On Jan. 12, U.S. President Barack Obama delivered his final State of the Union address to Congress. The head of state, who has delivered this speech seven times before, indicated that his final address would be somewhat different from the others.
The tradition is for the president to use the State of the Union as a way to outline plans for upcoming policy changes. Instead of this, Obama gave a far more candid outline of some of the major issues that have plagued – and continue to plague – the country. One of the major talking points of the 64-minute speech was the issue of workplace rights and economic equity.
Tying in with this, another significant issue that was addressed in multiple ways during the speech was that of technology – specifically, how the Internet and mobile hardware can be used to even out the distribution of opportunities for American citizens. To highlight this theme in actions as well as words, the address was not only broadcast by major cable networks, but was also viewable via livestream on the White House website and the White House YouTube channel.
Obama cited many forces that have been responsible for shaping the country into the position it is in today. Among these forces have been strong economic change and the major integration of technology into our work and home lives. Both of these factors, Obama claimed, have positioned the country and its people in a place that, while volatile, can still yield great opportunities under the right circumstances.
The economy and the fair share
One of the four key talking points raised by Obama during his speech was the idea that everyone in the U.S. market should have an equal opportunity at his or her own fair share of success – and the notion that today the economy is definitely strong enough for that to be possible.
He cited increased automation as a factor standing in the way of equitable treatment of workers, indicating that these cycles can make it harder, not easier, for poorer families to master their circumstances and climb up out of poverty. In particular, Obama was vocal about calling for reforms that would provide adequate education, including courses in the ever-valuable STEM fields, to enable professionals to get the training they need to be competitive in a rapidly changing workforce.
The good news
The president's speech wasn't without its moments of pride, particularly in regards to the employment sector. Specifically, Obama pointed out that despite misgivings, the economy has experienced a 70-month job-growth streak – the largest in history. In that time, the unemployment rate has been cut in half and 14 million new jobs have been added to the economy.