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White House Conference on Aging Remarks at a White House Reception.

March 26, 1980

THE PRESIDENT. Dr. Sadie Alexander, Dr. Bernice Neugarten, Miss Lupe Morales, former Congressman Waldie, Aaron Henry, my wile, Nelson Cruikshank, also:

Every time I make a speech to any group that might listen about the problems or the opportunities or the life or the excitement of the elderly, either Nelson Cruikshank or my wife or my mother are always there breathing over my shoulder— [laughter] —to make sure I say the right thing and say enough.

This is a good day for us. It's a particularly important day for 5,000 Americans. Does anyone have any idea which 5,000 Americans I'm talking about? Yes?

AUDIENCE MEMBERS. The ones who reach 65 today.

THE PRESIDENT. Right on. Right on. Every day in our great country about 5,000 Americans reach the age of 65. And this is a very important time in their lives. It's a time either of increased choices in their life or a narrow restraint on their life. It's a time for the prospect of warm relationships with their families or their friends, or it's a time of prospective loneliness. It's a time of security and anticipation of a future that's stable, that will meet their needs, or it's a time of uncertainty and insecurity and, perhaps, of fear. It's a time of confidence about the coming days, or it's a time of pessimism about their future life.

This question, how Americans approach their 65th year and how they live their lives after the age of 65, will be the subject of the White House Conference on Aging. This is your responsibility along with mine to make sure that the decisions we make, the studies that we complete, the recommendations that are presented to the American public and to the Congress are wise and adequate.

A lot of people say that this is the third White House Conference on Aging. As a matter of fact, it's the fourth, because 30 years ago Dr. Oscar Ewing, who was the head of the old Federal Security Agency, which I understand was the predecessor of HEW, convened a national assembly on the aging. Some of you were there.

Every 10 years, roughly, since that time, there has been a follow-up conference on the aging. And each, as you know, has built on the work of those who came before it. That conference 30 years ago was primarily designed to assess the present and future problems of the aging without any particular focus; but of course it was designed to build upon the benefits that had been derived from social security.

At the 1961 conference, the overriding question addressed was health of the elderly. And out of that conference came the concept of Medicare, which slowly but surely gained wide support, and eventually was enacted into law. The last conference there was a special concentration on problems of minorities, those who have the additional problem not only of being aged but also belonging to groups against which discrimination had been focused. And there was a special study also of the transportation problems of the elderly. But at all of the conferences, of course, income and income maintenance has been a primary consideration.

I think, overall, the White House conferences on the aging and their predecessor have a good track record. And I have no doubt that with your advice and with your leadership we'll have a good conference this coming year.

This conference will still have to contend with problems like income maintenance and health and transportation and the problems of minorities. But it will also have a special focus on two new problems that have arisen. One is energy, which is going to be a permanent problem. And the other one is the special impact of inflation, which I hope and trust will be a transient aberration in our own country and around the world. These problems combined all together give us a great challenge, important to many millions of people who are not here in this room today, but who will be depending upon those who are in this room today. It'll be a test of our values, our strengths, our wisdom, and I think, our courage and our character as a nation.

Twelve days ago I announced an intensified program to deal with the special problems of inflation. Inflation is an economic threat, and it's also a social threat. And those who suffer most from inflation are those whom you will be representing; those who live on small incomes, those who are not particularly mobile, those who have difficulty in shopping habits, those who live on fixed incomes, those who live on uncertain incomes suffer most. And although the inflation rate is higher than our own in most other countries on Earth, we still have an inflation rate in our Nation that is debilitating if it's not arrested and reduced. We must all work together on it, because it impacts on those for whom we are all responsible.

In doing this, in dealing with this complex question, we've got to be fair, we've got to be wise, and we must have equity among our people for it to work well and for it to be supported. There's no quick or easy answer. There are no magic solutions. You can't pass a law or issue an Executive order that will deal in any material way with the impact of high costs of energy, which will inevitably be worse in the future, and the resulting inflation rates.

We're going to have to exercise some personal discipline and some national discipline as well. That need not be unpleasant. It may even be beneficial, because we'll restudy the priorities that we've established in our own lives in and out of government, and in government at all levels.

