Ronald Reagan picture

Remarks and a Question-and-Answer Session With Students of the Control Data Institute in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

April 06, 1983

The President. Thank you. I know this will kind of date me a little bit, but I want to tell you that having taken this tour and seen all that's going on up here, I don't know a single thing about anything I've seen. [Laughter] But I'm pleased to be with you on this, to get a feel for this training project. I know a little about it already, but I think we can all be—about the project, not— [laughter] —but I think we can all be grateful to Control Data's chairman, Bill Norris; Gilfrey Glazer. They worked very closely with Governor Thornburgh putting this program together.

I'm not sure how many of you are aware that Bill Norris was a member of my Private Sector Initiatives Task Force, so when I heard about this effort I figured I'd better stop by and see for myself.

I'm deeply aware of the heartache and the pressure many of you have experienced in the last few years. Economists tell us that our country is going through a basic technological transition, and that, along with the stagnation of recent years, has created a large-scale unemployment problem. Now, it's not easy on you or your families, but the commitment you've made by being part of this program represents all the difference in your lives and, I might add, in a better economic future for our country.

The future certainly would be bleak if our response to technological advances was fear and negativism. Undeniably, change is an unavoidable disruption and a major challenge to a society, just as it is to individuals. But we as a people have never balked at change. And that's why the United States has always been on the cutting edge of progress and why our standard of living is the envy of the world. And don't let the pessimists tell you anything else. The future will be ours as well, just so long as we're willing to work for it.

This is not the first time we've had to cope with major technological changes. If I may draw from personal experience—and I know this really does date me—I lived as a boy, a very young boy, in a small Midwestern town and saw a livery stable become the town garage—from horses to horsepower. And in the years that followed, later on I saw silent movies begin to kill off vaudeville, which was pretty standard in almost every community in America. But with sound pictures, those vaudevillians found a home and jobs in Hollywood or in radio, which was a brand new industry. Out of nowhere, it became a major industry almost overnight. Most, undaunted by the changing times, did well. Some who didn't make it in front of the camera, when they got their jobs in Hollywood, became directors and developed into members of the other facets of the entertainment business.

Although it seemed unbearable at the moment, when all the dust settled, it was the best thing that ever happened to many of those individuals. That's just one, small example. But we've seen successful transitions in American history, beginning with this country going from a tiny, coastal trading and plantation economy to a transcontinental industrial giant, unequaled by any other single nation.

I'm not minimizing the situation. I started job hunting in 1932, at the very bottom of the Great Depression. Being unemployed for any reason is one of the most painful experiences, I think, that anyone can have. And believe me, we're doing everything we can to offer legitimate retraining programs like this one to cope with those, like yourselves, who are victims of structural unemployment.

Of course, even if you get the right training, business has to be strong enough and the general economy healthy enough to provide jobs for those willing and able to work. President Teddy Roosevelt put it well. He said, "It either is or ought to be evident to everyone that business has to prosper before anybody can get any benefit from it."

I don't have to tell you how damaging the economic uncertainty of the last few years has been. The inflation and the high taxes of the last decade redirected our resources into nonproductive tax shelters and inflation hedges, instead of savings, investment in new machinery and equipment. This put our entire economy behind the eight ball, especially capital-intensive businesses.

Setting this right, putting our economic house in order, has been the top priority of this administration. But we're getting the job done. The economy is coming around, and I'm confident there's a brighter future ahead. That's especially true for those of you who've taken this opportunity to upgrade your skills.

Now, maybe we can have some dialog. Now I want to hear from you, and I want to know if you're optimistic about the future and about the future of our country. You know, they say I'm too much of a Pollyanna, that I'm overconfident about these things. But I'm convinced that America's best years and yours still lie ahead. So, with that done, let's get to the questions.

Q. Okay, Mr. President, my name is Ray Raeff. I've spent 4.5 years training for a trade and craft to develop a broader base of employment skills. Now I find myself retraining to develop my skills further. Presenting the concept of retraining is great, but without a long-term commitment from industry and government to make my training worthwhile, am I wasting my time here, or will there be a market for my job skills when I'm done?

