Obama says income inequality could worsen racial tensions

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In an interview with the New York Times, President Obama warned that racial tensions in America might “get worse” if the divide in income between the wealthiest Americans and the rest of the country comes to grow.

“People are frustrated. That’s what they talk to me about and that’s what they write to me about. (They say) ‘I’m doing okay right now, but what I’ve seen over the last 20 years and what I learned profoundly during this crisis is that the ground under my feet just isn’t as secure, and that the work I’m doing may not be rewarded.’  . . . And if that’s not what Washington’s talking about, then we will be missing the boat,” Obama said in an extended interview with the paper.

He added, “And racial tensions won’t get better; they may get worse, because people will feel as if they’ve got to compete with some other group to get scraps from a shrinking pot.”

The comment came in the midst of an interview with the Times on the president’s broader economic agenda, which he highlighted in a series of speeches last week. But Obama was also asked about this year’s celebration of the 50th anniversary of the 1963 March on Washington, when Martin Luther King gave his iconic “I Have a Dream” speech and used that question to speak broadly about race and class in America. (The president also noted he would “absolutely” be part of the anniversary celebration.)

“It’s obviously a historic, seminal event in the country. It’s part of my generation’s formative memory and it’s a good time for us to do some reflection. Obviously, after the Trayvon Martin case, a lot of people have been thinking about race, but I always remind people — and, in fact, I have a copy of the original program in my office, framed — that that was a march for jobs and justice; that there was a massive economic component to that,” Obama said.

He continued, “When you think about the coalition that brought about civil rights, it wasn’t just folks who believed in racial equality; it was people who believed in working folks having a fair shot. It was Walter Reuther and the UAW coming down here because they understood that if there are some workers who are not getting a fair deal then ultimately that’s going to undercut their ability to get a fair deal.”

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