Obama Touts Economic Gains At Labor Day Event

President Obama traveled to Milwaukee on Monday to attend a Labor Day rally. NPR's Scott Horsley talks with Audie Cornish about the president's speech.

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AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Audie Cornish.

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PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Oh, it's good to be back in Milwaukee.

CORNISH: President Obama spent part of his Labor Day with a friendly crowd in Milwaukee.

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OBAMA: Happy Labor Day, everybody. Happy Labor Day.

(CHEERING)

CORNISH: He spoke to unionized workers at an outdoor picnic on the shores of Lake Michigan. In a campaign-style speech he touted the nation's economic comeback, but he said the gains should be more widely shared.

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OBAMA: I want an economy where your hard work pays off with higher wages and higher income and fair pay for women and workplace flexibility for parents and affordable health insurance and decent retirement benefits. I'm not asking for the moon. I just want a good deal for American workers.

CORNISH: NPR's Scott Horsley joins us now from Milwaukee to talk about the president's speech. Hey there, Scott.

SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: Hi, Audie.

CORNISH: So the president was at an event called Laborfest in Milwaukee, and he's there at a time when there's a lot of encouraging economic statistics. What was the mood like?

HORSLEY: Well, generally upbeat but I think still cautious. I spoke to a number of people who say their own work hours have increased. The jobless rate here in Wisconsin's below the national average - just 5.8 percent. But there's still a sense that work isn't necessarily translating to better wages, especially for those who don't have a union bargaining for them, and that despite healthy corporate profits and a record stock market, you know, people aren't really loudly cheering a recovery because they're not necessarily feeling that recovery.

CORNISH: Now, President Obama renewed his push to raise the minimum wage, but as with many of his proposals lately, he seemed to acknowledge that it's not going anywhere in Congress. And I know that's not just because of the recess.

HORSLEY: That's right. And he used this to illustrate what he says is Republican obstructionism in Congress. He's not even urging people anymore to call their lawmakers. He's acknowledging that's a dead-end. So instead, he's focused on what's happening at the state and local level. Since the president raised the issue of the minimum wage last year, more than a dozen states have already acted to boost their own minimum wages.

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OBAMA: You'll hear opponents. They'll say, well, minimum wage - they're going to kill jobs, except it turns out the states where the minimum wage has gone up this year had higher job growth than the states that didn't raise the minimum wage.

HORSLEY: And several more states will have minimum wage measures on the ballot in November. Some cities here in Wisconsin also have advisory measures on the ballot. And Democrats are hoping that will boost turnout. A survey by Marquette Law school released last week showed 57 percent of Wisconsin voters support an increase in the minimum wage.

CORNISH: You know, Scott, the president wasn't just talking to union members today. He also was accompanied by a number of prominent labor leaders. But in Wisconsin and elsewhere, organized labor has taken some hits recently. I mean, what did the president have to say about that?

HORSLEY: Well, that's right. The president made reference to what happened here in Wisconsin where the governor and the legislature curtailed collective bargaining rights for public employees. And president said it's wrong for politicians to blame unions for economic challenges.

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OBAMA: If I were looking for a good job that lets me build some security for my family, I'd join a union.

HORSLEY: Now, Obama has run into roadblocks on a number of union priorities. But as the fall campaign season gets going in earnest, he's recycling a line from his 2012 campaign saying, don't boo - vote.

CORNISH: Scott, obviously there are many other issues, particularly when it comes to foreign policy - the Middle East, Ukraine, just to name a few. Did the president's remarks go beyond the economy?

HORSLEY: No, he really stuck to domestic policy here. And, you know, with a big foreign trip coming up and all of the foreign-policy problems on his plate, this Labor Day speech to a friendly crowd was perhaps the least laborious part of the president's week.

CORNISH: That NPR's Scott Horsley traveling with the president in Milwaukee. Thanks so much, Scott.

HORSLEY: Good to be with you, Audie.

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