Franklin D. Roosevelt

Excerpts from the Press Conference

October 20, 1942

THE PRESIDENT: I have had a number of letters and telegrams and questions asked, in regard to bringing in some very much needed labor from Mexico to help us in some of the places where there is a great shortage of farm labor to move certain definite crops. I asked the State Department what the status was, and they gave me this memorandum.

The arrangements were made under an agreement with the Mexican Government, on August 4, to bring in Mexican agricultural workers. And at the present time there are being brought in under that, 3,000 Mexican agricultural workers, nearly all in California. I think a few in Arizona.

The State Department says contingents of several hundreds of these workers have been moving across the border, under the supervision of representatives of the Farm Security Administration. That has been going on for the past three weeks. These Mexican workers have crossed the border with great enthusiasm, and have marked their trains with banners expressing their eagerness to serve the democratic cause by saving harvests vital to the war effort of the United Nations.

The State Department also says that thousands of other Mexican agricultural workers have registered with their own Government as being ready to lend a hand in the production of strategic food crops for ourselves and for our allies. The effective work of those already in the harvest fields of California, readiness of many more to lend a helping hand, the generous response of the Mexican Government to our call for agricultural manpower, are eloquent witness of the important role that our Mexican allies can and are taking in the war of production, upon which the inevitable success of our military program depends.

I take it that others will be brought in, if they are needed to save crops at the time of harvesting, in States that are nearest to the Mexican border. But if necessary in some cases, like the Montana beet fields, they are already moving in some of the Japanese labor into the Montana beet fields. And it is expected that with the shortage, about eight hundred or a thousand more people will probably make the safety of that gathering of the beets assured.

I was told something I did not know before, and that was that if you once get the beets out of the ground—it's very hard work, it isn't the kind of work that women or high school children can do—if you once get the beets out of the ground and pile them at once, it doesn't make any difference if they freeze after that. But you have got to get them out of the ground before the ground freezes. And now that will be accomplished before the ground freezes. . . .

Q. There has been some discussion of blanket exemptions of dairy farmers, and people on stock farms, and so forth. Is there anything you could tell us about the general manpower picture now, as it applies to this situation?

THE PRESIDENT: Only this. Let's take a simple formula. Suppose there are a hundred people—men and women combined. There are probably at least fifty different kinds of occupations, including being soldiers, including being farm workers, including turning out airplanes. There are about fifty different categories that we have got to satisfy out of those hundred people. Now any legislation which attempts to say what proportion must under law be carried out is unsound, for two reasons. Things vary in different parts of the country. They even vary in two cities that are fifty miles apart. They vary in needs between one month and another month. And if we once start to go into the details of the use of manpower by legislative amendments, instead of one amendment you might get fifty amendments. And if you got fifty amendments covering all the different occupations that they went into, either the thing would contradict itself, or even if it didn't contradict itself, it might apply in October, but not apply in November. And that's why I don't think that the limiting amendments by groups, occupations, trades, war necessities, or anything else, is perhaps the sound way of approaching it. You can have some over-all objectives. That's all right. . . .

Q. I would like to be really elemental about it, Mr. President, as everybody has his own problem, and probably everyone who goes into it will find a farmer who says that he had three farm hands helping him milk the cows, and trundle the milk down the end of the lane, and that two of them left for the factory for three times the wages. Now the old man and the farm hand can't milk the cows. They are dying to get it hauled down there. The sum total of that is the prediction of a milk shortage. And the sum total is the prediction of other shortages all through the country.

THE PRESIDENT: That's what we are trying to avoid.

Q. Is that the thing we are leading up to?

THE PRESIDENT: I think it goes a great deal farther than that —infinitely farther.

