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Today, President Obama kicks off his tour to talk about improving the economic prospects for the middle class. What hope can he offer people who earn around the national median wage?

People like Emily Flaherty, a pet groomer at an animal hospital near Birmingham, Alabama. She makes about $15 an hour. What's left over after she pays the bills?

"There's nothing, there's nothing," she says.  "I've actually been using credit cards to get by. I keep thinking…hoping to get ahead for a week or a month, but it never happens.”

Even though she scrimps, Flaherty says she doesn’t know how she will afford college for her two teenage daughters.

"I mean, I do not have Internet, I do not have cable. I feel like I'm on Gilligan's Island sometimes, but…you have to make those choices to make ends meet," she says.

Many Americans face a similar challenge. Like Flaherty, roofers, farm-equipment mechanics and dental assistants, are among the those who earn around the median wage. That's $16.71 an hour, according to the latest government figures.

"That middle group is struggling and has been struggling," says Steven Pressman, who teaches economics at Monmouth University.

He says upward mobility has been a problem for years. And it will likely be years before middle class Americans can climb the economic ladder again.