Ronald Reagan picture

Radio Address to the Nation on the Economy and Welfare Reform

September 03, 1988

My fellow Americans:

Labor Day weekend is a time to remember the importance of work and family in our nation's life. And on this Labor Day, we Americans have much to remember and to give thanks for.

Yes, today more of us have jobs than ever before. And just yesterday we learned that in August as great a proportion of us have jobs as ever before and the unemployment rate hovered just above the lowest it's been in 14 years. Since our recovery began, America has created more than 17 1/2 million jobs—2 1/2 times more jobs than France, Britain, Germany, Italy, Canada, and Japan put together. Our expansion has created jobs in nearly all sectors of the economy: more than a million in manufacturing; more than a million in construction; millions more still in services, from banking and insurance to computer programming. And you can find these new jobs in every region: from the industrial Midwest, where new industries are springing up and old industries are running at full capacity; to the South, where the economy is strong and getting stronger; to our coasts, where our success in opening international markets is helping America export more than ever before in history. And these rising exports and the declining trade imbalance will create even more jobs all around the Nation in the months ahead.

But not only do we have more jobs, we have better jobs at better pay. On average, the jobs created in our expansion pay more and require a higher level of skills than the jobs that existed when our expansion began. This is just one of the reasons why, if your family is like most families between 1977 and 1981, after taking out the sky-high inflation of those years, you saw your income fall almost 7 percent. But since 1981—that is, since the year we came to office—your real income has soared more than 10 percent. To give one example of what this means, in the years we took office, the average family made only about 70 percent of what it needed to buy a new home. Today that family makes 110 percent of what it needs, and it can afford to buy the house.

Leaders all over the world have asked how we achieve this growth and prosperity. Well, my answer is simple: less government, more freedom, and moving toward a more open and equitable international economy.

Thanks to our expansion, nearly 3 million Americans have escaped poverty; but this week we got a warning. While we learned that last year family income went up and that the poverty rate dropped slightly, we also learned that some groups lagged behind in the past year. We've assisted many of our fellow citizens through the Job Training Partnership Act. Sponsored chiefly by Senator Dan Quayle, this legislation has been very effective in retraining citizens to become productive wage earners again. But there are still some Americans whom our expansion has passed by—those caught in the welfare trap. Programs that were intended to help poor citizens have instead made them dependent on government checks, unable to break away and become productive workers in a growing economy. In the name of compassion, too many Americans on welfare have been robbed of the one priceless item with which they could build a future: hope. It's time to return hope to those on welfare, which is why our administration has worked to reform the welfare system.

For starters, we took a simple principle: that Washington doesn't know everything. And instead of dictating reforms, we told the 50 States that we'd approve any experiment intended to reduce dependency. Our only conditions? That needs would continue to be met, that there'd be no net increase in Federal costs, and that results could be measured. One State after another responded, until now nearly half of the States have implemented or proposed widespread welfare reform plans that build upon some good old common sense: that the best way to learn to work is to work.

Our administration is trying to join with Congress to take what we've learned with the States and establish work requirements into the Federal law. Now Congress appears to be close to a decision about welfare reform, and I have a message for them: I will not accept any welfare reform bill unless it is geared to making people independent of welfare. Any bill not built around work is not true welfare reform. If Congress presents me with a bill that replaces work with welfare expansion and that places the dignity of self-sufficiency through work out of the reach of Americans on welfare, I will use my veto pen. While others have talked about good jobs at good wages, we've delivered. Now it's time for Congress to join with us in making sure that the opportunities created by this prosperity reach into every American home.

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

Note: The President spoke at 9:06 a.m. from his ranch in Santa Barbara County, CA.

Ronald Reagan, Radio Address to the Nation on the Economy and Welfare Reform Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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