Franklin D. Roosevelt

Excerpts from the Press Conference

May 13, 1938

THE PRESIDENT: I think the only thing I have today is a letter from Mr. [John] Biggers, making his semi-final report on the unemployment census. He points out that the cost of the census, including everything, will not exceed $1,986,000 out of the $5,000,000 that was authorized for the census. In other words, $3,000,000 will be turned back to the Treasury. The printed report will be submitted shortly and made public.

He points out that the saving in cost and in speed with which the whole thing was done was due primarily to the utilization of the facilities of other governmental agencies, the Post Office Department and others. In the short time that the census was concluded, he has tabulations for 3,070 counties and special tabulations for 952 cities, cities with a population of 10,000 or more, broken down in such form that each state, county and city can use this information as a valuable aid in solving its own unemployment problem.

The staff of the organization is now substantially disbanded, only a few people being left to check the final reports and the liquidation of accounts 85,000,000 unemployment report cards were distributed to every home in the country in one day.

'The voluntary educational campaign in which the press, the radio, and the motion pictures all played important parts had so well acquainted the people with the purpose and importance of the census that over 11,000,000 people voluntarily filled out registration cards. 5,833,401 reported as totally unemployed—

Q. May I have that figure again?

THE PRESIDENT: 5,833,401 reported as totally unemployed; 2,011,615 as unemployed, except for emergency work; and 3,219,502 as partially unemployed.

Fifteen tons of postal cards came into Washington.

The census demonstrated the possibility of quick action and cooperation among the branches of the Government to undertake emergency tasks.

Regardless of fluctuating totals, the data showing characteristics and composition of unemployment have permanent value. These facts developed include a study of ages and sex; dependent workers; geographical distribution; industries and occupations—Steve [Early] will make this available for you—all of which will be necessary as a basis for any comprehensive reemployment plan. Since this information is available by counties and cities of 10,000 and more population, an opportunity and a challenge are presented to local communities to assist in solving our principal economic problem.

An interesting revelation is the fact that as the main breadwinner of a family is thrown out of work, additional members of the family seek work which accentuates the number of unemployed in depression times. Likewise, it proves the fact that to bring about recovery, it is not necessary to provide jobs equal in number to the unemployed, because, as breadwinners are restored to work, other potential workers vanish from the labor market.

That seems to be fairly well established. In other words, the unemployment census has real value; and makes it much more easy for the Government to conduct the next unemployment census in conjunction with the decennial census of 1940.

Q. Mr. President, do you think this unemployment census should be a continuing function so that fortnight by fortnight or month by month the Nation should know accurately the changing figures of unemployment?

THE PRESIDENT: I think we are, in general, working toward a system of that kind. In other words, it may be called a voluntary registration system.

Q. If I recall correctly, before John Biggers started that I got the impression, both from you and Mr. Hopkins, that such a census would be of no practical value, or words to that effect. Has it turned out—

THE PRESIDENT: [interposing] It has turned out to be of real value, not only for the bringing together of definite figures for the time that it was taken, which was the first week in December, but it also ended all kinds of perfectly crazy stories, stories that were put out by all kinds of people, where the figures varied by millions, and gave us a perfectly definite point of departure. Also, it is very useful for the future.

Q. Will the machinery used in that poll and the method of this poll be studied with a view to national defense or possible mobilization of machinery?

THE PRESIDENT: I had not thought of it; it is a new one on me.

Q. While we are on the subject of recovery; the Administration speakers, including yourself, said that the causes of the present depression, the primary causes, were the unabsorbed inventories and unwarranted increases in prices.

THE PRESIDENT: Those were the factors, yes.

Q. Prime factors?

THE PRESIDENT: Not the only factors.

Q. But now that the spending and lending program is on its way, have you a program to meet these two points—

THE PRESIDENT: [interposing] No—

Q. —the unwarranted increase in prices and unabsorbed inventories?

THE PRESIDENT: Unfortunately, not. We did—we were working towards it, as we all know, in an experimental way under NRA, really, honestly, in an experimental way. However, we had to desist from those experiments when NRA was declared unconstitutional. And at the present time the whole thing is being started anew, not with any thought, as I have said so often, of reconstituting NRA. It is being started anew through the study of what was really misnamed the monopoly problem—because it is a far wider problem than the mere discussion of certain definite monopolies—and the study of them will go hand in hand with this investigation I hope the Congress will authorize before they adjourn.

Q. The reason I asked is because they say that the other spending program failed. I am just wondering if there is an answer.

THE PRESIDENT: Of course the other spending program did not fail, but it got to such a point that certain other economic and business methods ran away with the ball.

Q. I was wondering whether there was some way of regulating running away with the ball?

THE PRESIDENT: That is right.

Q. Have you any plan in mind?


Q. Mr. Murray, of the Steel Workers' Organization Committee, proposed and Mr. Lewis later endorsed the proposal, that you seek a conference of business, industry, finance, labor and agriculture to work out with you what each might do.

THE PRESIDENT: Well, those conferences are going on every day.

Q. He meant where representatives of all the groups would be together with you.

THE PRESIDENT: Well, they are, every day.

Q. Mr. President, regarding the helium question, which you took up with members of various departments the other day and afterwards indicated that the matter was for decision of the National Munitions Control Board, that Board had already approved the export. Did you intend that they should reopen the question?

THE PRESIDENT: I think probably there will be another meeting of the Board very soon.

Q. When?

THE PRESIDENT: Very soon; I don't know when.

Q. Who has the power to call that meeting?

THE PRESIDENT: The Chairman.

Q. The Chairman yesterday said it would depend on you.

THE PRESIDENT: Perfectly true; I have not asked him yet because I have not seen him.

Q. Do you understand that the Board acted illegally when it approved the export of helium?

THE PRESIDENT: I don't know; it is a question of law, I suppose. The statute is very definite in setting up the National Munitions Board. It says, "The Secretaries" of these different Departments—"The heads" of these Departments. Well, by Government custom, as you know, these interdepartmental boards meet with the membership composed of Assistant Secretaries and, in order that the record may be perfectly clear, we want to have a meeting with the Secretaries present. Legally, whether the action of the Board when it is constituted by Assistant Secretaries may be all right, nobody knows.

Q. In weighing the laws governing the export of helium, does the Board take into consideration the intent of the Congress, the intent of the time when it was passed, which was immediately after the Hindenburg disaster?

THE PRESIDENT: They take into consideration the language of the statute primarily. When any question comes up as to the construction of the language, they are at full liberty to look into the debates on the floor or the hearings of the committee prior to the passage of the statute. . . .

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

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