John F. Kennedy photo

Special Message to the Congress on the Nation's Youth.

February 14, 1963

To the Congress of the United States:

"The youth of a nation", said Disraeli, "are the trustees of posterity". The future promise of any nation can be directly measured by the present prospects of its youth. This Nation facing increasingly complex economic, social and international challenges--is increasingly dependent on the opportunities, capabilities and vitality of those who are soon to bear its chief responsibilities. Such attributes as energy, a readiness to question, imagination and creativity are all attributes of youth that are also essential to our total national character. To the extent that the Nation is called upon to promote and protect the interests of our younger citizens, it is an investment certain to bring a high return, not only in basic human values but in social and economic terms. A few basic statistics will indicate the nature and proportion of our need to make this investment.


This is still the greatest nation in the world in which a child can be born and raised. His freedom, his security, his opportunity, his prospects for a full and happy life are greater here than any place on earth. We do not conceal the problems and imperfections which still confront our youth--but they are in large part a reflection of the growing number of youth in this country today.

The annual birth rate since 1947 has been 30 percent higher than it was in the 1930's. As a result, the number of youth under 20 rose from 46 million in 1945 to 70 million in 1961, increasing from 33 percent to 39 percent of the total population in that period. At present birth rates, they will number 86 million by 1970. We are a young nation, in every sense of the word.

This on-rushing tide of young persons has overcrowded our education system, from the grade schools to the high schools, and is now beginning to overflow our colleges, our graduate schools and the labor market. This year the number of persons 16 years of age will be more than a million greater than last year, for an increase of 39% And in terms of the number of youth in the potential labor market bracket, ages 14-24, the amount of the increase in this decade over the previous decade--some 6 million youth--is nearly 15 times as high as the increase which occurred in the 1950's. Overcrowded educational facilities are a familiar problem. Youth unemployment is an increasingly serious one.

Unemployment among young workers today is two and one-half times the national average, and even higher among minority groups and those unable to complete their high school education. During the 1960's seven and one-half million students will drop out of school without a high school education, at present rates, thereby entering the labor market unprepared for anything except the diminishing number of unskilled labor openings. In total, some 26 million young persons will enter the job market for the first time during this period, 40 percent more than in the previous decade. Already out-of-school youth, age 16-21, comprise only 7 percent of the labor force but 18 percent of the unemployed. During the school months of 1962 there were on the average 700,000 young persons in this age category out of school and out of work.

Other new or growing problems demand our attention. Our young people are raised in a more complex society than that experienced by their parents and grandparents. Nearly two-thirds are now reared in metropolitan or suburban settings, unlike the rural and small-town societies of an earlier era. One family in five moves each year. one-third of the labor force now consists of women, 36% of whom are mothers with children under 18.

In the last decade, juvenile delinquency cases brought before the courts have more than doubled, and arrests of youth increased 8670, until they numbered almost one million arrests a year in 1960, 15% of all arrests.

While new problems arise, old problems remain. Young people are particularly hard-hit by the incidence of poverty in this country-where, despite a rapid average increase in disposable income and living standards, the 20% of the population at the bottom of the economic ladder still receives only 5% of personal income, the same as in 1944.

Rich or poor, too many American children-while taller and heavier than their parents--are still not achieving the physical fitness necessary for maximum performance. Data from the National Health Survey in 1958 show that 4 million children and youth under age 24 had one or more chronic health defects. In a recent survey of 200,000 school children in grades 4 through 12, nearly one-third failed minimum physical achievement tests and over 75% failed to reach satisfactory levels in a more comprehensive physical performance test. Although infant mortality has decreased 75 percent since 1900, the decline has leveled off in the last ten years, and our rate is still higher than that, for example, of Sweden. Some States have an infant mortality rate double that of others. Ten other countries have a higher average life expectancy span than our own. The lack of adequate medical, educational and cultural opportunity is reflected in the grim statistics on 5 million mentally retarded, discussed in an earlier message, and in the 4370 rejection rate among Selective Service inductees. Even during the Second World War, when physical and mental standards were not as high, 30 percent, or over 5 million young men, in the 18-37 age group failed their induction examinations.

These figures relate, of course, only to the problems that remain, without stressing the gains we have made. These gains have been very great indeed. As a nation we can be proud of all that we have done for our youth--in improving their opportunities for education, health, employment, recreation and useful activity. All Americans recognize that our children and youth are our most important asset and resource. But there are few resources in this country with a potential so largely undeveloped.