The President. I'm confident there will be. And a little later, when I have to make a talk at a council that is gathered together of local and State leaders from around the country, from business and industry leaders, labor and all, at that council, I'm going to mention a few ads, help wanted ads that I have found in your newspaper here in Pittsburgh. And these ads—I don't even understand the ads, I'll have to read them. But they're typical. When you stop to think of the scores of pages of help-wanted ads that usually appear in the Sunday paper, the weekend paper, in a time when there are 11 million people unemployed, but when you look at the ads, you can understand that this doesn't mean that there are people not looking for jobs. It means there are employers now in new businesses and industries looking for workers, and they don't have the talent. And many of those jobs have to do with the very things that you're learning here.

Yes, I am optimistic that you'll find the job.

Q. Thank you.

Q. My name is Albert Kapella and, Mr. President, what incentive do you propose for American industries to keep American jobs and services here in America? In other words, what will happen to the phrase, "Made in America" when the governments themselves purchase foreign computers?

The President. It's true the government has some foreign computers, but this is because—two factors that figure into this. One of them is that our government procurement is based on competitive bidding, and under the—what's called GATT—this is the general tariff and trade treaties that we have with our trading partners—we assure them that they will be allowed to compete in competitive bidding with our own domestic companies but, in return, our companies enjoy the same privileges in their countries. In other words, it's an example of free and open trade.

And we are continuing in our negotiations. And in Williamsburg, Virginia, in May, in our summit meeting, economic meeting with our trading allies and friends, we're doing everything we can to break down those evidences of protectionism that have sprung up—and everyone's a little guilty of that—to keep not only trade free but fair. If we're to have that two-way street—and remember, this country probably exports and sells abroad more than most of those countries or all of them put together, so it is a two-way street. And it is just in that competitive bidding that they

have won the right to sell something.

Q. Thank you.

Q. Mr. President, my name is Robert Pitkins. American industry is in a depressed state because of the open door trade policy. Even though we're being retrained in a high-tech field, what guarantee can you give us that these jobs won't be exported, too, and I'll have to be retrained in another 10 years?

The President. Well, we're doing everything we can to make sure that won't happen. We don't want to export jobs and, of course, I did just speak about the advantages that I think exist in free trade and fair trade. And we're continuing to work on that. And we've made great progress with our friends and allies in that field.

The other thing that we're doing—and we've worked very hard at, and against great opposition from many areas—and that is tax breaks for business, removing onerous taxes that were making it—because you know business doesn't pay a tax, business collects a tax for government. But if you make business collect too much tax in the price of the product, because the people end up paying the tax, then you make them noncompetitive. And this has happened to us over the years in a great many market areas.

So, we're trying to correct that at the same time that we're trying to take off the back of business a horde of unbelievable and unnecessary regulations that bureaucracy over the years in government has spawned. I believe in an old rule that "if it ain't broke, don't fix it." And government's been trying to fix things too long that weren't broke.

And so I think with those—plus, I have signed legislation recently, that has come to me, that has created a place for market export companies to increase the ability of smaller businesses and industries that never thought they could get into the export business, to make it possible for all of business in America to get into the export market.

All of these things—it's going to take all of them, there is no single, simple magic answer. It's going to take all of these things, but I think all of them are having an effect.

Q. Mr. President, due to the time constraints, you'll have time for one more question.

The President. Well, since there's 200 people, can I take two. I know that you-All right. I'll try to make the answers shorter.

Q. Mr. President, my name is John Belmonte, and my question is, even though the United States is moving into a high technology era, why is our industrial community being forced into such a rapid transition? And won't our country's defensive capabilities be compromised by this administration's failure to aid heavy industry?

The President. No. I think I understand, and let me make it specific. The idea that this transition could mean that the smokestack industries disappear in America-there's no way that a country like ours, for example, could say, "Well, we'll no longer be in the steel industry." That's just not going to happen. We're not going to let it happen.

There will be transitions. There are businesses that disappear and others that come up. And we haven't been standing by doing nothing. We have had over a hundred meetings of our Trade Representative, our Department of Commerce, with our trading partners in the world on that one single industry of steel. We've resolved some 44 complaints already. We have others that are pending and under discussion. The Japanese last year reduced their export of steel to the United States by 34 percent. The European Community has reduced theirs, and we have treated with them on the dumping thing, of them selling a subsidized product here in competition with our unsubsidized.

