Economic inequality was a major focus of U.S. President Barack Obama’s 2014 State of the Union address, delivered Jan. 28 to members of Congress and to the nation.

The president criticized the economic gap between “those at the top” and those “working too hard just to get by.” He called for the support of “entrepreneurs and small business owners” to help bolster “middle class jobs.”

In addition, he reinforced his call for Congress to raise the national minimum raise to $10.10, pointing to a handful of states and private companies that have already adopted policies boosting minimum wages for employees.

“It's good for the economy, it's good for America,” the president said, announcing that he would sign an executive order raising the minimum wage for federal contractors.

In addition to economic concerns, Obama’s 2014 State of the Union address touched on immigration, gun control, energy and foreign policy.

He vowed to “fix our broken immigration system,” asking Congress to “get immigration reform done this year.”

He also stressed the need to improve education across the country and expand industries such as clean energy to enhance the U.S. role in the global economy.

Turning to “women’s issues,” the president avoided the controversial topics of abortion and the federal contraception mandate, instead focusing his comments on gender wage equality and stating that a woman should be able “to have a baby without sacrificing her job.”

“I firmly believe when women succeed, America succeeds,” he said.

Addressing the 2010 Affordable Care Act, Obama encouraged Americans to apply for health insurance by the end of March. While he acknowledged continued Republican opposition to the law, he suggested that they had not put forward any better alternatives.

Also discussed in his speech were the federal government’s partnerships with local and state leaders on “issues from homelessness to marriage equality” --- the first mention of marriage redefinition in a State of the Union address.

In addition, the president discussed the official end of the United States' interventions in Iraq and Afghanistan, while noting continued involvement in the Middle East and other areas “as al Qaeda affiliates and other extremists take root in different parts of the world.”

He pledged support for the Syrian opposition “that rejects the agenda of terrorist networks” and promised the expansion of cybersecurity and other security programs.

Addressing concerns about the overreach of surveillance and the use of unmanned aerial attacks, Obama stated that he has “imposed prudent limits on the use of drones” and will “reform our surveillance programs.”

He emphasized the use of diplomacy backed by the threat of force when dealing with situations such as Iran's recent reported attempts to obtain the materials necessary to build a nuclear bomb.

“We are clear-eyed about Iran’s support for terrorist organizations like Hezbollah, which threaten our allies,” the president said, “and the mistrust between our nations cannot be wished away.”

Urging Americans --- and particularly members of Congress --- to build a more just and equal nation, Obama reiterated that he was willing to “act on my own” if necessary to “make this a year of action.”

House Republican Conference Chair Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.) also discussed jobs and the economy in her official GOP response to the State of the Union.

She suggested that the real problem is “opportunity equality,” compounded by unnecessary government policies, taxes and spending.

“Too many people are falling further and further behind because, right now, the president’s policies are making people’s lives harder,” she charged.

The congresswoman highlighted her own personal background working on her family’s orchard as an example of American potential and success when given opportunity. She also talked about her young son with Down syndrome, and how her family sees him as “a gift from God” and a child full of potential.

Critiquing the health care reform law, McMorris Rodgers argued that the plans offered under the law are unaffordable.

“No, we shouldn’t go back to the way things were,” she said, “but this law is not working.”

Touching on the issue of immigration, she stated that Republicans are “working on a step-by-step solution to immigration reform,” focusing on border patrol and “making sure America will always attract the best, brightest, and hardest working from around the world.”

Calling for policies to rebuild “the American Dream,” McMorris Rodgers echoed the president’s call to make 2014 “a year of real action.”

---Catholic News Agency