Obama’s Remarks on Wages, Education Resonate with Boston Residents

By Steph Solis
BU News Service

Boston residents are hoping to see President Barack Obama push forward with initiatives to address income inequality, employment, and early childhood education.

In his State of the Union address Tuesday night, Obama outlined a number of plans to revamp job training programs, access to innovation in manufacturing and education, independent retirement savings programs, as well as other initiatives. The president also announced he would create an executive order to raise the minimum wage for federal contract employees to $10.10 an hour.

“This will help families. It will give businesses customers with more money to spend,” Obama said. “It doesn’t involve any new bureaucratic program. So join the rest of the country. Say yes. Give America a raise.”

The call to “give America a raise” started trending on social media, and gained the attention of viewers in Boston.

“It’s about time that they raise minimum wage,” said Patrick O’Brien, a Dorchester resident who attended a watch-party at Boston Beer Works on Canal Street.

“I like that he was trying to address inequality, wanting to raise minimum wage, wanting to invest in manufacturing centers,” said Peter Lin-Marcus, of Chinatown. “I think he’s passionate about that.”

Yet the executive order raises questions for some about federal contractors in the private sector.

“In effect this initiative is like implementing what would otherwise be a nationwide statutory increase in the minimum wage only for a small group of private companies,” said Andrew Readel, a Brookline resident and senior at Boston University. “It will surely face criticism from Republicans and maybe even the courts.”

Early childhood education entered the spotlight as Obama announced a coalition of elected officials, business leaders, and philanthropists to help more children gain access to high-quality education, especially in problem solving, critical thinking and STEM subjects.

“So just as we worked with states to reform our schools, this year, we’ll invest in new partnerships with states and communities across the country in a race to the top for our youngest children,” the president said.

Molly O’Connor, 23, of Jamaica Plain, said Obama’s call for improving early childhood education and access to education resonates with Boston.

“I think that’s something that Boston has to deal with and is prepared to deal with,” she said.

“From a policy standpoint, I’m disappointed … in the amount of testing and training for testing we do in our schools, and I think that that speaks on a very local level as well,” said O’Connor. “It’s something that needs to be addressed.”

Obama took a more aggressive stance on pushing his agenda, stating he wants “to make this a year of action.” He warned Congress that he would push forward with deals on Iran, education, and wages. He urged policymakers throughout the country to try to move past the bureaucracy.

“To every mayor, governor and state legislator in America, I say, you don’t have to wait for Congress to act. Americans will support you if you take this on,” Obama said about minimum wage hikes.

Obama dedicated little more than a sentence of his address to immigration, but the issue has received more attention in Boston recently. Mayor Martin Walsh has said he wants the city to pull out of Secure Communities, a controversial federal program aimed at identifying and deporting illegal immigrants.

“A lot of people are hurting,” said Lin-Marcus. “I would have liked to have him reduce the number of deportations. That’s an issue that’s concerning a lot of people.”

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