Lyndon B. Johnson photo

Remarks at a Reception for a Group of Labor Leaders.

July 24, 1964

RESPONSIBLE leaders of labor are part of the responsible leadership of our American economy and society--and that is why you are here.

I believe the Presidency was conceived as an office of domestic persuasion more than domestic power. That is how I have tried to use the office since it was thrust upon me that tragic day last November.

The response of all sectors convinces me this is the right course. All Americans, working together, have written a most impressive record these last 7 months.

Since November, GNP is up nearly $20 billion. Personal income is up $15½ billion. After-tax income is up $20 billion. In this short span the typical family of four has gained almost $370 more after taxes-to save or to spend.

I am especially gratified that last month there were 72 million Americans at work--2,628,000 more than last November. Some of that increase is seasonal. But when adjustment is made, there is still a gain of 1,165,000 jobs in just 7 months.

Unemployment is still too high. But it has dropped--from 5.9 percent for November to 5.3 percent for June.

This is progress we have made together.

We can view the record through business eyes or the eyes of labor. Either way, the record of the past 41 months is the best American eyes have ever beheld.

For 41 consecutive months we have enjoyed the longest and largest peacetime expansion in our history.

Five million more Americans are at work in nonfarm jobs than in February 1961.

Average weekly earnings in manufacturing reached $103.50 last month--an all-time high.

I announced yesterday--and I repeat today: The Council of Economic Advisers informs me this will be the first peacetime administration in a century unmarred by economic recession or depression.

We have come a long way-up--from the bottom of the last of the three recessions during the preceding 7 years.

In 3½ years industrial production is up 27½ percent. Average weekly earnings are up $14.56. Personal income is up by $83 billion--or one-fifth. That typical family of four has gained $1,200 in after-tax take-home income.

This is the profile of the most prosperous years in American peacetime history--because that is what the 1961-1964 years have been.

We do not have--the free world does not have-any stronger asset than this solid, steady economic well-being for the American system.

I want to preserve it--and we shall by relying on cooperation, not by experimenting with compulsion.

I want to continue it--and we shall by trusting our tradition of compassion, not by toying with the expedients of coercion.

I remember--and you have not forgotten--other days when American men, old and young, were idle in the streets. They had no homes--no help--no hope. We faced a fundamental crisis.

We made a basic national choice. We chose compassion. We put our faith in man--in the dignity and decency of individual man. We committed our system, then and there, to offer jobs for the jobless, not jabs; provide homes for the homeless not hate; give love for the children, no lectures.

Our prosperity today is the harvest of those seeds of compassion sown not so long ago. Compassion gave us the impetus. From then until now, we have moved straight and sure toward our present level of well-being.

If we are to live in a decent society, there is no substitute for compassion. But compassion must go hand-in-hand with courage.

As we keep a vigil for freedom around the world with our allies, so we must keep a vigil for well-being at home among ourselves. We must be as courageous against threats to our civilian supply of jobs as we would be against threats to our military lines of supply. We must be as alert to conditions on the perimeter of our society as to those on the perimeter of the free world. We must be as resolute in keeping our commitments to our own people as we are in keeping our commitments to others.

We have a commitment to full employment. We must keep it--and we shall.

We have a commitment to equal rights and equal opportunity. We must keep it-and we shall.

We have a commitment to universal education. We must keep it--at every level.

We have a commitment to security for the aged. We must keep it--and we shall, when they are ill as well as when they are in good health.

We have embedded in our national policies-and our national character--a commitment to compassion. We must keep that commitment and keep it fully.

We have peace--and prosperity. Times are good. But all through our society there are signs and signals which tell us we cannot be complacent or callous.

There are Americans at the top of the ladder--more than ever before. We want to keep them there.

There are Americans at the bottom of the ladder--far more than we can tolerate. We want to help them move up.

We must go to war on poverty--and all its causes.

Poverty at home is an enemy of our society as much as aggressors abroad. Poverty amid plenty can subvert our prosperity and undermine our stability. A war on poverty is a war to redeem human life, not destroy it-and it is a war this generation of Americans must wage and win.

As there are Americans at the top and at the bottom, there are also Americans in the middle. This great majority must be served.

The father with a steady job and steady bills must know his job is secure and that his bills can be paid. The mother of growing children who lives with growing worries must know that her concerns are not hers to bear alone.

America's families have just concerns--for their cities and their neighborhoods, for old debts and new rooms, for the approaching costs of college and the eventual expenses after retirement. Our system must respect those concerns--and respond to them.

Our challenge--yours and mine and all Americans--is to sustain the prosperity we have achieved and enlarge its meaning for all Americans.

We must press our attack on unemployment. The tax cut has been a stimulus. It will continue to bear much fruit. But we cannot--and must not--rest on that alone.

We must continue our attack on unnecessary spending in government. But I believe as Thomas Jefferson put it we should always have a "wise and frugal Government" which "shall not take from the mouth of labor the bread it has earned." While we continue to press the cause of frugality, we shall see to it that the economy receives the stimulus it needs to sustain prosperity and narrow unemployment.

We must continue our balance-of-payments improvement and to strive for continuing price stability.

America's agenda is long. But at the head of it now is one imperative--assuring the rights of all our people under the law and assuring respect for the law from all our people.

I would repeat to you as I said yesterday: I intend to work to ensure that every person enjoys the full constitutional rights and equal opportunity that are his birthright as an American citizen.

I intend to use all the resources I have to make sure those who claim rights--and those who deny them--bend their passions to peaceful obedience of the law of the land.

But the man in the White House--whoever he may be--cannot do that job alone. I need your help--and the help of every American.

You are leaders. I ask you to exercise that leadership.

America's labor movement won its great strength and freedom and respect through the law. You who pursued that long struggle can serve your country and your cause now by urging your communities to trust the law of the land and help it to prevail.

A united America has come to a place and posture of greatness in the world.

We must not slip from that position into the depths of division and lose the greatness we have won together.

Note: The President spoke at 4:10 p.m. in the East Room at the White House. Included in the group were some 280 of the Nation's labor leaders.

On July 25 the White House released a list of "Ten Key Economic Gains" showing comparative gains since November 1963 and since January 1961. In addition to those mentioned by the President in his remarks, the list shows an estimated gain in corporate profits (after taxes) of $3.5 million (12 percent) since 1963, and $12.2 billion (62.5 percent) since 1961, also a gain in stock values of 19 percent since 1963 and 34 percent since 1961..

Also released on July 25 was a list of "Presidents and Recessions Since 1837" listing 21 Presidents and the months of recession during their administrations. The periods of recession ranged from 1 month during the Kennedy-Johnson administrations to 43 months during President Hoover's administration.

As printed, this item follows the prepared text released by the White House.

Lyndon B. Johnson, Remarks at a Reception for a Group of Labor Leaders. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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