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The President's News Conference

September 11, 1931

UNEMPLOYMENT AND RELIEF

THE PRESIDENT. I haven't any news today. I have a subject I would like to talk to you about in purely a personal way. I don't think there is any news in it, but a matter in which I think you could be very helpful. You all realize that the public mind is disturbed and some of that disturbance relates to possible over-exaggeration of the unemployment situation and what is likely to happen during the winter. A good deal of that is due to the confusion of ideas. I am not talking for publication at all.

The problem of relief to take care of the destitute, prevent hunger and cold, is a very different problem from that involved in general employment. With our experience last winter when we had on census enumeration about 6 million unemployed, so that there were somewhere between 2 million and 4 million people who had to be looked after--they fell into two categories. First were the unfortunate and the sick and others who had to have actual allowances. And then there was the larger category who were helped out with made work or work directly developed to take care of the unemployed from day to day. Had those measures developed all over the country, and in fact, in probably 2,000 cities and towns succeeded in the task, in the face of the fact that there were 6 million unemployed.

It requires a little economic analysis to show why the actual burden of relief as distinguished from the unemployment problem is essentially a different question. Now, that 6 million unemployed theoretically represents 30 million people by way of their families, and one hears a good deal of discussion going on in the country as to the 30 million destitute who were unemployed at the time of the enumeration. All of our economists for many years have agreed that there are always 1 1/2 million people unemployed in the shift of occupation amongst the 49 million of people who are gainfully employed. We have to allow only something like 2 weeks interregnum in the normal turnover of industry and business. Just at the time that census was taken there was a very large measure of seasonal unemployment; that is the maximum point. During the last summer we have seen a decrease in unemployment due to seasonal character. Normally 200,000 people are working on the roads and 750,000 on farm labor. And the increase in railroad employees hauling crops, and in the lake trades, and a lot of other things, all of which indicate the degree of seasonal unemployment at the time that census was taken. And then you have overriding all that the fact that there are 17 breadwinners in every 10 families. So that just by deduction we would have arrived at a problem of somewhere from 3 to 5 million people that would probably have been in need, and the deduction made last winter and the actual experience of the winter corroborated it. So that the problem we face next winter is not the problem of 30 million people again but the problem of that number who will be destitute and the number may be larger than it was last winter. In some localities, like New England States, it will apparently be less. We certainly will not have the care of some 3 million people that had to be fed during the drought. Certainly we will have a serious problem, and it will require a great deal of resolution and courage and generosity to solve it, but the envisaging of the problem in the light of large numbers is very seriously disturbing the public minds, undermining confidence, and creating a great deal of fear, and one result of that is the tightening of people's belts who have resources and decreasing the purchasing in the country, and thereby increasing unemployment again. So that on that I may suggest that when you have an opportunity or it comes to you to interpret the facts as a matter of objective action in a contribution to the settling of the public mind, I would hope that you would make these distinctions.

As I say, we have a serious problem for the winter, but surely the 120 million people in the United States can take care of it. There is no question of doubt that nobody will starve or go hungry in the United States. There was nothing of the kind except perhaps an isolated case during the last winter. That can be easily demonstrated by the extraordinary results in public health, which could only come about by the unusual solicitude for the underdog. That we have proof that such was the case is that with the burden of last winter it was amply taken care of and it will be next winter. There is no question of public alarm over that if we can give public support to the various agencies in action. But certainly the public mind has been a good deal disturbed the last 2 weeks by the exaggeration of the problem and the misunderstanding of its fundamentals. So that I just make that suggestion to you in the work you do that it is in national interest that we should keep the public mind properly advised and keep the people steady in the boat. We have enough problems without these exaggerating ones on our shoulders.

Note: President Hoover's two hundred and seventh news conference was held in the White House at 4 p.m. on Friday, September 11, 1931.

Herbert Hoover, The President's News Conference Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/212110

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