We cannot be complacent about the impediments to their development which still remain--about the opportunities they are denied--about those segments of our youth population not enjoying the opportunities enjoyed by others. If, for the sake of our Nation as well as their own families, our children and young people are to grow into productive adult members of society and bear the responsibility of the legacy we leave them--that of the world's most powerful and economically advanced nation--then all of them must have the fullest opportunity for moral, intellectual, and physical development to prepare adequately for this challenge.

Although the resources and the leadership of the Federal Government are essential to this effort, it is States and local communities that have the primary responsibility of supplementing the family effort in protecting and promoting the interests of children and youth. The Federal Government's challenge is to aid the States and local communities in this role. The purpose of this message, and the proposals it contains, is to make clear the role of the Federal Government-to focus and coordinate existing and proposed efforts which are appropriately within its area of responsibility. The statistics cited above make it clear that our youth deserve and require a better chance. We must afford them every opportunity to develop and use their talents. If we serve them better now, they will serve their nation better when the burdens are theirs alone.


The employment prospects of youth depend on the general level of economic activity in the Nation, as well as on specific efforts to increase opportunities for young persons. The high level of unemployment which the Nation has experienced for the past 5 years has had sharply aggravated effects in this age group, as shown by the statistics earlier cited.

I have already proposed tax and other measures designed to quicken the pace of economic activity to increase the prospects for full employment, and thereby to diminish the incidence of youth unemployment. But the rate of youth unemployment will still remain disproportionately high for some time unless other, more direct measures are adopted. Our young persons are caught in cross-currents of population growth and technological change which hold great danger as well as great promise.

While the number of young persons entering the labor force will increase sharply in this decade, augmented by an excessive number of school drop-outs, many of the traditional occupational opportunities for young and relatively unskilled workers are declining. For example, as a result of the technological economic changes of the last decade and more, it is not likely that more than 1 out of every 10 boys now living on farms will find full-time work in agriculture.

New programs recently begun by the Federal Government and by public and private organizations throughout the Nation are devoted to stimulating employment of youth. Under the Manpower Development and Training Act of last year, the Federal Government is assisting State and local officials to provide additional training for out-of-school youth at the community level. The 1,900 local public employment offices provide counseling, testing, and placement services for young workers, including the use of demonstration projects to assist school dropouts to obtain employment.

My Committee on Youth Employment, consisting of Cabinet officers and distinguished public members, having studied these efforts and problems, has reported to me that the immediate need for additional youth employment opportunities is critical. The Administration's Youth Employment bill, which received wide endorsement when introduced in the Congress, is designed to meet this need.

Early enactment of this measure would spur Federal leadership and support to programs which would provide useful jobs and training for young persons who need them. The 1964 budget recommendations include $100 million in authorizations for the first year of this program, consisting of two distinct activities. First, a Youth Conservation Corps would be established, putting young men to work improving our forests and recreation areas. This would initially provide useful training and work for 15,000 youth. Second, the Federal Government will provide half the wages and related costs for young persons employed on local projects that offer useful work experience in nonprofit community services--such as hospitals, schools, parks and settlement houses. Forty thousand youths can be employed in the first year in this part of the program.

This bill is a measure of the first priority. The effects of unemployment are nowhere more depressing and disheartening than among the young. Common sense and justice compel establishment of this program, which will give many thousands of currently unemployed young persons a chance to find employment, to be paid for their services, and to acquire skills and work experience that will give them a solid start in their working lives.

I urge the Congress to enact at the earliest opportunity the Youth Employment Act which is so vital to the welfare of our young people and our Nation.


The Youth Employment bill should not be confused with a second important proposal-the National Service Corps. The Youth Employment program is designed for those young people who are in need of help--the unemployed, the unskilled, the unwanted. It is intended to boost the economy, to reduce unemployment, to train more young workers who would otherwise be idle. The National Service Corps, on the other hand, is designed for those citizens of every age, young and old, who wish to be of help--whose present skills, jobs or aptitudes enable them to serve their community in meeting its most critical needs--and whose idealism and situation in life enable them to undertake such an assignment on a volunteer basis. While it is conceivable that the type of projects assisted under these two programs could at times coincide, it is clear that their emphasis is wholly distinct. The Youth Employment bill will advance this Nation's material wealth and strengthen its economy. The National Service Corps--which will not be limited to young people--will add to and make use of this Nation's wealth of idealism and strengthen its spirit.

