President Obama discusses economic progress in Austin speech


President Barack Obama speaking at the Paramount Theater on Thursday afternoon. His speech focused on the state of the economy.

Photo Credit: Sarah Montgomery | Daily Texan Staff

Before a packed audience at the Paramount Theater on Thursday, President Barack Obama said the economy has improved since the economic recession from 2008 to 2009 in an address on the economy that criticized political gridlock in Washington, D.C.

“By almost every measure, we are better off now than when I took office,” Obama said.

Obama credited the American people with helping the nation recover from the recession but said that his administration made several decisions that benefited the economy. He cited, specifically, recent efforts to create gender equality in the workforce, raising the federal minimum wage to $10.10 per hour, expanding manufacturing jobs, and reforming the student loan program.

Before the speech, Obama met with public relations junior Kinsey Button, at Magnolia Cafe. Concerned about her financial situation, Button sent Obama a letter a few months ago. In response, Obama said decided to meet with her in Austin as part of his trip.

“When you see the trajectory of Kinsey’s family, in some ways it’s a little bit a story of what’s happened in America,” Obama said.

At the event, Button opened for the president and talked her about her struggle to pay for a college education.

“As a current student at the University of Texas at Austin with two unemployed parents, my family has found it very difficult to financially sustain the average American lifestyle, much less afford a full college tuition,” Button said at the event on Thursday.

A presidential memorandum issued by Obama in June allowed nearly 5 million students to cap their student loan payments at 10 percent of their income. Calling Washington “broken” and accusing Congress of refusing to take action, Obama said he issued more than 40 executive orders.

“I don’t want our future leaders straddled with debt before they start out in life,” Obama said. “Whenever and wherever I have the power, the legal authority, to help families like yours – even if Congress is not doing anything – I will take that opportunity."

Most recent employment numbers from the Bureau of Labor Statistics indicate a 0.2 percent decrease in the unemployment rate to 6.1 percent. Obama noted this is the lowest unemployment rate since September 2008.

A handful of protesters rallied outside the theater Thursday, as tensions grow on the U.S.-Mexico border and increasing numbers of unaccompanied children are apprehended and deported. Some protesters urged Obama to “Stop separating families,” while others called on the National Guard to secure the southern border.

Gov. Rick Perry said Sunday on ABC’s “This Week” that Obama had ignored his requests for additional National Guard troops along the Texas border.

“I don't believe he particularly cares whether or not the border of the United States is secure,” Perry said on the program.

Obama did agree to meet Gov. Perry Wednesday afternoon but did not extend his Texas visit to make a personal trip to the border region.

“You need to go. That’s what governors do. That’s what presidents do. When there are … crises like this, a president needs to be there,” Perry said on “Hannity” after meeting Obama on Wednesday night.

On Tuesday, Obama asked Congress for $3.7 billion to address the border crisis. According to the website, $1.1 billion will go to the Department of Homeland Security for immigration and customs enforcement and $1.8 billion to the Department of Health and Human Services to care for unaccompanied refugee children.

Addressing the immigration issue on Thursday, Obama criticized House Republicans for refusing to vote on a Democratic bill to secure the border.

“Cynicism is a choice,” Obama said in closing. “Hope is a better choice.”

While in Austin, the president attended two private fundraising events. He departed from Austin-Bergstrom International Airport Thursday afternoon, after his remarks at the theater.