Ronald Reagan picture

Radio Address to the Nation on Summer Jobs for Youth

May 19, 1984

My fellow Americans:

I want to talk to you today about our young people and what we can do to provide them an all-important opportunity—a summer job. This is a crucial time for young jobseekers, May being the month many firms make their summer hiring decisions.

Why are summer jobs so important for teenagers? Well, because when young people are exposed to the world of work, they can reap a wealth of benefits that often remain with them for a lifetime-values of personal initiative, self-reliance, and hard work; practical experience which teaches skills that impart confidence in the ability to compete in the permanent job market; the beginning of work history and references, which are vital to successful careers; and, of course, earnings, which can make the difference between going on to college and greater educational achievements or not.

I'll always remember my first job. I was 14 at the time, and I wound up finding work with a construction company that was remodeling homes. By summer's end, I was laying hardwood floors, shingling roofs, and painting houses.

I recognize that a lot of rules and regulations have changed since then. Fourteen-year-olds can't receive those kinds of opportunities today. But what of those who receive no opportunity to work at all?

That is a crushing disappointment not just for these individuals who may lose motivation and, eventually, self-respect, but also for our economy, because we're literally throwing away America's most precious resource—our next generation.

The problem of teenage unemployment is most severe among our black and other minority youth. For some time now, the unemployment rate among black youth has been more than twice as high as that for all youth. And while the current economic expansion has brought the overall unemployment rate down with record speed, the drop in black teenage unemployment has been far less dramatic.

As of April, the unemployment rate for all youth, 16 through 19 years of age, was 19.4 percent. Among black teenagers, that rate was 44.8 percent. If a 19.4-percentage unemployment rate is unacceptable—and it is—then a 44.8-percent unemployment rate is a national tragedy. And neither must be allowed to persist.

Our administration has been working hard on this problem, and we're beginning to make headway. But we want and intend to do much more. Clearly, 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.

We're supporting an extension of the Targeted Jobs Tax Credit Program, providing major incentives for employers to hire more disadvantaged youth. Employers can receive tax credits of as much as 85 percent on the first $3,000 in wages they pay. Last year almost 300,000 young Americans were hired out of this program.

The Job Training Partnership Act is another important initiative. The act grants $1.9 billion to States, of which 40 percent must be earmarked for training youth for private sector jobs. Many private firms are cooperating in this program, and I hope many more will do so in coming weeks.

But one of the barriers to more jobs for youth is the single minimum wage system, because the cruel truth is, while everyone must be assured a fair wage, there's no compassion in mandating $3.35 an hour for startup jobs that simply aren't worth that much in the marketplace. All that does is guarantee that fewer jobs for teenagers will be created and fewer young people will be hired.

So, we're proposing youth employment opportunity wage legislation that can create more than 400,000 new summer jobs for youth. Our bill would allow employers to hire young people at a lower minimum wage during the summer months. And our legislation would do this without displacing adults. The bill explicitly prohibits employers from displacing adults in order to hire youth at the summer wage.

I'm delighted this concept has been endorsed by the National Conference of Black Mayors. Thanks to the strength of the economy, some 8 1/2 million young people are likely to be employed this summer, an increase over last year.

But America can do better, and must do better, if we're to bring those teenage unemployment rates down further. I'm asking the Congress to pass our youth employment opportunity wage legislation. But I also want to request that all employers review their operations with the aim of creating more summer jobs. You, the business leaders of America, can make a great difference, and the time to act is now.

Until next week, thanks for listening, and God bless you.

Note: The President spoke at 12:06 p.m. from Camp David, MD.

Ronald Reagan, Radio Address to the Nation on Summer Jobs for Youth Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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