The logic and value of a National Service Corps has been demonstrated by the work and success of our Peace Corps overseas, as further mentioned below. While admiring the work of these volunteers in carrying their skills and ideals to assist the needy in other lands, it is equally clear that the opportunities for service are also large here at home. Although the United States is the wealthiest Nation the world has ever known, the poverty of millions of our people, and the need for training, assistance and encouragement in numerous corners of our country--from teeming slum areas to those depressed rural areas virtually bypassed by technological and economic progress--provide fertile fields for those citizens with the desire and the ability to be of assistance.

Last November, I appointed a special committee to investigate the feasibility of applying the Peace Corps principle to the domestic scene. The committee consulted State, county and local officials and hundreds of organizations around the country, as well as the professional fields that would be most concerned with the use of volunteer workers. Its report, submitted last month--observing the cruel paradox that, within the richest and most powerful Nation in the world, one-sixth of our population lives on a submarginal level--recommended the creation of a voluntary service corps to help meet the problems of our own communities and citizens in distress. This is not only a constructive channel for youthful energy and idealism. Many of our senior citizens indicated their willingness to participate in this endeavor. The thousands of mature and able persons who stand ready to volunteer their services to improve community activities should be afforded the opportunity to do so.

Through the years millions of Americans have served their communities through the willing donation of their time and skill to voluntary private service organizations. But in a population growing in numbers, urbanization and the recognition of social problems, we need not only more professional personnel--more doctors, nurses, teachers and social workers--but an even greater number of dedicated volunteers to support the professional in every area of service.

I, therefore, recommend legislation to establish a National Service Corps--a small carefully-selected volunteer Corps of men and women of all ages working under local direction with professional personnel and part-time local volunteers to help provide urgently needed services in mental health centers and hospitals, on Indian reservations, to the families of migrant workers, and in the educational and social institutions of hard-hit slum or rural poverty areas.

This small task force of men and women will work in locally-planned and initiated projects, at the invitation of community institutions, and under local supervision. The community's chief goal should properly be the development of the project to the point where local volunteers or paid staff workers could take over permanently the tasks initially undertaken by the corpsmen; and it is to be hoped that the example of men and women rendering this kind of full-time voluntary service would motivate many more Americans to participate on a part-time basis. This is not, I repeat, a constructive channel for youthful energy and idealism only. Many of our senior citizens indicated their willingness to participate in this endeavor.


Nowhere is the profile of the best of American youth better drawn than in our Peace Corps volunteers. In the two years of the Peace Corps' growth from idea to rewarding reality, almost 45,000 American men and women--the majority of them young in years, all of them young in spirit-have volunteered their services. In January 1963, alone, the Peace Corps received 4,345 applications, almost five times the number received during the same period last year. This response reveals much that is reassuring about the generation which is heir to this country's traditions.

For these young Americans clearly recognize their obligation to their country and to mankind. They are willing to devote two years of their lives to serve the cause of a better, more peaceful world, no matter how distant, inconvenient or even hazardous that task may prove to be. Both capable and adaptable, they have demonstrated throughout the world a sense of purpose which has brought increased respect and admiration to their country as well as to themselves.

The Peace Corps has permitted more Americans from more walks of life to exhibit more of these qualities on a more generous scale than ever before in the history of this country. Whether they work as teachers, farmers, health workers, surveyors, construction workers, or in a wide variety of other fields, they are making meaningful contributions to international understanding. The most objective and effective appraisal of their contributions can best be found in the fact that every single country where peace Corps volunteers are at work has requested more of them.

At the beginning of 1962, there were 750 volunteers at work or in training for service in 12 countries. By the same date in 1963 there were 4,350 volunteers--almost 4,000 of them thirty years old or younger-in training or in service in 44 countries. By the end of the summer, their number is expected to increase to 9,000. And requests for more volunteers continue to be received more rapidly than they can be met. I recommend, therefore, that the existing Peace Corps authority be renewed and expanded to permit a Corps of 13,000 volunteers by September of 1964.


