Early in his State of the Union Address Tuesday night, President Barack Obama emphasized the importance of a “rising, thriving middle class,” which he called the “true engine of economic growth.”
The president proceeded to lay out an agenda for the coming year that focused heavily on economic growth driven by the middle class and that included several items of particular importance to Missouri’s economic landscape.
Returning manufacturing innovation stateside
Obama held up Apple, Caterpillar and Ford as examples of American companies bringing jobs back to the U.S., and he called for further manufacturing innovation in the states.
The president described an abandoned warehouse in Youngstown, Ohio that has been converted into a “manufacturing innovation institute,” and he called for the immediate creation of three more such facilities — and the eventual creation of 15 more — in economically downtrodden areas across the country.
Infrastructure renovation and repair
Obama also said that a key way of drawing businesses back to U.S. soil is providing them with the best available infrastructure nationwide, in accordance with the Fix it First program. He wants to see renovations to America’s worst roadways and bridges, which a 2009 study by the American Society of Civil Engineers estimated would cost $2.2 trillion.
Forbes rated the state of Missouri the third-best state for drivers in a 2010 comparison study, but last year the Missouri Department of Transportation saw its budget cut 40 percent. As the Missouri legislature works to come up with a way to supplement the MoDOT budget — a 1-percent gas tax is being discussed — federal funding could play a role.
Preschools for all children
The president also discussed a federal initiative to provide preschool education for every 4-year-old in America.
In the Show-Me State, that comes on the heels of a summer when the Missouri Preschool Project faced millions in budget cuts. The MPP provided $11 million in 2012, financing preschool classes for 4,000 Missouri children. Despite that, Missouri ranks 35th nationally for early education resources, according to the National Institute for Early Education Research. Federal funding could help to rejuvenate a hard-hit preschool program.
Minimum wage increase
Obama called for an increase in the federal minimum wage, from $7.25 to $9 per hour, to help working families.
In 2011, some 109,000 Missouri laborers were paid minimum wage or less, making up 7.1 percent of the hourly-paid workforce, according to the Bureau for Labor Statistics. The state’s percentage of hourly workers earning at or below the Federal minimum wage threshold was seventh-highest among the 50 states and Washington, D.C. It was 1.9 percentage points higher than the national average, 5.2 percent.
In 2013, Missouri is one of 19 states (plus Washington, D.C.) with a minimum wage ($7.35) higher than the federal minimum. Even so, the jump to a $9 minimum would be substantial for Missouri employers.