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Speech by Senator John F. Kennedy, Civic Center, Charleston, WV - (Advance Release Text)

September 19, 1960

I am glad to be back in West Virginia. I owe much to this State and its people. For you proved that the experts had underrated you - that they had underrated the American people. You proved that they were concerned with real problems and important issues, with economic stagnation at home and declining prestige abroad - and that they would vote for the leadership they thought would best meet those problems.

I have traveled a long way since the people of West Virginia put me on the road to the Democratic Presidential nomination. My campaign plane has taken me from Texas to Alaska, from Maine to California. And everywhere I have gone I have seen what I saw in West Virginia.

I have seen an America deeply concerned over the failures of the past 8 years - an America alarmed at the drift and complacency which grip the great Republic - an America looking for new leadership - and turning for that leadership to the Democratic Party.

I return here to tell you that, just as I took my case for the nomination to the people of West Virginia in the spring I am taking your case to the people of the United States this fall. Everywhere I have gone across this great land I have told your story of courage - about the State that refused to die - about the towns that refused to give up - and about the men who can't find jobs but keep looking - of the hungry families, the poverty-stricken mining towns, the stricken industries that keep hoping.

I have told them the story of a State with courageous and determined people - a State rich in resources and the skills of its workers, but a State which is being denied its rightful share in American abundance by the indifference and neglect of the Republican Party. And the people of America have listened. I have repeated to them my pledge to West Virginia - the pledge of a new deal for your State. And I believe, that, in November, the American people are going to elect a President willing to carry out that pledge.

But the problems of unemployment and poverty are not confined to West Virginia. This conference proves that. For in each of the States represented here there are men out of work and industries in distress. Throughout the entire Nation men and women - almost 4 million of them - are looking for jobs.

Economists tell us that an unemployment rate of 6 percent is the danger signal. When a community passes that point it is officially regarded as an area of "substantial labor surplus." If it remains there it is entitled to special Government help through defense procurement and other programs. But today the unemployment rate for the entire Nation is nearly 6 percent. The whole United States is rapidly becoming an area of substantial labor surplus.

Yet the Republican candidate for President is boasting that this is "the greatest prosperity that Americans have ever enjoyed."

I challenge Mr. Nixon to tell that to the people of West Virginia, or Pennsylvania, or Kentucky. I challenge him to tell that to the 4 million people who are out of work, or to 3 million more who are forced to work only part time - to the 1 out of every 10 Americans who, in the richest country in the history of the world, are forced to get by on a partial paycheck or none at all.

And these figures do not tell the full hardship of looking for work week after week. For in 1959 it took the average unemployed worker longer to find a job than at any period since the last time the Republicans were in power - in the days of the great depression. And in both 1958 and 1959, an average of more than 1 million idle workers remained out of a job for more than 15 week - the highest number since before the war.

These figures tell a human story - the story of unemployment benefits running out - of 3 million Americans force to live on an unhealthy, tasteless diet of surplus foods - a story of hardship and personal tragedy.

What, then, does Mr. Nixon mean when he says we are enjoying the greatest prosperity that Americans have ever enjoyed? Perhaps he believes that if only 1 out of every 10 Americans are unable to find full-time work, the other 9 out of every 10 must be doing all right.

But Mr. Nixon forgets that when people aren't working they spend less for food, and the farmers suffer.

They don't buy cars and the automobile industry suffers.

They don't shop as often or buy as much - and every storekeeper and shopkeeper suffers.

They can't buy houses, and homebuilders suffer.

They are kept from contributing their labor and skills to America - and all America suffers.

Mr. Nixon does not understand - just as Republicans have never understood - that America is not truly prosperous unless every American is permitted to share in the prosperity. Franklin Roosevelt once reminded us that "we cannot be content * * * if some fraction of our people - whether it be one-third or one-fifth or one-tenth- is ill-fed, ill-clothed, ill-housed, and insecure." But Mr. Nixon and the party he leads say they are content, just as they have always been content, in the face of poverty and unemployment and an America with its most urgent needs unmet.

The Republican Party which Mr. Nixon leads today is the same Republican Party which for half a century has opposed every single progressive measure which the Democrats have designed to improve human welfare and reduce human misery - the party which fought against the New Deal and tried to block the Fair Deal - the party which, in the past 8 years, has vetoed aid to areas of unemployment, blocked efforts to improve unemployment compensation, opposed raising the minimum wage, refused to expand the distribution of surplus food to the hungry, and failed to offer one single program to increase the welfare of the American people.

But Americans will not forget Mr. Nixon's party this November - and they will return the Democrats to leadership so that all Americans can share in American abundance.

In the long run, there is only one way to put men back to work - by stimulating the growth of our economy. Today America's economy is growing more slowly than that of nearly every other industrial nation in the world. It is growing one-third as fast as the Soviet Union and little more than one-half of our own rate of growth under the administration of Harry Truman. A growing economy will mean more industry, greater production and more jobs - but a stagnant economy means idle plants and idle men.

I have come to this conference here in West Virginia to commit our party once again to the policy of full employment. And on Inauguration Day, next January, I will pledge my administration to that policy - and I will send to the Congress specific programs designed to carry it out.

First, we will develop great public resources which make it possible for private enterprise to grow and prosper. Industry needs transportation, and power, and natural resources, and decent homes for its workers if it is to increase production and create new jobs. These are programs which only the Government can carry out - they can be carried out without inflation or deficits - but they are programs which the Republicans have failed to carry out.

Second, we will stimulate private investment in a growing America by eliminating artificial Republican restrictions on the supply of money - restrictions which have made it difficult for existing business to get funds for expansion - and for new businesses to get started.

Third, we will permit every American child to receive the kind of education which will produce the skills and creativity which a growing America desperately needs. Today our schools are overcrowded and our teachers ill paid. Yet our advanced technological society depends on the resources of the mind for scientific advances, the development of new industries and increased productivity. This problem is a national problem - and the National Government must act to meet it.

Fourth, we must move immediately to meet the growing crisis of automation - the replacement of men by machines. You have felt the impact of automation in your coal mines and steel mills - and the impact is spreading. Yet the Republicans have done nothing to harness the benefits of modern technology for all America, while insuring that displaced men can find new uses for their skills. This problem can be solved - through a nationwide conference of industry and labor to map a strategy for putting displaced men back to work, through technical assistance to plants which want to adjust to modern machinery without undue hardship on their workers, through programs of retraining displaced workers, and through expanding the employment services of the U.S. Government so that men can find new job opportunities.

Fifth, we must give special assistance to help hard-hit areas catch up. Twice a Democratic Congress has passed a bill to aid areas where men have long been out of work - and twice the Republicans have vetoed this bill. Last week the Republican candidate for Vice President said that the Republicans were considering a program to help distressed areas. But they weren't considering West Virginia's problems when they vetoed these bills - or when they opposed every other effort to help. The Republicans consider your problems only at election time - and they forget them immediately thereafter. We Democrats will not forget - and a bill to help distressed areas will be signed into law by a Democratic President next year.

Much more needs to be done. We must give special attention to industries like coal which have been especially hard hit. A growing America needs growing supplies of energy - and coal can help supply that energy if we engage in a broad, dynamic program of coal research to find new uses for coal, and if we strive to expand and diversify existing markets.

John F. Kennedy, Speech by Senator John F. Kennedy, Civic Center, Charleston, WV - (Advance Release Text) Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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