WASHINGTON— Recent government surveys in the United States show that the income gap between the wealthiest Americans and everyone else is growing. A Congressional Budget Office survey found that the wealthiest one percent increased their income by 275 percent over the past 30 years, compared to less than 40 percent for the vast majority of the U.S. middle class.
President Barack Obama intends to focus on the widening income gap in Tuesday’s State of the Union address.
From wealthy homes in California to the urban blight of Detroit, the income gap is growing.
Minimum-wage workers recently took to the streets of Atlanta to demand more money.
It’s a cause that resonates with fast food workers in Washington, including Erica Gayles.
“It’s a struggle. I’m tired of struggling," she said. "I just want to live comfortably."
Those struggles have caught the attention of Democrats in Washington like Iowa Senator Tom Harkin.
“It’s just kind of a harshness, being hard on people, especially hard on people who don’t have anything, hard on people who are at the bottom rung of the ladder," he said. "It’s not befitting a great nation."
Obama will highlight the issue in his State of the Union address.
“Restoring the American dream of opportunity for everyone who’s willing to work for it is something that should unite the country," the presiden said. "That shouldn’t divide the country. That’s what we should be aspiring to, that everybody has a shot if they are willing to work hard and take responsibility."
It will also be an election year theme for Democrats, says analyst John Fortier.
“The larger philosophical theme of not only the economy just getting better, but it getting better for everyone," he said. "And how an economy that improves just for the rich is not one that he wants to see, I think, will be a theme of his."
Opposition Republicans have a different focus, says House Speaker John Boehner.
“When you look at it, the American people have a right to continue to ask the question, where are the jobs? The president has been in office now for over five years, and it’s time for the president to admit that his policies are not working," he said.
Republican Senator Marco Rubio of Florida, a possible presidential contender in 2016, says individual states should take the lead on closing the income gap.
“Washington is too bureaucratic and too resistant to change, and its ‘one size fits all’ approach is just not conducive to solving a problem as diverse and complex as this one," he said.
With Republicans opposed, Obama will have to work around Congress, says expert Thomas Mann.
“He is going to have to rely much more on the authority he has as president using executive regulatory approaches and administrative initiatives and other kind of public-private ventures that don’t require legislation," said Mann.
The president will travel to the Vatican in late March to meet with Pope Francis, and the White House says fighting poverty and income inequality will be on the agenda.