Speech of Senator John F. Kennedy, Eastern Parkway Arena, Brooklyn, NY - (Advance Release Text)
Yesterday I campaigned in the Midwest, where there is a real alarm over the squeeze caused by falling farm prices and the farmer's rising costs - the cost-price squeeze.
But tonight, I want to talk to you about another squeeze just as serious, just as wide, and just as urgent, caused by the growing squeeze gap between the cost of living and take-home pay, the gap between higher prices and the jobs and wages needed to pay those prices, not the cost-price squeeze, but the job-price squeeze.
For you cannot live in a decent house and feed and clothe your family if you are unemployed or forced to work part time. You cannot pay today's hospital bills, or run a home, or send your child to college unless you have a full-time job at a decent wage. You cannot maintain a decent standard of living unless your income keeps pace with rising costs.
And the harsh facts of the matter are that for millions of Americans, income has not kept up with rising costs and standards of living have declined.
This is the job-price squeeze.
This month the cost of living rose to the highest point in the history of this country. And this was only the latest in a series of record increases stretching over the past 8 years. Yet at the same time, average weekly earnings took another drop as they have in every month since May. Unemployment rose to 5.7 percent of the labor force, higher than it was in the recession year of 1954. The number of men and women forced to work part time steadily increased. And the number of distressed areas, areas of substantial labor surplus, was more than 130.
When income goes down and the cost of living goes up, who is hit the hardest?
1. Next to those who can't find any work at all, those on an inadequate unemployment compensation or public assistance payment, the hardest hit by the job-price squeeze are those Americans who are forced to work for substandard wages. This year the Democratic Party tried to raise the minimum wage to $1.25 an hour, to $50 for a 48-hour week. Mr. Nixon opposed this measure. He said that it was extreme. And it was extreme for Mr. Nixon. For he had previously voted to completely remove 1 million workers from the protection of the minimum wage laws and he is the candidate of a party which opposed the first 25-cent-an-hour minimum wage and which has fought against every increase since.
2. The job-price squeeze has also frustrated the ambitions of millions of Americans to buy their own homes. The costs of home financing have soared in the past 8 years and today a $10,000, 30-year mortgage costs $3,300 more in interest charges than it did in 1952. The costs of construction have gone up, and rents have risen 20 percent.
Yet the Republicans have vetoed Democratic housing bills designed to eliminate slums and provide decent housing for low- and middle-income families. They have permitted a general inflation which has raised the cost of construction materials. And they have artificially forced interest rates up, increasing the cost of financing homes, stifling needed construction, and driving rents upward. And the result has been a 30-percent drop in needed housing starts.
3. Perhaps the most destructive human consequence of the job-price squeeze has been the inability of American families to meet the medical bills of their older members. Medical costs have increased 20 percent in the past 8 years and these rising costs have had their greatest impact on the millions of Americans who are forced to get by on an average social security check of $72 a month. Americans feel obliged to help their older parents receive needed medical care but the burden of this obligation strains family incomes to the breaking point.
To meet this distress, the Democrats proposed that the medical expenses of retired Americans be financed through the social security system. But Mr. Nixon and the Republicans opposed medical care for the aged and they managed to defeat it in the Congress. A national magazine reported that when the Senate rollcall killing medical care for older citizens was announced, the Vice President smiled. But our older citizens who were deprived of needed medical attention did not smile and Mr. Nixon won't be smiling on November 8 when the American people reject a party which has refused decent medical attention for millions of Americans.
4. The job-price squeeze has kept thousands of American families from realizing their dream of sending their children to college. The costs of higher education have soared upward in the past 8 years, until it now costs $1,300 more for a college education than it did in 1952 and our colleges themselves have been unable to afford the new buildings and expanded facilities essential to meet the growing demand for a college education.
We Democrats have tried to meet the job-price squeeze in education by providing scholarships, and aiding the construction of dormitories and classrooms. Yet Mr. Nixon and the Republicans have opposed all of these programs denying education to talented and skilled young Americans simply because they cannot afford it.
5. Nothing has contributed more to the job-price squeeze than the denial of jobs to qualified Americans because of the color of their skin or their religious belief. In a slump, Negroes and Puerto Ricans are the first to be fired and the last to be rehired but they still have to pay the same grocery bills as everyone else.
But the Republican Party has done nothing to guarantee equal job opportunities for all Americans. Mr. Nixon has been chairman of the Committee on Government Contracts for 8 years - and in that entire period he did not invoke a single sanction to enforce the clause in every Government contract that forbids racial discrimination in hiring. As a result, thousands of jobs have been denied to skilled nonwhites. But this is not a surprising record for Mr. Nixon. For it was Mr. Nixon who, in the Congress, fought and voted against every Democratic effort to guarantee equal access to jobs for every American.
These examples of the job-price squeeze - of rising prices and inadequate incomes - are only symptoms of the deeper Republican failure to build the vital and growing economy on which American strength depends.
Last month our economy actually shrank - retail sales declined - industrial production dropped. We have 4 million men out of work - a steel industry which is operating at less than 60 percent of capacity - the highest rate of business failures since the great depression. In fact, almost every index of economic health showed a decline - while prices continued to rise. That is what the Republicans have done with the greatest industrial plant and most skilled labor force in human history. Never has so little been done with so much.
And all Mr. Nixon has to say is that "We've never had it so good." All he has to offer is the same old Republican policies which have driven prices up and employment down - which have caused other nations to doubt the strength of the dollar - and which are rapidly leading us toward what may be our third recession in 6 years.
In short, Mr. Nixon offers you higher prices, smaller real incomes and an increase in the job-price squeeze. But I don't think the American people are going to accept this offer.
John F. Kennedy, Speech of Senator John F. Kennedy, Eastern Parkway Arena, Brooklyn, NY - (Advance Release Text) Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/274685