Members of the Congress, my old friend dime Forand, distinguished guests, His Excellency the Ambassador from Malawi Ambassador Gondwe:
I have just had a delightful visit with the Ambassador who comes from the African Continent, who was telling me that the average life expectancy in his country is little less than 40 years of age. I was reminded that in 1900, when this century began, the life expectancy in this country was 47 years of age, and what great improvements we have made here in our own land, and what great opportunity we had in the world to contribute to their improvements.
This year, the century has reached the age of 65, and nearly one out of ten Americans have lived that full span or longer.
Lengthening the life span is a major achievement of our time. It is also the source of one of the major challenges to the values and the vision of our Great Society.
This Older Americans Act that we meet here this morning to bring into being--the act of 1965, the act that is authored by the distinguished, socially-conscious gentlemen from Rhode Island and Michigan, my old friend, John Fogarty, and my colleague of many years, Pat McNamara--known as the Fogarty-McNamara bill--will help us to meet that challenge for more than 18 million Americans who have already reached age 65, as well as the hundreds of thousands or more who are becoming 65 at the rate of 1 every 20 seconds. I know that doesn't apply to any of you out there, but that is what is happening in America.
Congressman Fogarty, Senator McNamara, and my distinguished Cabinet colleague here, Secretary Tony Celebrezze, and many more, deserve our gratitude for their leadership and their achievement in this legislation.
The Older Americans Act clearly affirms our Nation's sense of responsibility toward the well-being of all of our older citizens. But even more, the results of this act will help us to expand our opportunities for enriching the lives of all of our citizens in this country, now and in the years to come.
This legislation is really the seed-corn that provides an orderly, intelligent, and constructive program to help us meet the new dimensions of responsibilities which lie ahead in the remaining years of this century.
Under this program every State and every community can now move toward a coordinated program of services and opportunities for our older citizens. We revere them; we extend them our affection; we respect them. We have been talking about it all these years, now we are doing something about it. It is a fait accompli. The talk has gone ahead of us, the bills have been drafted, they are here for signature, and they become the law of the land.
Now many of our States and communities are already demonstrating imagination and initiative in this particular field, and it comes .pretty late. It is too late to do a lot for a good many older Americans. They have already gone on. But a few communities have achieved the coordinated, community wide programs which we think are needed, and we hope that this will just be a kickoff point for others to emulate their example.
The Older Americans Act will make it possible for us to move faster in these places where we have already started. It will permit us to travel new ways where old ways have not worked before. It will permit new beginnings where none have been made before.
The grants under this law will be modest in dollars, but will be far-reaching in results. Its results will come where they are needed-always at the hometown level. I am hopeful, as I know and believe that the Congress is hopeful, that this will permit us to find greater uses for the skills and the wisdom and the experience that is found in the maturity of our older citizens.
The importance of meeting this challenge just cannot be overstated. At present, 1.5 million Americans reach age 65 each year--1 1/2 million. Since 1900 the proportion of persons in our population age 65 and over has already doubled. What a tribute that is to our medical profession. And you haven't seen anything yet.
When the conference committee reports in the Senate, and the House adopts their report, we have the Medicare act that this great man introduced many, many years ago--it was almost dangerous for him to walk down the corridor, after he introduced that bill, for several years. When it comes into being, there will be a real new day for older Americans in this country.
I understand that of all the persons that have reached age 65 since the dawn of civilization, 25 percent of them are alive today. These older generations need to participate in what we are doing and, as a Nation, we can profit from their participation.
This Congress has already done more for the youth of America in terms of education than any Congress of this century. And Senator Morse, who doesn't always endorse everything I do abroad, does endorse practically everything we do at home, and helps us to do it; and I want to salute him and all the other legislators for what they have done in making this the greatest education Congress in history. And before this session is concluded, I am confident we may be able to say the same of the record of this Congress as far as older people are concerned that we are able to say about education.
I am very proud to have the privilege of now signing into law this measure for the benefit of the men and women who have done so much in this century to build in America a just, a decent, a free, and a peaceful society. I hope that every person within the sound of my voice will be willing to continue to unite behind us in not only expanding the life expectancy in this country, but in trying to help our neighbors in the world to achieve the same remarkable results that all of you members of both parties, by working together, have achieved in this country.
This is really a bright spot in my public career, and the only thing I regret is that so many of the older Americans, including my college president, and including my mother who inspired me many years ago to take an interest in this field, are not here to see the results of the Fogarty-McNamara legislation and the legislators, each of whom made a major contribution in this field.
I asked Senator Douglas when he got out of the Senate someday if he wanted to be my Comptroller General, because he is always finding ways to save money that I can use on good things like education, health, and older Americans. And if we can find ways in these departments that just stop part of the waste, we will have much of our resources to use in fields of this kind.
Thank you very much.