Time to reflect on the administration’s accomplishments

Tonight, President Obama will challenge us to work for a better America where every person has opportunity, is safe in their communities and secure financially, and where we work to protect our planet.

But as we listen to his last State of the Union speech, let’s remember the progress this administration has made.


Seven years ago, Obama was sworn in against a starkly different backdrop.

The economy was losing over 800,000 jobs a month — the unemployed lost health coverage, millions lost their homes, and seniors lost retirement savings. Economic growth was down, unemployment was up, General Motors was on the brink of crumbling, the stock market was in meltdown, and the global financial system was near total collapse. And Osama bin Laden was still alive.

Today, as we begin the final year of the Obama administration, we’ve added more than 14 million jobs over 70 consecutive months, the longest job-creation streak on record. Today, the unemployment rate sits at 5 percent, half that experienced during the Great Recession.

Thanks to the president’s decisive actions, the auto industry is booming, the global financial system has stabilized, and substantial reforms to regulate Wall Street were passed, including the creation of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau to protect consumers from abuses by large financial institutions.

In March 2010, the Affordable Care Act passed, and today 17 million more Americans are insured, no child or adult can be denied coverage because of a pre-existing condition, and women are not charged more just because of their gender. Seniors and people with disabilities on Medicare have saved $15 billion in prescription drug prices.

Millions of gay and lesbian Americans can be open about who they love, get married and share benefits. The military’s “Don’t ask, don’t tell” policy has ended.

While legislation to raise the federal minimum wage, prohibit employment non-discrimination and require equal pay for women is blocked in Congress, Obama changed standards for federal contract employees, raising the minimum wage to $10.10 and banning workplace discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.  The first bill he signed — the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act — empowers women to bring discrimination claims and fight for wage fairness. His administration has also acted to give minimum wage and overtime protections to 2 million home and direct care workers.

Last summer, the president took the bold step of reaching a nuclear deal with Iran, and a year ago he turned the page on the failed policy of isolation by building a new relationship with Cuba. This past December, the president furthered his diplomatic credentials by reaching a landmark climate change agreement at the Paris summit — the first of its kind in history. The Environmental Protection Agency has acted boldly to meet our commitments, including by setting standards to double the average car’s fuel economy by 2025 and by finalizing the Clean Power Plan to reduce power plant emissions 32 percent by 2030 while providing as much as $34 billion in health benefits and reducing energy bills $85 per household per year.

As student loan debt has reached over $1 trillion, we provided an additional 1.2 million Americans with access to income-based student loan repayment plans, which limits an individual’s federal student loan payment to only 10 percent of their income.

With over 30 Americans dying every day due to gun violence, the president is moving to improve the effectiveness and strength of our background check system and to increase funding for mental health treatment. While those actions will help, Congress must get off the sidelines and take action to safeguard our communities from the scourge of gun violence.

Obama has done all of this in the face of Republican intransigence. Time and time again, the president has been forced to take executive action because congressional Republicans have refused to let us vote on substantive legislation that helps American families.

While the economy has grown and over 8 million jobs have been created, far too many Americans are still unemployed and far too many earn too little to support themselves and their families. Hard-working men and women deserve a living wage, and they deserve the right to join a union and push for fair compensation and workplace safety through collective bargaining.

We face an urgent retirement security crisis. According to the National Institute on Retirement Security, the median retirement savings of all working households is only $2,500; $14,500 for households headed by a 55- to 64-year-old worker. Social Security, the bedrock of retirement income, must be protected and expanded. Yet, Republicans continue to push to cut or privatize Social Security benefits, turn Medicare into a voucher system, and block grant and slash Medicaid.

Women’s rights and access to health and reproductive services need to be safeguarded, yet they continue to come under attack from Republicans. Even family planning isn’t safe. Title X — the largest source of family planning — would have been zeroed out in the House Republican budget.

This is not the time to take a victory lap — we have much work left to do. We must not retreat from Obama’s accomplishments. We cannot let wealthy campaign donors and lobbyists rig the rules of the economic game and flatten the incomes of ordinary Americans. Instead we must intensify our efforts to build an inclusive economy that works for everyone — not just the CEOS and the wealthy — and that provides opportunity and security for all.

Schakowsky has represented Illinois’s 9th ­Congressional District since 1999. She sits on the Energy and Commerce Committee.