrote a few weeks ago, if the President can build a new narrative around the argument that the economic direction of the United States was untenable prior to the Great Recession, pieces of the President's agenda – reforming health care and energy policy and enabling future growth by creating a 21st century workforce (amongst many, many other pieces) – become crucial. It also allows the President to lead a badly needed national conversation about how we are going to remake a saner, more prosperous American economy that goes beyond recovery to respond to the great challenges of globalization.