Good morning. In just 3 days now, the American people will perform the most profound act of our democracy. They'll step into the voting booths all across America and, with the power guaranteed them by the Constitution, decide the future direction of our great Nation. It's an awesome responsibility, especially at this remarkable moment in history, when our ability to build the future of our dreams for our children has never been greater.
Look at what we've already accomplished together. Eight years ago, interest rates were high, and 10 million of our people were out of work. Deficits and debt were skyrocketing; so were the welfare rolls, crime, teen pregnancy, and income inequality.
But the American people made a choice to follow a new path, guided by old values of opportunity for all, responsibility from all, in a community of all Americans. And today, we're a Nation transformed, with the longest economic expansion in our history, more than 22 million new jobs, the lowest unemployment in 30 years, wages rising at all income levels, the highest homeownership in history. Just yesterday we learned that unemployment remains at 3.9 percent, and Hispanic unemployment has dropped to 5 percent, the lowest level on record. African-American unemployment has also been cut in half over the last 8 years to its lowest level ever recorded.
This turnaround is about more than economics. We've also got the lowest welfare rolls in 32 years, the lowest crime rates in 26 years. Teen pregnancy and drug abuse are down. Student test scores are up. There are fewer people without health insurance, for the first time in a dozen years.
Now, how do we keep this remarkable progress going? That's the question America must decide on Tuesday, because the best is still out there waiting for us.
Let me give you just one example. We all know that medical decisions should be made by doctors and nurses, not accountants, and that health plans too often do deny vital care and do delay appeals for months on end. There is now a bipartisan majority in Congress ready to pass a real, enforceable Patients' Bill of Rights to deal with problems like these. But the Republican leaders in Congress, under pressure from the HMO lobby, won't bring it up for a vote. That's not how democracy should work.
As President, there are steps I can take to move us forward, and today I am taking an important one. I'm directing the Labor Department to issue final rules within 2 weeks requiring private health plans covering 130 million Americans to provide a fair and unbiased process for patients to appeal when coverage has been denied or delayed.
Under this new rule, for the very first time, health plans would be required to make coverage decisions quickly and to provide consumers with reliable information on their rights and benefits. This new rule is an important step toward providing Americans the health care protections they need and deserve. But the only way to give every American in every health plan the right to see a specialist, to go to the nearest emergency room—not the cheapest—and to hold a health care plan accountable when it causes harm, the only way to do those things is to pass a real, enforceable Patients' Bill of Rights. The American people can make sure that will happen by voting on Tuesday.
Now, you know my choice. But what's important is your choice. A lot is at stake. Your vote will decide whether we're going to use the budget surplus to make America debt-free and keep interest rates low and the economy growing, or go back to an age of deficits. Your vote will decide whether we strengthen Social Security and Medicare and add affordable prescription drug benefits to Medicare.
Your vote will decide whether we invest in education and new classrooms and smaller class sizes, in improving teacher quality and turning around failing schools. Your vote will decide whether we bring prosperity to people and places left behind in our recovery. Your vote will decide whether we stand up to hate crimes and racial profiling, provide equal pay for equal work, and protect a woman's right to choose.
Franklin Roosevelt once said, the ultimate rulers of our democracy are not a President or Senators or Congressmen or Government officials but the voters of this country. From Lexington and Concord to the beaches of Normandy to the streets of Selma, brave Americans fought and died for the rights we enjoy today. Now, with 8 years of great progress behind us, we know we have the power to build the future of our dreams for our children.
Let's start on Tuesday by going to the polls and exercising our fundamental American freedom.
Thanks for listening.