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Obama Puts Economic Focus on the Middle Class

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U.S. President Barack Obama is shifting his economic focus to the middle class.  His State of the Union address Wednesday will detail a series of initiatives to help middle-income families.

President Obama spent his first year in office trying to prevent the collapse of big financial firms, and stabilize the national economy.  Now, he is taking a more populist approach - focusing on the day-to-day issues that create money woes for many families.

He says it is part of an effort to show the administration cares about workers who are struggling to pay their bills or have anxieties about losing their jobs.

"We have just come through what was one of the most difficult decades the middle class has ever faced - a decade in which median income fell, and our economy lost about as many jobs as it gained," he said.

The president spoke at a meeting of a White House advisory panel set up to study the problems facing the middle class and propose solutions.

Among the ideas embraced by the administration are steps to cut the costs of child care for working parents, and help them save for retirement.  

The White House is also promising action to make it a little easier for middle-class students to pay for college, and to provide expanded community services to help families caring for elderly relatives.

President Obama is expected to talk about all these steps in his State of the Union address.  Aides say he will speak at length about job creation and other issues that affect the lives of ordinary Americans.

In his comments to the Middle Class Task Force, which is chaired by Vice President Joe Biden, Mr. Obama offered a preview.

"Hopefully, some of these steps will re-establish some of the security that has slipped away in recent years.  Because in the end, that is how Joe and I measure progress.  Not by how the markets are doing, but by how the American people are doing," said the president.

But Congressional Republicans say the president is not doing enough to create jobs.  In a written statement, the Republican leader in the House of Representatives, John Boehner of Ohio, said the initiatives announced by the White House do not go far enough and what is really needed is a set of new economic policies.

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