John F. Kennedy photo

Labor Day Statement by the President.

September 02, 1963

ON THIS Labor Day of 1963--the third within the period of my administration-this Nation once again salutes the role of labor in our national life.

The history of the United States is in vital respects the history of labor. Free men and women, working for a better life for themselves and their children, settled a continent, built a society, and created and diffused an abundance hitherto unknown to history. Free men and women, affirming their dignity as individuals and asserting their rights as human beings, developed a philosophy of democratic liberty which holds out hope for oppressed peoples across the world. In commemorating the role of labor, we honor the most essential traditions in American life.

We honor too the contributions of labor to the strength and safety of our Nation. America's capacity for leadership in the world depends on the character of our society at home; and, in a turbulent and uncertain world, our leadership would falter unless our domestic society is robust and progressive. The labor movement in the United States has made an indispensable contribution both to the vigor of our democracy and to the advancement of the ideals of freedom around the earth.

We can take satisfaction on this Labor Day in the health and energy of our national society. The events of this year have shown a quickening of democratic spirit and vitality among our people. We can take satisfaction too in the continued steady gain in living standards. The Nation's income, output, and employment have reached new heights. More than 70 million men and women are working in our factories, on our farms, and in our shops and services. The average factory wage is at an all-time high of more than $100 a week. Prices have remained relatively stable, so the larger paycheck means a real increase in purchasing power for the average American family.

Yet our achievements, notable as they are, must not distract us from the things we have yet to achieve. If satisfaction with the status quo had been the American way, we would still be 13 small colonies straggling along the Atlantic coast. I urge all Americans, on this Labor Day, to consider what we can do as individuals and as a nation to move speedily ahead on four major fronts.

First, we must accelerate our effort against unemployment and for the expansion of jobs and opportunity. In spite of our prevailing prosperity, 4 1/2 million of our fellow citizens cannot find useful employment. While automation increases productivity and output, it also renders jobs and skills obsolete. While new industries emerge, old industries decline. While most of the country shows a high degree of economic activity, some areas have failed to share in the general recovery. And, while our economy continues to grow, it must grow even faster in the future if it is to provide for the 2 1/2 million new persons entering the labor market every year. To combat unemployment, we need to pass the tax bill recently approved by the House Ways and Means Committee and thereby provide general stimulus to the economy. This bill will benefit every family, every business, and every area of our country. We need, in addition, to continue and enlarge the measures designed to help the communities, industries, and individuals bypassed by prosperity to help themselves and to increase their contributions to our society.

Second, we must accelerate our effort to strengthen our educational system. As our economy becomes increasingly complex, education becomes increasingly the key to employment. The fewer grades our boys and girls complete, the greater the probability that they will not find jobs. Inadequate schooling, inadequate training, inadequate skills--these are major obstacles to employment and a fruitful life. Dropping out of school today may well destroy a person's entire future. I hope that the Congress will enact legislation to strengthen the Nation's educational system; and I ask all parents, for the sake of the future, their children's and the Nation's to have their children return to school this fall.

Third, we must accelerate our effort to offer constructive opportunities to our young people. Our youth are our national future. Today one out of every four persons in the labor force between 16 and 21 is out of school and out of work. The persistence of unemployment and of juvenile delinquency is a sign of our society's failure to enlist the full energy and talent of our young men and women in positive tasks and purposes. The Youth Conservation Corps and the Home Town Youth Corps seem to me especially promising ways of improving both the skills of our young people and their contribution to the general welfare.

Fourth, we must accelerate our effort to achieve equal rights for all our citizens--in employment, in education, and voting, and in all sectors of our national activity. This year, I believe, will go down as one of the turning points in the history of American labor. Foremost among the rights of labor is the right to equality of opportunity; and these recent months, 100 years after the Emancipation Proclamation, have seen the decisive recognition by the major part of our society that all our citizens are entitled to full membership in the national community. The gains of 1963 will never be reversed. They lay a solid foundation for the progress we must continue to make in the months and years to come. We can take satisfaction on this Labor Day that 1963 marks a long step forward toward assuring all Americans the opportunities for life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness pledged by our forefathers in the Declaration of Independence.

As we make progress in these four areas, we make progress toward improving both the strength of our national society and the quality of our national life. We demonstrate to the world that a free society provides men and women the best chance for decent and fulfilled lives. Most of all, we demonstrate to ourselves that our society is vital, that our purpose is steadfast, and that our determination to fulfill the promise of American life for all Americans is unconquerable. Let this be our solemn resolve on Labor Day 1963.

John F. Kennedy, Labor Day Statement by the President. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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