Ronald Reagan picture

Remarks at the Employment Expansion Forum Sponsored by the Department of Labor

October 23, 1987

Opening Remarks

The President. Good morning. I'm looking forward to hearing from each of you on what you think—both what the private sector and what government can do to make sure that our 59 months of growth and job creation continue. You should all be proud of the nearly 14 million jobs that we've created since the expansion began.

The trend toward higher education requirements is striking. Since I know that many of the new jobs created between now and the year 2000 will require educational backgrounds beyond the high school level, I'm interested in hearing you and your thoughts on this. And another challenge facing us in the year 2000 will be the demographic changes in the work force and additional numbers—women, minorities, immigrants. And we need to make sure that our markets remain the—or keep the dynamic flexibility that has served us so well in creating new job opportunities.

I've always been a firm believer in the power of the people—that when we get the government out of their way, problems can be solved more quickly and more efficiently. I'm interested in hearing your thoughts—all of you—on how the private sector can rise to meet the challenges that are facing the work force now and in the future. And that's enough from me because it's time for me to listen and learn from each of you.

Closing Remarks

The President. Well, Bill, thank you, and thank all of you very much. It's been a great pleasure and certainly a learning experience to be here at the Labor Department. Let me just begin though, if I can, with a special thanks to Secretary Brock, who's leaving all of us. Bill, you've been a dedicated public servant and a trusted adviser, and we'll miss you in the Cabinet. If I was really smart, I'd stop right there. [Laughter]

Secretary Brock. You're doing fine. [Laughter]

The President. Well, we've been briefed by several people, and very well, and I'll try to keep my remarks short. Although whenever I do run over, I remember a quip of President Eisenhower's. To paraphrase him, he said that one good thing about being President is that nobody can tell you when to stop talking. [Laughter]

But, I had a lesson some years ago—I've related it many times, but not for some years—about the importance of brevity in a speech or remarks. It was taught to me by the Reverend Bill Alexander of Oklahoma. Now, he was present when I made a speech, and he later told me his first experience as a clergyman, and I've always figured there was a connection between his story and my speech. [Laughter] He said that he had just been newly ordained, did not have a church, but was invited to preach at an evening service of a little country church in Oklahoma. He stood up in the pulpit and there was an empty church except for one lone, little man sitting out there in all the empty pews. So, after the opening prayer he went down and he said: "My friend, I'm just a young preacher getting started and you're the only member of the congregation that showed up. What do you think, should I go through with it?" And the fellow said, "Well, I don't know about that." He said: "I'm just a little old cowpoke out here in Oklahoma, but I do know this: If I loaded up a truckload of hay, took it out in the prairie and only one cow showed up, I'd feed her." [Laughter]

Well, Bill took that as a cue, and an hour and a half later said amen. [Laughter] He went down and said, "My friend, you seem to have stuck with me and, like I told you, I'm a young preacher getting started. What did you think? .... Well," he said: "like I told you, I don't know about that sort of thing, but I do know this: If I loaded up a truckload of hay, took it out in the prairie and only one cow showed up, I sure as hell wouldn't give her the whole load." [Laughter]

But I would like to talk to you today about a new term that I recently read in the newspaper, and it's called job power. And it comes from an article in the Christian Science Monitor that ran with the headline, "Employers Pound Streets for Young and Choosy Workers." Well, they can afford to be choosy, the article says, because jobs in their area—the Middle Atlantic-are plentiful. They quote one high school student named Tom, who had turned down a $5-an-hour internship at the courthouse to take an $8-to-$10-an-hour job doing construction. "Everyone can get a job," says young Tom. "You just pick your first choice." Sometimes you don't even have to go looking for a job—the jobs come looking for you.

Megan, a high school junior, tells of how she was sitting on the front steps of the library when a man from the local shoe store came by and said he needed someone to work for him. Megan declined the offer, because she already had another job. Well, those are only two anecdotal examples. Not every section of the country shares in this good fortune. In Texas, for instance, teenage unemployment tops 20 percent.

One expert in demographics predicts that it's only a matter of time before the experiences of young people like Megan and Tom spread across the entire country. The high employment today that's found in New England, California, and the Mid-Atlantic are, he says: "the wave of the future."

Well, as employers will be the first to tell you, the problem isn't just finding people, it's finding people with the necessary skills. And that's what Bill Brock is talking about when he refers to Work Force 2000—that the workers between now and the turn of the century have the skills requisite for the jobs being created. And the reason we can celebrate job power today is our growing economy, an economy liberated by tax cuts, deregulation, and declining inflation. This month of October marks the 59th straight month in our economic expansion, and as of November, we'll have broken all U.S. records for the longest peacetime expansion in history. Not only is it the longest—it's one of the strongest, too.

Since it began, our gross national product has risen some 20 percent, well above that of comparable expansions. We've been creating jobs at an average rate of almost a quarter of a million a month, as Bill told us, for a total of nearly the 14 million new jobs, as you've seen. And we're not just creating more jobs, we're creating better jobs. According to Labor Department data, nearly two-thirds of the new jobs have been in the higher paying occupations, and we've seen that here now in the charts, with only 12 percent in lower paying, low-skill occupations. Over 90 percent of the jobs are full-time. In short, we're talking about continuing job creation with jobs that are better paying, more challenging, safer, and more rewarding. So much for the so-called McJobs thesis.

One of the groups that has benefited most from this job surge is, as we've been told,' the black community. Employment of blacks has increased twice as fast as employment of whites. Since 1982, the real income of black families, as we've been told, has increased almost 40 percent faster than white family income. And the share of black families in the highest income bracket is up by over 70 percent. This August, the percentage of blacks employed was the highest on record, as was the percentage of all Americans employed. Economics columnist Warren Brookes looked at this record and concluded that, and I'll quote: "On every front—jobs, income, even household wealth—this, 1981 through 1986, has been the best 5 economic years in black history."

