WASHINGTON President Barack Obama addressed U.S. struggles with class and race in personal terms on Tuesday and renewed his call to close tax loopholes enjoyed by wealthy hedge fund managers as a way to reduce poverty among Americans.
"The top 25 hedge fund managers made more than all the kindergarten teachers in the country," Obama said at a panel discussion on poverty at Georgetown University. He advocated for a higher tax rate on the fees that hedge fund managers collect.
"If we can’t ask from society’s lottery winners to just make that modest investment, then, really, this conversation is for show."
With police shootings of unarmed black men in the news and roughly a year and a half left in the White House to shape his legacy, Obama and his wife, Michelle, have become increasingly open in their remarks about race.
At the panel discussion, the president defended his practice of encouraging young African American men to take responsibility for their children when they become parents.
"I am a black man who grew up without a father and I know the cost that I paid for that. And I also know that I have the capacity to break that cycle, and as a consequence, I think my daughters are better off," he said to applause.
Obama's comments came a few days after the first lady spoke candidly about the challenges the couple faced as African Americans.
"We’ve both felt the sting of those daily slights throughout our entire lives: the folks who crossed the street in fear of their safety; the clerks who kept a close eye on us in all those department stores; the people at formal events who assumed we were the 'help,'" Michelle Obama said during a commencement address at Tuskegee University in Alabama on Saturday.
The president's remarks covered income inequality as much as racial divides.
He said policy makers had to budget for programs that helped impoverished youth, and he singled out changing tax loopholes such as one on "carried interest" enjoyed by fund managers as a way to help boost resources for such programs.
Obama, who once criticized "fat cat bankers" on Wall Street, has toned down his rhetoric about executive pay in recent years while remaining focused on boosting the middle class. He is likely to continue that focus, along with work on "My Brother's Keeper," a program to help young black men, after leaving the White House.
(Reporting by Jeff Mason; Editing by David Gregorio)