The Peace Corps and the proposed National Service Corps provide ideal opportunities for service to those young people (as well as many older citizens) whose background, training, aptitude and idealism motivate them to seek an enriching experience before taking up or resuming their chosen careers. But we do not delude ourselves into thinking that all young Americans are blessed with these qualities. There is another side of the picture--the school drop-outs, the untrained and the unemployed and the underprivileged, the nearly one million young Americans arrested for infractions of the law, the growing number sent to correctional institutions.

A common subject of discussion in mid-century America is assigning the blame for our mounting juvenile delinquency--to parents, schools, courts, communities and others, including the children themselves. There is no single answer--and no single cause or cure. But surely the place to begin is the malady which underlies so much of youthful frustration, rebellion and idleness: and that malady is a lack of opportunity.

This lack cannot be cured without a more Perfect educational and vocational training system, a more prosperous full employment economy, the removal of racial barriers, and the elimination of slum housing and dilapidated neighborhoods. In other messages, I have spelled out the Federal Government's role in helping each community to meet these needs.

In addition, the 87th Congress recognized that juvenile delinquency is of direct national concern--and that the Federal Government should mobilize its resources to provide leadership and direction in a national effort (a) to strengthen and correlate, at all levels of government, existing juvenile and youth services, (b) to train more personnel for juvenile and youth programs, and (c) to encourage research and planning for more effective measures for the prevention, treatment and control of juvenile delinquency. Under the Juvenile Delinquency and Youth Offenses Control Act of 1961, a program of grants for demonstration projects, training programs and technical assistance to local communities is administered by the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare, in close cooperation with the President's Committee on Juvenile Delinquency and Youth Crime which I established in May 1961.

Over fifty demonstration, training and action projects in as many communities around the country seek to integrate the resources of the family and the community with the worlds of education and employment in the effort to make a fuller life available to all our youth. They seek a more effective coordination of community resources and services, as well as Federal aid, to increase the capacity of each local community to provide all young citizens with a maximum of opportunity.

These programs are barely underway-their results cannot be measured for some time--but it is imperative that those measures already started be completed while the local communities carry on and improve their own programs for the prevention, control and treatment of juvenile delinquency. The Juvenile Delinquency Act of 1961 authorized a three year program. I therefore recommend that the Act be continued for three more years and necessary appropriations be authorized.


A child's opportunity and development are shaped first and most by the strength or weakness of his home and family situation. At least one out of 8 children is affected by divorce, desertion or mental illness in the family. Some 16 million children live in families with incomes so low that Federal income tax reduction is of no direct benefit because they are not required to pay taxes now.

State and local governments and private agencies, representing a broad range of educational, economic, legal, religious and other interests, have a vital role to play in strengthening the family. The Federal Government in addition to broad policies aimed at increasing employment and improving the general health and welfare, finds its most direct and substantial contribution through the benefit programs for family units whose breadwinner is listed as dead, disabled, deserted or unemployed.

The major changes in the public welfare programs which I recommended last year and which the Congress enacted represent a major Federal contribution to family welfare. To help reduce dependency and rehabilitate families, the new law authorizes increased Federal assistance and encouragement to the States to improve their programs for children, including families where the father is looking for work and living at home. In addition to financial aid to these families, increased emphasis is placed on professional social and child welfare services directed at the roots of dependency. Federal assistance for training and research in these professional fields, as well as for aid and professional services to children and their families, will help the States cope with the tremendous challenge of dependency. To this end my budget request for fiscal year 1964 includes substantial increases in funds for aid to children through the public assistance and child welfare grant programs and for improved services to reduce dependency. Supplemental funds have been requested for 1963 to provide day care services for the children of working mothers, as well as other services authorized by the 1962 Welfare Amendments. The needs of children should not be made to wait. I urge the Congress to appropriate adequate funds to support these humane and vital programs.

The new Welfare Administration recently established within the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare has also taken administrative action to enable needy families to reserve a portion of their income for the future needs of their children. Thus, a youth may accept employment and save his earnings for future education or training without the family's welfare payment being reduced by the amount of his earnings. These and other steps are designed to break the depressing and disheartening cycle of transmission of dependency from generation to generation. But unless the States take the necessary steps to put the new Federal law and policies into effect, we shall not achieve our objectives. I urge the States and the District of Columbia to take prompt action to implement fully the 1962 amendments.

