President Obama’s fifth State of the Union address covered a host of important national issues. While foreign policy is vital, NASW was very interested in the President’s agenda on domestic policies aimed at remedying the many financial inequities and social justice challenges that affect low and moderate income Americans.
NASW was pleased that President Obama announced, prior to his address, that he had issued an Executive Order to raise the minimum wage for federal contract workers to $10.10 per hour. That preliminary act set the tone for what proved to be a balanced speech that touched on many issues of greatest concern to NASW.
For instance, it was very encouraging that the President opened his address with a forceful declaration about how essential it is that the White House, Congress, state governments, and the private sector collectively work together to end economic injustice. His push for bipartisanship and building a national consensus for combating economic and social problems was reinforced when he stated:
“In the coming months, let's see where else we can make progress together. Let's make this a year of action. That's what most Americans want – for all of us in this chamber to focus on their lives, their hopes, their aspirations. And what I believe unites the people of this nation, regardless of race or region or party, young or old, rich or poor, is the simple, profound belief in opportunity for all – the notion that if you work hard and take responsibility, you can get ahead.”
President Obama's speech was a call to action (in his words, “A Year of Action”) for leaders from all sectors of society to respond to the economic inequities that too many Americans still face. He balanced the call for bipartisanship with a firm commitment to, if necessary, use his power of Executive Orders to create economic opportunities.
The State of the Union address included several points that NASW found hopeful. President Obama renewed his call for long-delayed comprehensive immigration reforms. He effectively identified immigration reform not only as a human right but also as an essential component for improving our economy. He challenged Congress to work with him to pass immigration reform legislation this year.
In addition to immigration reform, there were a number of specific positions and proposals that the President addressed in his State of the Union speech that NASW supports:
The extension of unemployment benefits to the 1.6 million people who lost benefits in December of 2013
Equal pay for equal work for women
The new bipartisan Voting Rights Amendment Act of 2014 (HR-3899) which will help restore protections for the right to vote.
A highlight of President Obama’s speech were his extensive remarks about preparing current and future generations for the demands of a 21st-century economy through education reforms ranging from the expansion of quality pre-K programs to comprehensive job training programs for young adults. In particular, NASW supports targeted efforts to ensure that young men of color have opportunities for jobs and education programs that will facilitate their full participation in society.
Finally, with regard to health care reform, NASW supports the President’s decision to embrace ACA and extoll the progress in enrolling Americans after its inauspicious start. The fact that three million young people under 26 years old are now covered by their parents’ health insurance, and nine million people have signed up for coverage is an achievement that NASW applauds.
Although there are seemingly intractable economic disparities and social injustices in America, NASW joins President Obama in calling for all Americans to join together in advocating for programs and actions that end such inequities.
# # #
The National Association of Social Workers (NASW), in Washington, DC, is the largest membership organization of professional social workers with 130,000 members. It promotes, develops, and protects the practice of social work and social workers. NASW also seeks to enhance the well-being of individuals, families, and communities through its advocacy.