Michelle Obama: We understand financial challenges

April 8, 2008 5:50:27 PM PDT
It wasn't until Barack Obama wrote a pair of best-selling books that he and his wife escaped their student loan debt, an experience Michelle Obama said Tuesday helps the couple understand everyday challenges better than policymakers in Washington. "We are not so far away from life that we don't understand and get it," said Michelle Obama, wife of the Democratic presidential candidate.

Obama met with a group of about 50 women at a town-hall meeting in Harrisburg, just north of Charlotte. It was part of a daylong tour of North Carolina ahead of the state's May 6 primary.

At the Tuesday morning forum, the women said increases in the cost of gas, education and health care - along with an unstable job market - have taken a toll.

"The truth is most Americans don't want much," Obama said. "Folks don't want the whole pie. Most Americans feel blessed to thrive a little bit - but that's out of reach for them."

Obama told the crowd that when she and her husband left law school, the monthly payments on their school loan debt was more than their monthly mortgage payment. She said they only got out of that debt when Barack Obama wrote his two books, "The Audacity of Hope" and "Dreams from My Father."

Both Obamas graduated from Harvard Law School.

Most of the Obamas' income in 2006, when they had $991,296 in annual income, came from royalties on the books. That was down from the nearly $1.7 million they took in 2005, a total also boosted by a book deal. The Obamas have not released their 2007 tax returns, but have pledged to do so later this month.

Obama's rival for the Democratic presidential nomination - New York Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton - reported earning $20.4 million along with her husband in 2007. Since leaving the White House, the Clintons have made nearly $109 million, much of it coming from book deals and Bill Clinton's speeches.

At a later stop in Winston-Salem, Michelle Obama said each time her husband exceeds expectations in the presidential race, the standard changes.

"They tell you to raise money, you raise money," she said. "They tell you to build an organization, and you build an organization.

"And you work hard and you reach that bar. Sometimes you surpass the bar and you look around and all of a sudden the bar has moved. The bar has changed on you and you wonder what happened."

Obama said students face a similar plight, surpassing the standards needed to get into college only to struggle with the rising costs of tuition. It's no difference with the nation's seniors, she said, who are discovering their pensions don't pay enough to cover the rising costs of living.