I have already indicated my concern over the urgent need to provide improved services for children and youth in the District of Columbia. The Nation's Capital should be a leader and example in giving young people full opportunity for the full development of their capacities, whether they are living in their own homes or must be provided for in other settings. I hope that Congress and the District Government can cooperate to make a wide range of high quality services to children and youth available in the District of Columbia.


The most direct, rewarding and important investment in our children and youth is education. A high rate of investment in education is essential for our national economic growth, our scientific advancement and our national security. Maintaining the broadest possible opportunities in education is essential to the maintenance of democratic government and to the attainment of our social, cultural and economic aspirations.

Yet millions of our young men and women do not have proper educational opportunities. As a result they do not fully develop their intellectual capacities and take their proper place as productive, adult members of society. To strengthen our educational system, we must increase both the quantity and the quality of our educational facilities and services, providing an opportunity for every young American to achieve the highest level of his capacity. It is to these problems that the program outlined in my recent message on Education was addressed: I again urge action on a comprehensive Federal program to meet critical education needs.


Most American children enjoy excellent health. The devastating, infectious diseases that were once the scourge of childhood-diphtheria, scarlet fever, measles, and whooping cough--have declined by 98 percent as causes of fatal illnesses since the turn of this century. Yet we have come only part of the way.

Many of our children are handicapped at birth because of inadequate health care for the mother and infant. Although we have made progress in reducing infant deaths, the infant mortality rate in 1961 in this country was higher than that of 9 other nations. In fact, our relative standing has declined in the last 10 years due in large part to inadequate prenatal and postnatal care among our economically disadvantaged groups.

In my recent message on mental illness and mental retardation, I recommended legislation enabling the Federal Government to stimulate our communities to meet this problem. I again urge that the Congress enact legislation (1) for new project grants rising from $5 million the first year to $30 million in the third year to help develop comprehensive maternal and child health care services for those who are unable to pay, (2) to increase the authorization for maternal and child health grants by $25 million, and (3) to increase the authorization for grants for the crippled children's program by a similar amount.

Disturbing figures on child health and Selective Service rejection rates have already been cited. About one-fifth of American youth currently examined by Selective Service were rejected for conditions which might have been remedied had timely attention been provided. School health programs can play an effective role in identifying and correcting these problems. I am, therefore, asking the Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare to put a high priority on the Department's studies of school health programs and to make recommendations regarding any action which may be required.

We must also continue to battle infectious and communicable diseases which strike at our youth. The last Congress enacted legislation, at my request, authorizing a major campaign to control or eradicate diphtheria, tetanus, whooping cough and polio through a comprehensive nationwide program of immunization. Medical research also stands on the brink of success in developing an immunizing agent against measles. I urge prompt approval of the supplemental appropriation request submitted to the Congress last week to initiate this immunization program.

The incidence of venereal disease is again on the rapid rise, particularly among teenagers. Acting on the recommendation of a panel of eminent medical advisors, I recommended last year and the Congress endorsed the initiation of a major 10-year program of Federal grants and direct action aimed at the total eradication in this country of this age-old scourge of mankind. This program will continue with intensive effort.

Finally, good physical fitness is essential to good physical and mental health. If our young men and women are to attain the social, scientific and economic goals of which they are capable, they must all possess the strength, the energy and the good health to pursue them vigorously. My Council on Physical Fitness has given leadership and direction to programs aimed at achieving this goal, and with a heartening response.

During the 1961-62 school year, 56 percent of the 108,000 public schools strengthened their physical education programs. Some 2,000 of the 16,500 private and church-related schools offered physical education for the first time. With the help of the medical profession, health appraisals have been provided for additional thousands of pupils.

Once again, I strongly urge those schools which do not provide adequate time and facilities for physical activity programs to do so. We will continue to provide advice, guidance and assistance to further this effort. All who can participate in the active life should do so--for their individual benefit and for the Nation's.


Chronic world tensions have tended to distract our attention from those problems which have long-range rather than immediate consequences. But each passing month makes it clearer that our past failures to identify, understand and meet the many problems relating to our Nation's youth cannot be countenanced any longer. Awareness is a large part of the battle. But it is action that will spell the difference. I am convinced that the various proposals contained in this message provide an appropriate and hopeful means of translating our common concern into an action program--one that will insure that the young people of this country will truly have the opportunity to secure for themselves and their posterity the full "blessings of liberty."


John F. Kennedy, Special Message to the Congress on the Nation's Youth. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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