Ronald Reagan picture

Remarks to the Volunteers and Staff of the United Way of America in Alexandria, Virginia

November 09, 1987

Well, thank you, Jim. That report on the United Way is very encouraging. More than that, it's just spectacular. And thanks to you, Cheryle and Bill. I want you to know that I no longer can say I never got an Academy Award. [Laughter] Wait till I get home and tell Nancy. This beats anything we've seen on the "Late Late Show." [Laughter]

Well, I'm delighted to meet with all of you who give so much of your time for so many worthy causes. With the success of your accomplishments to date, I can't help but feel we can meet the needs of the future. It's also a great pleasure to join you on this, the 100th anniversary year of the United Way. I always get a particular pleasure out of celebrating the birthday of anything that's older than I am. [Laughter]

But seriously, in the front atrium stands a bust of one of the most perceptive foreigners to visit this country: Alexis de Tocqueville. When young de Tocqueville traveled here in the 1800's, he identified a spirit in America that set us apart from those in other countries. Today de Tocqueville's words have come to symbolize what is uniquely right about our nation. He wrote: "In a local community in America, a citizen may conceive of some need which is not being met. What does he do? Well, he goes across the street, discusses it with his neighbor. And then what happens? A committee comes into existence, and the committee begins functioning in behalf of the need." And he added a line there, in that book that he was writing about democracy in America, in which he said: "And you won't believe it, but there was never a bureaucrat involved."

Well, as you may know, I grew up in a small town in northern Illinois, where every day you saw a neighbor helping neighbor. It was an accepted part of the running of a successful community. And, yes, from our earliest days in Hollywood to our current jobs, Nancy and I have tried to carry this spirit with us. Through our administration's private sector initiatives program, we've been able to see how—when free of the restricting hand of government—the private sector can respond enthusiastically to the needs of the community. Of course, I don't need to tell any of you how successful Nancy's programs with foster grandparents and Just Say No have been. And believe me, Nancy and I know that this is due in large part to your own heartfelt contributions.

One of the most rewarding things about having the job I have is that I get to see the dynamic spirit of neighbor helping neighbor at work in our country. I see hope in the faces of the Americans—through volunteer tutors, they've learned to read. I see the eyes shining bright with expectation of those young people graduating from high school who, through the care of those like you, may have the opportunity for a better future. But most of all, I see it in the renewed spirit of those Americans who are doing the giving and helping, the ones who've chosen to get involved, to take action, to make a contribution.

For example, in the tornado-ravaged community of Saragosa, Texas, the citizens there had lost hope. Then hundreds of volunteers poured into the town to rebuild not just homes but lives. This same spirit was also obvious in the now-celebrated rescue of little Jessica McClure, whose one precious life commanded the attention of not only an entire community of volunteers but also a nation anxiously awaiting her return to safety.

Nothing makes me prouder as I travel abroad than when leaders of other nations ask me to share our formula for success in encouraging private sector initiatives. I believe that formula is summed up most adequately by the plaque hanging near the front entrance to this building. It reads: "To increase the organized capacity of people to care for one another." Well, together in America we have continued to foster an economic and social environment that encourages giving. And I'm very proud to say that this includes not only individual giving but corporate giving, voluntarism, and the development of public-private partnerships.

Of course, it's a growing American economy that helps to make all this possible-that's right, I said a growing economy. For despite the adjustments in the stock market, the economic basis in our country remains strong. Consider, for example, that during the third quarter, which ended in September, the gross national product in constant dollars rose at a 3.8 percent annual rate, spurred by business-fixed investment, which was soaring at an extraordinary 24 percent. And just last week, we found that inflation, as measured by the GNP implicit price deflator, rose only 2.4 percent. The unemployment rate was falling to its lowest level since 1979. Manufacturing jobs had risen by over a quarter million during the past 12 months, adding to the astonishing 14.2 million jobs created during the past 59 months of economic expansion. Exports were actually up at more than a 16 percent annual rate. And the Federal budget deficit for the fiscal year 1987 had fallen by a full third from one year earlier, to its lowest levels since 1982.

This is a record to build on, because there is still much more to be done. Your spirit of cooperation is the same spirit America wants from those of us in government. Yes, the stock market has tossed and turned the past several weeks. After more than 5 years of a roaring bull market, some adjustments were to be expected. And while the financial markets have recovered somewhat. The lingering uncertainty and volatility are cause for concern. Now is not the time to reverse course; however, some adjustments can and should be made.

I have stated all my political life that deficit spending must be controlled. And that's why I have consented to negotiate with Congress to see if we can jointly produce a credible package that will further cut, and I hope eliminate our deficits. But with our administration's economic program in place—perhaps most important of all, our tax reform and reduction in marginal rates—America is still a very good place to do business, still a land of jobs and opportunity, making possible record levels of charitable contributions.

United Way of America is demonstrating to the world how a caring nation can unite to help the less fortunate among us. Through your agencies and volunteers, you've met the challenge I set forth to you one year ago magnificently. I urge you to continue to build on this momentum. We must set our sights even higher as we look forward to the future. After all, it's our nature to set higher and higher goals; we're Americans.

It's been a privilege for me to come here today to share the encouraging news of your progress. And as we've seen today, since 1981 that overall funding for the United Way has risen—as you've been told by Jim—45 percent, while certain key services have shown much greater growth. For example, funding for services to women is up 500 percent. Child welfare programs are up 198 percent. Services for the elderly up 100 percent. And funds going to substance abuse have increased 89 percent for this period. Thanks to you, it does work.

You know, I have to tell you—in hearing your very eloquent presentation here-sometime ago, earlier in my term as President, at a dinner at the White House, the wife of an Ambassador to a European country was hearing a conversation going on at our table about such things as this, on private giving and so forth. And quietly she spoke to me, and she said: "Yes, in your country you're unique." And I said, "Well, what do you mean?" Well, she said, "Yes, in your country people do things that way voluntarily, but not in any other country." She said, "In all our other countries, if the government doesn't do it, it doesn't get done. It's always a government program."

Well, that stuck with me, and so that a little more than a year ago we had been hearing for some time from our friends and allies around the world. And then a meeting was held in Paris, France, of nations that had invited our people to come there and tell them how to institute programs such as this, programs of private giving. And now it is going on and spreading throughout the world.

I went to the economic summit in Italy last summer and did a little sideline visit at an invitation to address a group that was meeting. Yes, there were Americans present, but it was the new Italian society to now bring about private sector initiatives and do things by private giving of the people.

And you know how successful you are? There is not a government program in America to help the people in any way that has as low an overhead as you do. I was horrified once when I was Governor of California to discover that one program at least of the government spent $2 to deliver $1 to a needy person. Well, not you. Ninety percent or more of every dollar raised goes directly to help the people for which that money was raised.

So, thank you all. God bless you all. And my goodness, for all of us, it's a real happy anniversary. Thank you very much.

Note: The President spoke at 10:50 a.m. in the film studio at United Way headquarters. In his opening remarks, he referred to James D. Robinson III, chairman of the United Way board of governors; Cheryle A. Wills, chairman of the United Way executive committee; and William Aramony, president of the United Way of America. He also referred to a multimedia salute acknowledging his contributions to past United Way campaigns.

Ronald Reagan, Remarks to the Volunteers and Staff of the United Way of America in Alexandria, Virginia Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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