What the soft shoe about income inequality and declining upward mobility is meant to disguise is that Obama has presided over an economy that is providing diminishing opportunities for work. People who work full time are almost never poor. The Current Population Survey of the Census Bureau found that among full-time workers, the poverty rate in 2013 was 2.9 percent. Most of those who are poor are not working at all or are working only part time.
Long-term unemployment is demoralizing for the jobless and expensive for taxpayers. Rather than attempt to set wages from Washington, Obama's entire focus ought to be on removing obstacles to hiring. The first candidate is Obamacare. As Bloomberg's Megan McArdle has noted, we just enacted a huge new entitlement to ensure coverage to the "45 million uninsured," but as of December, fewer than 750,000 have signed up. Meanwhile, the entire health care sector has been thrown into chaos, and employers throughout the country are hesitating to hire.
Obama will boast that he has a "pen and a phone." He can use his pen to relax some of the job-depressing regulations his administration has imposed, particularly in the health, financial and energy sectors. He can use his phone to approve the Keystone pipeline. And he could use his influence to extol the essential habits of success, without which more and more Americans will fail to flourish. As the Annie E. Casey Foundation reported years ago, if Americans do three simple things, they will not be poor: 1) graduate from high school, 2) get a job and 3) wait until marriage to have their first child.
But that would require more imagination than Obama has ever demonstrated. Instead, he'll stubbornly continue to push policies that have failed everywhere they've been tried. When they fail for him, he will blame Republicans. Once hailed as a messiah, he's now revealed as just a mess.