President Obama will give his final State of the Union speech on Tuesday night, offering an opportunity to reflect on the myriad ways his nearly two full terms in office have steered the economy and affected your business.
Political analysts say the president might make some final pitches to lawmakers to pass legislation aimed at helping workers. But such last addresses to congress and the nation tend mainly to reflect on legacies. Obama likely will put his focus on the economic successes of his seven years at the helm of government. He'll talk about big themes of business recovery, the passage of his universal health care bill, and, of course, job growth. At the same time, he'll lay out a platform for why Democrats should continue to hold on to the White House.
Here are six things the president will point to as his signature achievements after two terms, as well as some things he'll urge the nation to achieve in the next few years.
1. The Economy
When the president took office in 2008, the nation was mired in the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression. Banks were shuttering across the nation, businesses were closing at record rates, and 700,000 jobs a month were disappearing. Fast-forward to 2016: Banks are re-capitalized and more stringently regulated under the Dodd-Frank financial reform act, there are 8 million new jobs, and unemployment is at pre-recession levels of 5 percent. Yet the president won't gloat too much. He'll say things are much better than when he took office, while remaining sensitive to the fact that the recovery still has long way to go, predicts Dean Baker, co-founder of the Center for Economic and Policy Research. "A lot of people don't feel good about the economy, and for the president to get up there and say things are great is silly," Baker says.
While the nation has added back the jobs it lost during the recession, labor participation is at an all-time low, and wage growth is at a weak 2.5 percent annually. Both are likely to keep the economy growing at a sluggish pace for years to come, economists say. Addressing the wage gap has been a prime concern for Obama, who has advocated for equal pay for women, as well as a higher federal minimum wage of $10.10 an hour. He'll likely make a pitch for further incentives to increase worker pay. "He'll talk about the need to address income inequality, and he'll say the way to do this is insuring average people's income is growing faster than those at the top," says Robert Shapiro, a senior policy scholar at Georgetown's Center for Business and Public Policy, and former economic adviser to President Bill Clinton.
3. The Affordable Care Act
The 2010 health care law is Obama's signature domestic achievement, and you'll hear about how it's given access to health care to 17 million Americans who did not have it before. At the same time, the president could lay the groundwork for ways the act could be improved, such as reductions to the high premiums and co-pays for middle-class consumers.
4. Immigration reform
Congressional action on immigration has been stymied for years, and Obama is likely to talk about the need for a path to citizenship for 11 million undocumented immigrants. An executive order from 2014 that protected undocumented immigrants from deportation, granting them temporary legal status, has been challenged in court. Reform of the broken H-1B visa system, which provides tech businesses with skilled workers from overseas, might also be a topic in the speech.
5. Trade agreements
While unions and some political opponents are fearful that the 11-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) will lead to the loss of U.S. jobs, Obama is likely to talk about how it will eliminate thousands of tariffs for U.S. businesses trading in Asia and Latin America, bringing small business owners opportunities. The president may make a pitch for the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, a Western European accord, which will be discussed in 2016.
6. Paid family and medical leave
Obama will probably make a pitch for modernizing the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) to cover more workers, and to push for paid time off for individual medical and family issues.