The President. Well, John Cruz, Jim Chandler, Dewey Thomas, Raymon Dones, and all of you very distinguished ladies and gentlemen, good afternoon and a warm welcome to you. Believe me, I extend that welcome with a very special pleasure, because when it comes to lifting human hearts with the spirit of hope and hard work, when it comes to building progress with a spirit of enterprise, and when it comes to building America by serving the Nation with pride, then, yes, we're talking about members of the National Association of Minority Contractors.
You understand so well a central truth of human progress: The struggle by all Americans for freedom from discrimination must be a spiritual struggle for brotherhood, must be a political struggle for full participation at the ballot box; but just as important, it must be an economic struggle for opportunity in a growth economy that creates jobs, not welfare; wealth, not poverty; and freedom, not dependency. And this is a lesson America has been taking too long a time to learn.
We know that prior to the 1960's it was an accepted and sometimes legal practice to discriminate in housing, education, public accommodations, and in employment. Then, in the wake of the Kennedy tax cuts, the economy began growing rapidly, but still minorities did not benefit as fully as they should have. Yet we will always remember the historic achievements of great Americans who have managed to overcome such discrimination—Americans like Andrew Brimmer, the first black ever to be appointed as a Governor of the Federal Reserve System; Ralph Bunche, the first American black to win the Nobel Peace Prize; and Benjamin Banneker, who contributed to the original design and great beauty of our Nation's Capital.
The civil rights movement of the 1960's helped start the repeal of the unjust system of discrimination. But beginning in 1966, on the very heels of the breakdown of these legal barriers, the economy entered a period of disappointing performance that lasted through the decade of the seventies. Black Americans had seen the economic train moving and had fought for and won the right to purchase a ticket. But as they came aboard, the train began to slow down, and then it stopped altogether.
Many of those big government programs had compassionate, indeed, noble intentions, but they also had serious adverse consequences. They marked a departure from creating wealth to creating dependency. I believe what black Americans need more, or most, is more opportunity, more enterprise, a bigger cash box, and economic emancipation. And to paraphrase, Thomas Wolfe, to every man and woman, regardless of their birth, their shining, golden opportunity to live, to work, to be themselves and to become whatever their vision can combine to make them—that is the promise of America. And that promise is what we came to Washington to restore.
When we arrived here we found the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression. And I know to many of you the Great Depression is just something you've read about. But take it from one who lived through it as an adult— [laughter] —trying to get a job and working, the most recent recession, bad as it was, there was just no comparison with that Great Depression. And we must never have anything like that happen again in our land.
Double-digit inflation though, 4 years ago, was destroying people's savings and brutally attacking the elderly and others on fixed incomes. Overregulation, high taxes, and record interest rates were destroying a dream of minority business ownership and home ownership for all but at select few. So, we went to work to make a fundamental change in direction—a change from control by government to control of government; a change from taxing you more, no matter how hard you tried, to rewarding you for your work and for your working harder and producing more than ever before.
We said we couldn't change more than a decade of mistakes overnight, that our progress would come in inches and feet, rather than miles, but that progress would come. And now I know the concerns expressed about this administration's programs, and, frankly, if I believed the things that I've heard and read, I'd be concerned, too. But when we look at America, I think we can see a much different picture.
We can see inflation down from 12.4 percent to 3.6 percent for the last 3 months, interest rates down significantly, and the growth of regulations cut by a third. And that's progress.
We can see an American economic expansion, led by a surge of productivity, innovation, the fastest rising rate of business investment since 1949, and a record number of business incorporations. And that's progress.
And we can see more jobs created in the last 18 months than in any other country, including millions of jobs for minorities and women. And that's progress, too.
The overall black unemployment rate has fallen more sharply than the white unemployment rate; but it's still much too high, and it's needlessly high. For 2 years, a cruel charade has been perpetuated by some in the Congress on people at the bottom of the income scale, the very people who most desperately need opportunities to better themselves, to develop their skills, and to become productive, self-reliant members of the American mainstream.
As you know, we've proposed an innovative idea that's called enterprise zones to begin providing opportunities in some of the most destitute areas of the country and in our inner cities. But today, areas that could have become new sites for development and economic growth, pockets of enterprise, jobs, and a bright and hopeful future, remain vacant, neglected, and impoverished. Despite more than 2 years of waiting, despite support from over a hundred Democrats in the Congress and the great majority of Republicans, and despite a track record of success with many State and local governments who've already moved ahead in that area, the liberal leadership in the House has deliberately blocked our enterprise zones proposal from coming to a vote. And I think that's more than a tragedy; it's an outrage.
And let me just say to them today: Please spare us their sermons on fairness and compassion. If they want minority Americans to have more opportunity, doing nothing isn't doing enough. Give enterprise zones a fair debate out there on the floor and then a chance for the representatives in government to vote on it. In the name of growth, let's stop talking billions for dependency and start creating opportunity [enterprise] zones for opportunity. And in the name of America, let's stop spreading bondage and start spreading freedom.
Now, we hope to have a vote today—but certainly before the Congress goes home-on another important issue which could provide opportunities, experience, discipline, and greater self-esteem for teenagers. I'm talking about our youth employment opportunity wage proposal, which I'm sure you support—and we're very grateful for your support.
We've seen that one of the greatest barriers to more jobs for youth, and especially for minority young people, is the single minimum wage system. The truth is, while everyone must be assured a fair wage, there's no sense in mandating $3.35 an hour for startup jobs that simply aren't worth that much in the marketplace, the kind of jobs that young people can get in the vacation months of the summer or after school and weekend jobs. All that does is guarantee that fewer jobs for teenagers will be created and fewer people will be hired. So, in the time remaining, we hope you'll help persuade the Congress to pass our youth unemployment [employment] opportunity wage [bill].
