For Obama, the day trip to Knox College marked a return to the site of his first major economic address. He spoke at the school's graduation ceremony in 2005 as a newly elected U.S. senator.
His remarks back then were strikingly similar to the themes he outlined Wednesday in Illinois and later in Missouri, including the government's role in ensuring all Americans have opportunities to get ahead and the need for the U.S. to be better prepared to compete internationally. Barring action now, Obama said, "We will be waving the white flag while other countries forge ahead in the global economy."
The economy in the surrounding Galesburg community reflects much of the underlying economic concerns facing many Americans. A Maytag plant in the town shut its doors in 2004, leaving hundreds of people unemployed. Today, the factory still sits vacant. Galesburg's unemployment rate is just under 8 percent, and nearly a quarter of its population lives in poverty.
"Those old days aren't coming back," Obama conceded. He said the proposals he will outline in speeches later this summer will be aimed at adapting the U.S. economy to an increasingly competitive and interconnected world.
On education, the president promised "an aggressive strategy to shake up the system, tackle rising costs, and improve value for middle-class students and their families."
During the second stop Wednesday, Obama highlighted a program at the University of Central Missouri in Warrensburg that gives students education and skills at a faster pace while lowering the costs. Students earn a bachelor's degree in two years.
"You are a laboratory for this innovation. ... I want the entire country to notice it," Obama said. "I've asked my team to shake the trees all across the country for some of the best ideas out there for keeping college costs down."
The president also said he would use the speeches he'll give in the coming weeks to renew his calls for increasing the minimum wage and giving all 4-year-olds access to pre-school programs. The first of those speeches will come Tuesday, when Obama visits an Amazon distribution center in Chattanooga, Tenn.
Obama also pledged to take steps to encourage home ownership, make it easier for people to save for retirement and to continue to put in place the elements of his health care law in the face of efforts by Republicans in Congress to repeal, delay or eliminate funding for its various parts.
Pace reported from Washington.
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