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State of the Union

February 13th, 2013

2013 State of the Union. Photo credit: White House

Millions of Americans watched last night as President Obama gave his State of the Union address. It’s a speech presidents give each year to let us know how the country is doing.

This was President Obama’s fourth State of the Union address, but the first since he was re-elected to a second term as president in November.

So, how’d he do? And how are we doing?

He said, “We can say with confidence our union is stronger.”

Here are a few highlights from his hour-long speech:

He talked first about an issue that’s looming over government at the moment — the federal deficit. That means the government has spent more money than it actually has — to the tune of about $1 trillion. That’s a lot but it includes making good on commitments to retired people (Social Security payments) and older people with medical needs (Medicare) that it promised when those citizens were still working and paying their taxes.

The President, and members of Congress (who represent every day Americans and write and pass laws), have been trying to figure out for a while now how to reduce that number. The problem is they don’t really agree on how.  If they don’t come up with a solution or compromise soon, a law will take effect later this year (sequestration) that will automatically reduce government spending. The problem is, it would cut money for some things Americans don’t want to do without (e.g. education, the military), or can’t (the above commitments) so pretty much everyone is working to avoid it.

President Obama said solving the deficit problem is important because it’s also one of the keys to improving our economy, which means jobs for all Americans and income for businesses. And the economy is something President Obama wants to grow.

How do you grow the economy if you’re already down $1 trillion? Ideas welcome!

He outlined new programs as part of his solution. He said “nothing I’m proposing tonight should increase our deficit by a single dime.” But some people, including many Republicans, don’t think that’s realistic.

For starters, President Obama said he wants jobs that people are now doing overseas to be done here instead. Your iPod, iPhone, or other Apple product? It’s made in China, among other places, where people work for less money. President Obama wants Americans to have those jobs. In the case of Apple, the President said, they soon will create more jobs in the U.S.

But you can’t have a successful business or factory here if the roads are crumbling and Internet connections are slow and there’s no sense of commuity around you. So, the President proposed to fix run-down towns and what’s called infrastructure — roads, bridges (70,000 bridges in the U.S. need repair!), and power supplies.

An example of infrastructure that could use some repair. Photo credit: Via Flickr user halflifehalflived via CC

It’s great to have all that in place and have a job … but you also have to be paid a reasonable amount of money. The least amount of money you can be paid right now, by law, is $7.25 an hour. President Obama said that’s not enough. He’s proposing to raise the minimum wage to $9 an hour. He pointed out that people making $7.25 an hour right now, who have families, live in poverty, because what they earn doesn’t match how much it costs to live (bills for housing, food, etc.).

Source: 2013 State of the Union

And the kids who grow up living in poverty, unfortunately, often stay there, President Obama said.  So President Obama wants to start helping children early by getting more 4-year olds into preschool (right now fewer than 3 out of every 10 go to preschool), fix up schools that need it, make sure students are really good in the subjects of math, science and techonology because there are more and more jobs needing people good at that. And, finally, making it affordable to go to college. Right now, it’s too expensive for some people.

Source: 2013 State of the Union

So, President Obama seemed to say: affordable education + better pay = good jobs = better economy in general = better life.

He also wants to balance this in the most environmentally friendly way possible. Between record-high temperatures and really extreme weather recently like drought, wild fires and hurricanes, climate change is a real and serious issue that can’t wait to be solved. He even issued a challenge for you to find ways to cut energy use at home by half. Can you think of ways to do that? Feel free to submit your ideas below.

President Obama was also proud that he is gradually ending the U.S. war in Afghanistan. He’s pulling many troops out this spring and it will be over by early next year. Right now the focus is on Afghans learning how to protect themselves, instead of us protecting them.

He’s also pushing to pass a law changing immigration rules — who we allow into the U.S. and who can stay once they’re here. You can read our previous story on immigration here .

Some of the speech was long and specific, but the end of the President’s speech was personal and emotional.

He pointed out some every day American heroes. And he expressed his frustration that people like 102-year old, Desiline Victor, had to wait in line for hours to vote during the presidential election.

102-year old Desiline Victor waited hours to vote. Photo credit: 2013 SOTU screen grab

Then his voice sounded like he choked up a little as he spoke about gun violence. He is hoping Congress will agree to vote for a new law soon that could save lives, especially those of children.

He recalled the tragedy in Newtown where young children lost their lives to gun violence just two months ago and referred to all the lives taken by bullets since: “More than a thousand birthdays, graduations, anniversaries have been stolen from our lives by a bullet from a gun — more than a thousand.”

Then he recalled the story of 15 year-old, Hadiya Pendleton, who died from a bullet, in Chicago, less than a mile from the President’s home before he became president, just days after she performed at his Inauguration. He said these victims, and so many others, deserved tougher laws … at the very least they deserve a vote on new regulations proposed by the White House.

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