But all of these things that we're doing-and I think there is sign of improvement. And I know that it's going to take a while, and I know it's hard to be patient for those who have been laid off. But I could tell you that the production capacity of steel about a year ago—well, in fact, last May, not quite a year ago—was down to around 48.3 percent. It is now up to better than 58 percent. That isn't as much—that isn't to the break-even point yet, but we know that it's going to get there.

But no, there's nothing in our book that says we're going to let the heavy industry of America disappear. Be changes, yes, alterations. But one of the things that government taxing policies and government regulations, excessive regulations, did to these heavy industries—and did to steel, particularly-was make it impossible for them to modernize and keep pace with some of the foreign building which did take advantage of modern technology and built more modern plants than we have. And we were trying to compete with, I think, the best workers in the world, but we weren't giving them the proper tools.

Now, with our taxing policies and all, we're trying to make it so that the capital will be there for us to invest, modernize our equipment and our plants.

Q. Thank you, Mr. President.

Q. Good afternoon, Mr. President. My name is John Schmidt. Sir, with all the Federal and State money being spent in plans for retraining programs, will there be any funds available to provide ourselves and our families with medical protection? The majority of us will shortly, or have already, exhausted our unemployment benefits and medical benefits. How are we to provide for our families without some type of financial aid while we strive to successfully complete this retraining program?

The President. We are looking at several things that have been suggested. In fact, some of us here were talking about this before we got here. There are several alternatives. Some have suggested—not anyone present here—some have suggested creating a medical program that would be in the form of a new entitlement program. I think this would be self-defeating. First of all, you wouldn't get such a program into action in time to be of help in the immediate future. Second, you would have created a costly medical program and, believe it or not, government-paid medicine is the most expensive medicine in our country today.

But we are looking at things, at a short-term, a bridge, bridge programs that can be used. Also, several States already have taken it upon themselves to resolve this problem, and we're looking at that and where the Federal Government can cooperate on that.

Also, there has been a movement on the part of the private sector—doctors and hospitals-to get together and provide medical care for the unemployed. Now, there's a limit to how much or how far they can go without help, and we're going to look at that for where we can cooperate with them in that. But we're certainly not going to stand by and see that people, because of the misfortune of unemployment, are going to be denied necessary medical care. So, we will find an answer to that. You bet.

Well, I'm sorry that I can't take any more. I should tear about three of those note pages from my speech up so that I could have more questions.

But I just want to say, this is such an example of hope and effort and self-help, and I want to congratulate all of you and tell you that I don't know of any problem that is more on our minds than this problem of the involuntarily unemployed in our country today.

And personally, as I mentioned earlier, a personal experience, I don't know of anything that is more traumatic where I'm concerned because, as I say, I grew up in the depths of the Great Depression. I saw my father get his notice that he was without a job on Christmas Eve. And I'm not going to rest until we have an economy, and I think this is what we're striving for and what we're succeeding in.

We've had recessions before, seven of them before this one since World War II. And the government has always turned to the kind of quick-fix, artificial stimulant, flood the money supply. And up has gone inflation, and about 2 years later, we have a recession that's worse and more unemployment than we had the previous time.

This time, we've trying to do it for real, a real recovery that will put American industry back to work, put the people that are unemployed back into the jobs that they want and need, and have a recovery that won't, just 2 years from now, result in another recession. That's our goal, and we're doing our darndest to bring it about.

Thank you all very much.

Note: The President spoke at 12:28 p.m. in a classroom at the institute, where he viewed computer terminals and training equipment.

The institute is located at the Allegheny Center, which is owned by Guilford Glazer, to whom the President referred at the beginning of his remarks.

The State of Pennsylvania contracted with the corporation to train 120 unemployed workers in Pittsburgh in computer installation, maintenance, and repair. Before completion of the 8-month training program, students were taught job search skills and efforts were made to place the graduates in entry-level positions in the data processing market.

Ronald Reagan, Remarks and a Question-and-Answer Session With Students of the Control Data Institute in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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