CHICAGO -- Pressing his case in the town that launched his political career, President Barack Obama called yesterday for the government to take an active, wide-ranging role in ensuring every American has a "ladder of opportunity" into the middle class.

Speaking at Hyde Park Academy in Chicago, Obama sought support for proposals in his State of the Union address to increase the federal minimum wage and ensure every child can attend preschool. He also pitched plans to pair businesses with recession-battered communities to help them rebuild and provide job training.

"In too many neighborhoods today, whether here in Chicago or in the farthest reaches of rural America, it can feel like for a lot of young people the future only extends to the next street corner or the outskirts of town, that no matter how much you work or how hard you try, your destiny was determined the moment you were born," Obama said.

Ensuring that no child is denied the ability to go as far as his or her talents will allow means removing some of the roadblocks from early in life, Obama said, calling for intensified efforts to promote healthier family environments.

Obama also pledged to partner with 20 of the country's hardest-hit communities to "get them back in the game." He said his administration would work with local leaders to cut through red tape, targeting for help neighborhoods pulled down by violent crime.

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Although the purpose of Obama's visit was to promote economic proposals, he also touched on gun violence, a potent issue in Chicago.

Since the Tuesday speech, Obama has traveled to a new town each day, fleshing out its proposals and asking the public to get behind them. Once Obama returns to Washington next week, the tough task of getting congressional support for his proposals begins. -- AP