Well now, for example, one of the problems that we have probably got to face—mind you, that all ties in with Government finance and consumer purchasing power—I was out for a drive the other day, and went through a small town not far from the national Capital. And we got held up in traffic two or three times, and I was looking in the store windows. My goodness, three-quarters of the store windows were filled with luxury goods, just plain luxury goods that we could do without, all of us. And one reason is that about a year and a half ago, maybe, people began stocking up their inventories, all over. Now we have got to face the question on manpower as to whether we are going to allow the production of luxury goods any more. That's a very nice question.

Now, here is just another little angle. In this country cash —dollar bills, five-dollar bills, nickels, dimes, quarters, fifty-cent pieces—there are normally about nine billion of them. And today there are about fourteen billion, using very rough figures. In other words, an awful lot more cash floating around. Well, I remember I went into the Navy Department in 1913, and every two weeks I got my salary in cash, and I put it in my pocket. I don't know where it went. (Laughter) It just went. I had money in my pocket. I couldn't keep an account with myself. And after about six months of this, certain complaints came from back home about paying the grocery bill.

And so I began taking my salary by check and putting it in the bank, and taking perhaps five dollars cash for the week and putting it in my pocket—trying to anyway. (Laughter)

Now people that have got this extra five billion dollars in the country in their pockets, they are going to spend an awful lot of that automatically—it's just human nature- for unnecessary things—luxuries.

Now if they spend it for luxuries, there is going to be a demand for luxuries on the part of the storekeeper, because he can sell them. And making luxuries uses up manpower. So that ties in with the manpower problem. Perhaps an effort should be made to be a little more drastic in preventing the manufacture of luxuries. If you don't see luxuries in the store window it means the store hasn't got any, and you don't buy it because you don't see it, or if you ask for it, they haven't got it.

It's one of those perfectly elemental things which enters into all kinds of problems. For instance, buying war bonds. If a fellow takes his salary in cash, the way I did, he is much more likely not to buy war bonds. I wouldn't know how to write this thing but I don't think you can take just one aspect of the thing, about the problem of the milk farmer's getting his milk down to the end of the lane without considering all the other things.

Q. But you don't forget the farmers?

THE PRESIDENT: Oh, no. Then, of course, you come to another thing. I know one place in this country where a farmer could very easily get two or three high school boys to come down there and carry the milk down to the end of the lane. Also, I know other places in the country, out in the Middle West where the distances are great, where they can't get any high school boys to help them. Every county is different from every other county.

Q. Mr. President, is there anything you can tell us about a plan to furlough men from the Army to go back into industries where they are needed?

THE PRESIDENT: Oh, I would say again the rule of common sense. On this trip I saw men 35 to 40 years old in two of these camps. . . . Well, they would have been much better off in a munitions factory. I think they were too old to march 25 miles a day with heavy equipment. And I imagine that in the Army some of the people who have been inducted already, especially if they can be definitely used in a specific place, some trade they know to be useful in war production, that they will be furloughed back to that kind of work, instead of trying to stay in a combat division in uniform.

Q. Will they continue to draft men of the older group, Mr. President?

THE PRESIDENT: I don't know. Of course there are some fellows, mirabile dictu, who are still physically fit at the age of forty that might be drafted. (Laughter). . .

Q. Mr. President, in 1936 you endorsed Senator George W. Norris of Nebraska for reelection. He is running again this year in a three-way race. I wonder if you would care to say anything about it?

THE PRESIDENT: Well, I am sort of caught unprepared on that one, but I tell you what I wish you would do. I have got a recollection that in 1936 I went to a great big, I think it was an organization Democratic meeting in one of the biggest halls I have ever seen, Aksarben Coliseum, Omaha, Nebraska. And I made a speech at that time, and it's somewhere in my public papers. I would be afraid to quote from it, because it's a long time since I saw it. But the fact remains that at that time, in that speech, I did get a Democratic organization meeting up on its feet cheering for George Norris. And Steve [Early], if you dig that out and have it copied, that part of it, let the boys have it. It's public property. It isn't copyrighted. I don't know that I would change one word of what I said at that time. . . .

Franklin D. Roosevelt, Excerpts from the Press Conference Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

Simple Search of Our Archives