My fellow Americans:
I'm glad to join all of you on this final weekend of the summer. Family vacations are now ending, kids are going back to school, and communities all over the Nation are preparing for Labor Day parades. And, by the way, this year marks the 100th anniversary of the first Labor Day parade. It isn't true that I was in that first parade; I've just read about it.
On Monday, we celebrate the dignity and productivity of America's working people. Our country has prospered because we're a nation of workers, and today there are nearly 100 million at work—more than 100 million according to the unadjusted figures and 99.8 million in the seasonally adjusted figures. Now, if that confuses you, well, I'm confused, too.
Unfortunately, on this Labor Day, however, too many of our fellow citizens are unemployed. That's a terrible word, "unemployed." It means hardship, uncertainty, frustration, helplessness. Many who are unemployed feel caught up in something they don't understand and over which they have no control. And they're right. It's not the fault of the laid-off fellow in Detroit that he's out of work. It's not his fault the autos aren't rolling down the assembly line. It's not the fault of the unemployed mother in Delaware that the printing plant closed down, throwing her out of a job.
The fact is unemployment has been gaining on us for years. Since 1976 the unemployment rate in this country has averaged over 7 percent—far higher than in earlier postwar years. It was only 2.9 percent in 1953.
I'm convinced that in these last few decades the increased intervention by government in the marketplace, tax policies that took too great a percentage of overall earnings, plus burdensome and unnecessary regulations reduced economic growth and kept us from creating new jobs for newcomers entering the job market.
Today the unemployment rate is 9.8 percent, and still the number of people with jobs is a higher percentage of those of working age than we had in times of full employment-higher than in 1953 when, as I said, unemployment was only 2.9 percent. I guess what I'm trying to point out is that our unemployment problem is due to more than just the present recession. We must not only work our way out of the recession, we must adopt policies that will stimulate economic growth and create new jobs for the increased numbers entering the job market.
This is the goal of our economic recovery program. Yes, it marks a decided turnaround from government tax-and-spend policies of the past four decades—deliberately so. And I believe it'll work. Indeed, the signs are there that it's beginning to work.
Last week I called attention to the decline in interest rates—21 1/2 percent down to 13 1/2 percent; inflation down from 12.4 percent to 5.4 percent since the first of the year. A family of four with a $15,000 income has $1,000 more in purchasing power than it would have if inflation had stayed at 12.4 percent.
Now, I know this is hard to see because prices keep going up. But they aren't going up as fast or as much as they were. What we're all waiting for is that zero rate when they stay where they are or even drop a little. Well, that, too, is what our program is designed to accomplish. And the leading economic indicators by which we know whether the economy is improving or getting worse have climbed for the fourth month in a row. That hasn't happened for a long time.
Clearly, the most important question now before us is whether we have the will and determination to hold our course. The next test will come when the Congress returns to Washington and decides whether to sustain my veto of a supplemental spending bill that would drive up spending once again. I hope we can work together to develop a more responsible bill.
In the meantime, I hope you'll join me this Labor Day weekend in saluting the workers of America. And while we're doing that, perhaps we can spare a moment of prayer for some workers in another country.
Here in America on Labor Day, we hold parades to support the principles of freedom. In Poland a few days ago, the people peacefully gathered to mark the second anniversary of Solidarity—a labor movement which revived our hope that nonviolent change and basic human rights could come to a closed Communist community. Their parade was met with guns, concussion grenades, tear gas, and water cannons.
As we attend our parades and picnics, let us remember how fortunate we are to be a free people. Let us remember the handwritten prayer that was recently found in an alcove of a Polish church. It read, "Thank you, Lord, that into this temple I may bring verses. It's the only place in our homeland where every Pole feels free and where he may evoke his pain. I beg you to give my country the strength to endure."
Well, let us in America be thankful for the strength of our free labor movement. May it long endure.
Thanks for listening, and God bless you. I'll be back next week at this same time.