Obama's plea, 'Give America a raise,' was the most effective applause line of the evening. Even Republicans were compelled to cheer. But his order raising the minimum wage on government contractors will help a few hundred thousand workers and add less than a billion dollars to household purchasing power. He declined to use other executive powers to compel contractors not to violate basic labor laws.
I'm finding some of the responses by conservative politicians, economists, et al to the War on Poverty discussion to be interesting and revealing. There's a lot of silliness, and worse, of course. I'd assign the Reagan quip, "we fought a war on poverty and lost," to that category, as well as the misleading $20 trillion talking point. But once they get past the canned stuff, there's some interesting substance. Progressives have largely been pointing out that, in fact, rigorous analysis shows both significant and even lasting progress against poverty, amidst steep remaining challenges.
Congress and the president have decided to craft budgets that lead to tens of millions of people being unemployed or underemployed. High levels of unemployment put downward pressure on workers' wages, especially those in the bottom third of the labor force. This means we have a federal budget that limits growth and employment in a way that redistributes income upwards. So, inequality didn't just happen; it was the result of government policy. That is why people who actually want to see inequality reduced, and for poor and middle class to share in the benefits from growth, are not likely to be very happy about President Obama's speech on the topic. His comment about the government being a bystander ignores the real source of the problem. Therefore it is not likely that he will come up with much by way of real solutions.