Policy Resource

The America Within Our Reach

Jan 21, 2012

In his State of the Union speech tonight before a joint session of Congress, President Obama challenged the country to “Think about the America within our reach,” one that leads in education, creates high-tech and high paying jobs, and has greater energy security.

The optimistic speech laid out a “blueprint for an economy that’s built to last”, starting with bringing back manufacturing jobs.

Later in his address, the President focused on education, saying “to prepare for the jobs of tomorrow, our commitment to skills and education has to start earlier.” He did not mention early childhood education, but talked about the ability of great teachers to change the trajectory of students’ lives. He urged giving schools—now faced with laying off teachers because of tight budgets—the “resources to keep good teachers on the job”. Other points in his education plan included prohibiting dropping out of high school and making higher education more affordable.

The wide-ranging speech touched on policy areas such as immigration and energy self-sufficiency before turning to deficits and taxes. The President asserted that extending tax breaks in place for wealthy Americans necessitates a choice between keeping these tax cuts and investing in everything else, including education, medical research, and a strong military. He indicated a willingness to take steps to reign in long-term costs of Medicare and Medicaid as well as strengthening Social Security, as long as their guarantees of security remained in place. In return, he called for reforming taxes so that everyone pays their fair share.

The President also recognized the needs of military Service men and women returning from Iraq and Afghanistan. He spoke of the need to support veterans and their families (many of whom have young children) with jobs. He is proposing a Veterans Job Corps to hire veterans as cops and firefighters.

President Obama closed by noting that it is working together that makes our country great. “No one built this country on their own. This Nation is great because we built it together. This Nation is great because we worked as a team. This Nation is great because we get each other’s backs. And if we hold fast to that truth, in this moment of trial, there is no challenge too great; no mission too hard. As long as we’re joined in common purpose, as long as we maintain our common resolve, our journey moves forward, our future is hopeful, and the state of our Union will always be strong.”

While the President did not specifically mention young children in his address, they surely would benefit in the rebuilt America the speech envisioned. The choices he laid out between our current tax structure and the ability to support investments have clear implications for programs that support the healthy development of infants and toddlers. And policies that help families, from extending payroll tax cuts that give working families a few extra dollars to make ends meet to promoting jobs for veterans with young families, benefit many young children. We will have to look to the President’s budget (now scheduled for release on February 13) for more specifics on how programs for infants and toddlers, which help lay the foundation for the jobs of the future, fare.

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