A lack of economic opportunity among black men, and the shame and frustration that came from not being able to provide for one's family, contributed to the erosion of black families - a problem that welfare policies for many years may have worsened.
Obama's comment is striking because we're not supposed to think such things anymore. In our feminist age, we're meant to focus on the opposite: on how to achieve the economic independence of women, rather than on paying men a living wage to support their families.
That's one reason why the decline in the male wage has received so little attention. Last year, Andrew Beveridge released a report on real wage levels in the US since the 1970s. It showed that the average real wage for American men in their 20s fell from $39,641 in 1970 to $30,560 in 2005 - a tremendous decline over just a few decades. The average female wage rose very slightly over the same period.
This change in wage levels is presented to us as a progressive outcome we are supposed to celebrate - as it means that the female wage as a percentage of the male wage rose from 67% to 89% during this period.
But this is one of those big deceptions. The real level of female earnings only rose from $25,275 to $25,467. If there is greater equality, it's not because women are any better off than they were in 1970. It's because male wage rates have been dragged down.
There's another interesting fact revealed by Andrew Beveridge's report. Young women living in large cities in America are earning far more than their male counterparts. In New York they are earning 17% more than men ($35,653 compared to $30,560); in Dallas the disparity rises to 20%.
None of this is good news for family formation, as the decline in the male wage makes it increasingly difficult for men to offer a provider role to women. Barack Obama is aware of what this has meant in practice for the stability of the black family; there are already signs that family formation in the wider society is being similarly disrupted.