We can create more than 400,000 new summer jobs for American youth. We can do it without displacing existing workers, and that should be a goal everyone supports, Republicans and Democrats alike. It is a lower minimum wage for young people who are still getting an education and who'll be going out there looking for their first jobs.
And while I'm on the subject of bipartisanship, I want to urge the Congress to pass the deficit down payment measures that have been approved by the House-Senate conference last weekend. And let's be clear on one thing; those measures are only a part of what the Congress must achieve in spending restraint. We'll be watching the appropriations process with an eagle eye, and I stand ready to use my veto pen to make sure that spending growth by government continues to come down.
If the dream of America is to be preserved, we must not waste the genius of one mind, the strength of one body, or the spirit of one soul. We must use every asset we have, and our greatest progress will come by mobilizing the power of private enterprise. I don't think anything could better show our commitment to minority business development than the actions that we've taken in your own area of minority contracting.
We presented our program in December of 1982, and some of the results are beginning to show. The major points of that initiative were a program to form 6,000 new minority businesses a year for the next 10 years; a commitment to expand, with Federal help, at least 60,000 existing minority business enterprises; and a commitment by which the Federal Government intends to procure some $15 billion in minority business goods and services over the 3 fiscal years.
To get things rolling, Federal agency MBE procurement objectives were to be increased by at least 10 percent over fiscal year '82 levels, and I'm delighted to report that we succeeded. We've also been successful in our efforts to increase minority vending by recipients of Federal grants and cooperative agreements, increase credit assistance, and maintain the level of management and technical assistance.
About a year ago, on July 14th, 1983, I signed an Executive order to improve Federal planning for minority business programs. Department and agency heads were directed to develop and implement incentives to encourage greater minority business subcontracting by Federal prime contractors. I directed SBA, the Small Business Administration, to make special efforts to expand the number of minority firms participating in Federal procurement programs. And I'm delighted to report that from March of '83 to March of this year, SBA added 588 firms to their programs.
We encouraged American business leaders to expand their business transactions with minority firms. And the Surface Transportation Assistance Act has resulted in an additional $1 billion in new minority contracting opportunities for both this year and last year.
Now, here's what meeting our goal will mean to you. Nearly $3 billion more in contracting will be provided for minority businesses in 3 years than was provided in all the 12 years during the last three administrations. And just so no one forgets these commitments and the need for continued growth, we've started a new tradition: Beginning last year, and from now on, the first full week in October has been designated Minority Enterprise Development Week.
Now, I know that some of you may have questions about our policy in light of events in Dade County. Well, the Justice Department's position in that case resulted from the technical wording of that particular ordinance, which allowed bids by only one minority group to the exclusion of all others.
And this administration has strongly supported programs to provide special assistance to minority businesses, as evidenced by our active minority procurement program. And I assure you today, we're going to continue to do so.
Given opportunities, we know that minority firms can prevail in fair and open competition. And we will keep supporting, at every level of government, a broad range of programs to reach out to disadvantaged sectors of the community and to increase their opportunities to participate in government contracting.
We're trying to provide the broadest possible range of opportunities to all Americans without regard to race, creed, color, or sex. And sometimes it makes your day when you hear from people that understand this and agree.
I received a letter from a 39-year-old black man who said, "Your policies are not in the least bit anti-black or anti-poor. As a matter of fact," he said, "it's my opinion that your fight against inflation, your war on the drug traffic, your tough stand against street crime, your effort in revitalizing the nation's economy, are all of great importance to us poor people and us black people in America." Well, he brightened my day. To people like him and to all of you, I can only say thank you for what you give to America. Thank you for keeping her strong, for keeping her free, and for keeping our dream alive.
Together we can make our beloved land the source of all dreams and opportunities that she was placed on this good Earth to provide. I can't help but believe that we are on the good path and that if we continue on that path, our children will walk together into a glorious future and prosperity.
Let me just say one thing, that you're contributing—perhaps it hasn't struck you yet—but the contribution you're making. One of the contributing factors to poverty is, in a community or a neighborhood, dollars that come in there. How many times do they revolve before they move out of that community to do business elsewhere? And for too long a time your neighborhoods have been ones where the dollars didn't even rotate once before they went out into the other communities.
But you, by creating the businesses that you have, you are going to change that factor, and prosperity for all people will come more and more as you see that those dollars are spent within the neighborhood several times before they find their way out to somebody in the outside.
So, God bless you for what you're doing. And we're going to continue to try and help in any way we can, and we'll heed your suggestions and advice whenever you feel that you'd like to offer it. Thanks very much.
Mr. Cruz. Mr. President, on behalf of the National Association of Minority Contractors, its board of directors, and its membership, we'd like to present you with, first, a memento of our association's national convention that's taking place here and, secondly, a symbolic NAMC hardhat, which symbolizes the contributions that minority contractors have made in the past and will continue to make in the future to building and making America great, strong, and free.
The President. Well, thank you very much. Thank you. You may not think I have any place to wear this— [laughter] -but you don't know how many times I have to go up on the Hill and meet with the Congress. [Laughter]
Ms. Clarke. Mr. President, can I say one word, please?
The President. Yes.
Ms. Clarke. I just want to take this opportunity to shake your hand. I am a black businesswoman here in the United States and a proud American and proud that you are our President and are helping us to do what is right, for leading us in the right direction.
The President. Thank you very much.
Ms. Clarke. My name is Sheryl Clarke.