Full transcript as prepared for delivery of President Obama's remarks on Wall Street reform at Cooper Union.
It's good to be back in the Great Hall at Cooper Union, where generations of leaders and citizens have come to defend their ideas and contest their differences. It's also good being back in Lower Manhattan, a few blocks from Wall Street, the heart of our nation's financial sector.
Since I last spoke here two years ago, our country has been through a terrible trial. More than 8 million people have lost their jobs. Countless small businesses have had to shut their doors. Trillions of dollars in savings has been lost, forcing seniors to put off retirement, young people to postpone college, and entrepreneurs to give up on the dream of starting a company. And as a nation we were forced to take unprecedented steps to rescue the financial system and the broader economy.
As a result of the decisions we made -- some which were unpopular -- we are seeing hopeful signs. Little more than one year ago, we were losing an average of 750,000 jobs each month. Today, America is adding jobs again. One year ago, the economy was shrinking rapidly. Today, the economy is growing. In fact, we've seen the fastest turnaround in growth in nearly three decades.
But we have more work to do. Until this progress is felt not just on Wall Street but Main Street we cannot be satisfied. Until the millions of our neighbors who are looking for work can find jobs, and wages are growing at a meaningful pace, we may be able to claim a recovery -- but we will not have recovered. And even as we seek to revive this economy, it is incumbent on us to rebuild it stronger than before. That means addressing some of the underlying problems that led to this turmoil and devastation in the first place.
One of the most significant contributors to this recession was a financial crisis as dire as any we've known in generations. And that crisis was born of a failure of responsibility -- from Wall Street to Washington -- that brought down many of the world's largest financial firms and nearly dragged our economy into a second Great Depression.
It was that failure of responsibility that I spoke about when I came to New York more than two years ago -- before the worst of the crisis had unfolded. I take no satisfaction in noting that my comments have largely been borne out by the events that followed. But I repeat what I said then because it is essential that we learn the lessons of this crisis, so we don't doom ourselves to repeat it. And make no mistake, that is exactly what will happen if we allow this moment to pass -- an outcome that is unacceptable to me and to the American people.
As I said two years ago on this stage, I believe in the power of the free market. I believe in a strong financial sector that helps people to raise capital and get loans and invest their savings. But a free market was never meant to be a free license to take whatever you can get, however you can get it. That is what happened too often in the years leading up to the crisis. Some on Wall Street forgot that behind every dollar traded or leveraged, there is family looking to buy a house, pay for an education, open a business, or save for retirement. What happens here has real consequences across our country.