Well, so far I've concentrated on employment. But that's only one indication of the strong and vital economy that we have today. I could talk about how inflation is holding low and steady; how real household income is way up; how manufacturing productivity has surged ahead, well above the postwar average; and industrial production has outpaced Europe and Japan. All of this is concrete evidence of an economy that is strong and fundamentally sound. It is an economy, judged in pure economic terms, that has a very bright future before it, a future of growth, low inflation, and high employment.

We've seen in the last week, however, that there is real concern on Wall Street. The recent turbulence in the stock market suggests that those who are investing in the future of our economy are worried that some roadblock may be put in the way of that future. The market is constantly reacting to an almost infinite flow of information. There may have been hundreds of factors affecting the uneasiness on Wall Street, but I think it's appropriate to single out some of the more likely ones: The first are domestic, and I think it's fair to say, primarily political in origin. I say political, because they have more to do with the actions—and lack of action—of the government than with American business people, entrepreneurs, and workers. As I said, the business of America is sound, the economy is strong.

Those who have to make the decision on whether or not to invest in the future of our economy see some very disturbing signs on Capitol Hill. For one, a dangerously protectionist trade bill working its way through conference. If passed, that bill would threaten a spiraling trade war and could very well bring our economic expansion to an end. And if it comes to that, I will have no choice but to veto it. The devastating effect on employment—on all those jobs I mentioned-would only be a part of the effect of protectionist trade legislation. Of the roadblocks that could be thrown in the way of our economic expansion, Wall Street knows protectionism is one of the worst. At the same time, we see a Congress that is unable to get control of deficit spending. It backed away from its Gramm-Rudman promises. And there are many who, while refusing to cut spending, insist on increasing taxes.

The disruption in our markets is sending a signal loud and clear to get our economic house in order. And that is why, last night, I called for the bipartisan leadership in Congress to meet with me on Tuesday to arrange the process for reducing the Federal deficit. And as I said, I will listen to them but they must listen to me on the need to send a clear signal that spending will be restrained. And I'm asking every Member of Congress who agrees that we should reject protectionist legislation, every Member who agrees that tax increases are not the solution, to join with me in showing our support for America and her economic future.

As I've said, I think the markets are reacting more to the actions—and inactions-of government than to the deficit itself, which has been shrinking—down nearly 30 percent since the last fiscal year. But while that deficit exists, the uneasiness will remain. And that's why we're going to go back to Congress and, in light of what's happened, redouble our efforts to cut the deficit by cutting away overspending. Congress has made no effort to seriously restrain domestic spending. Just freezing spending at last year's levels would yield substantial deficit reduction. Overspending endangers our economy. And each one of those cherished special interest programs is going to have to justify itself against the good of the whole Nation.

But let me just close with a message to all those in government. The story of this historic 59-month expansion is first and foremost, as you heard up here today: a study of individual achievement, of the historic struggle—or the heroic struggle of entrepreneurs; the hard work and dedication of laborers; the ingenuity and creativity of our business community; and just the plain, raw power of American industry. All that's asked of us is not to get in their way, to keep the business environment as free and as stable as possible. Freedom and stability, that's all our economy needs. That's all Americans need to keep this economy growing well into the next decade.

A little example of that was sent to me by a man the other day who's an eminent scholar—speaks fluent Russian. He was on a trip to Moscow, and he told me that in the cab, driving to the airport—had a young cab driver there—got into conversation with him. The young man was getting educated—going to school, but driving a cab to make that possible. And the scholar said, "Well, what are your plans—what do you intend to do?" And the young man said: "I haven't made up my mind yet." Well, by coincidence, when he got to Moscow and got in a cab there, he had a young cab driver. And speaking Russian he got into a conversation with him, and found out he, too, was going to school, as well as working. And he said: "Well, what do you intend to be?" And the young man said: "They haven't told me yet." That's the difference, and that's why freedom is the most important thing.

But now, before I go, there are a few special American workers that I want to mention. Recently, the country was riveted, as you know—all of us—to the story of tiny Jessica McClure. And I think that we all said prayers of thanks when that story had a happy ending. And I think we're also very thankful in our hearts for the generous people who worked around the clock, through fatigue, past exhaustion, to save little Jessica. And, of course that's why I'm happy and I think we all are that three employees of the Department of Labor who work for the Mine Safety and Health Administration are here with us today, having done their job so well.

Wayne Kanack is the manager of the southwestern division. When he heard of Jessica's plight, he called on the two best people he could think of—Dave Lilly and Sid Kirk—both experienced hard-rock miners. Working closely together, they directed the rescue operation, drilling a hole parallel to the well and then digging a shaft across to reach Jessica. In fact, Dave Lilly chipped away by hand the last few inches of rock to make the first physical contact with little Jessica. Now, I know another Midlander, Vice President Bush, has awarded you a certificate of recognition. Wayne and Dave and Sid—I think you've understood here already this morning that we're all very proud of you.

And now, I'll just close with one more little episode. I received a letter the other day from a gentleman that pointed something out I hadn't thought of, and a subject that I think all of us are aware of, however. This man, in his letter, said that you can go to live in France, but you can't become a Frenchman; you can go to live in Japan, but you cannot become Japanese; or Turkey and not become a Turk; or Greece and become a Greek. But he said anybody in the entire world can come to this country and become an American.

Note: The President first spoke at 11:10 a.m. in the Grand Hall at the Department of Labor. Following his opening remarks, four speakers representing small business, job training programs, the Women's Bureau, and the private sector spoke at the forum. William E. Brock III was Secretary of Labor.

Ronald Reagan, Remarks at the Employment Expansion Forum Sponsored by the Department of Labor Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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