We can't continue with the illusion that a penny borrowed is a penny .earned. This takes us down the wrong path. And I think that you know that the breadth of this challenge will be a great responsibility of us all. We will make recommendations this week, and officially Monday, on the budget changes that will be required to get our Federal discipline demonstrated to the rest of the Nation.

We will be careful and we will be sensitive. I've been thinking about this conference and this speech ever since I started working on the budget. I don't want to mislead you. We will make recommendations that are tough, difficult, adequate, fair, effective. Social security will not be touched; neither will SSI; neither will Medicare; neither will the Meals on Wheels; neither will assisted housing; neither will the Council on the Aging; neither will the White House Conference on Aging.

But that does not mean that all of you will not have to join with me and the Congress in exercising the discipline that has been basically agreed upon among myself and the leaders of the House and the Senate. The discipline will be quite severe; it will not be pleasant. But I think it's better to face a transient inconvenience and a temporary series of disappointments than to suffer the permanent, debilitating effect of inflation continuing over a long period of time.

Our Nation, in a time like this, of strength and blessings and courage and unity, still needs the experience of the elderly. Our older citizens have been through much more difficult times: two World Wars, the Korean conflict, the Vietnam conflict, a great depression; challenges to our ways of life, an end to racial and other discrimination, where the very roots of our Nation were shaken or our own security was threatened.

Our present problems, although they're quite severe and they preoccupy me every minute, are not nearly so difficult to face or to resolve as those that I have just outlined to you. And I think to the extent that we can benefit from the experience of many of those that we will be meeting with and serving in the White House Conference, we can deal with these problems much more effectively and much more wisely. I'm confident that you will come forward from the White House Conference in 1981 with a good assessment and with a good education program for the public and the Congress, and a good program which we can subsequently adopt.

We've got, as you well know, first-rate, quality leadership represented among those sitting behind me on this podium. Dr. Sadie Alexander, because of the good judgment of Secretary Pat Harris, will chair the Conference. Dr. Alexander has a long list of superb achievements. She's a wonderful person, as you well know. One among many is that she's the first black woman in this Nation ever to have earned a Ph.D. And she did it in the time when it took not only intelligence, even brilliance, but also a great deal of courage and innovation and spirit and determination. And that acquisition of an advanced degree she has used very wisely, not only for her own self and for those she immediately loves but for all Americans.

Dr. Arthur Flemming, 1 who's not here this afternoon—I think you probably have guessed where he is; he's on the Hill, meeting with the appropriation committees to be sure that our programs are protected. He's participated in all the White House conferences on the aging. He will be the cochair, and his accomplishments and his idealism, his commitment, and his wisdom are unparalleled, I think, in government. And I'm very grateful to him.

Dr. Bernice Neugarten, an authority in the field of the aging, will also be one of our leaders. Miss Lupe Morales, who has an outstanding record in addressing the problems of the aging on the one hand, and the consumers on the other, is also one of our leaders. Dr. Ellen Winston, who served with distinction, as you know, as the former U.S. Commissioner on Welfare, will also cochair. With people like these, and many others that I don't have time to mention, I have no doubt that all of you advisers, and me and Rosalynn, the rest of us, will be very successful in this coming effort.

I might say in closing that I look forward to a very enthusiastic, and I hope inspirational, and I trust enjoyable, preparation and completion of the White House Conference on Aging, one that will be fruitful to the ones who are looking to us for leadership and service, and to our whole Nation as well.

And I might add that I have one other hope, and that is that when you present your recommendation to the President in December of 1981 that I will be here to receive it.

1 Chairperson Emeritus, White House Conference on Aging.

Note: The President spoke at 2:05 p.m. in the East Room at the White House. In his opening remarks, he referred to Sadie T. M. Alexander, Chairperson, Bernice L. Neugarten and Lupe Morales, Deputy Chairpersons, and Jerome R. Waldie, Executive Director, all of the White House Conference on Aging, Aaron Henry, member of the Federal Council on the Aging, and Nelson H. Cruikshank, Counsellor to the President on Aging.

Jimmy Carter, White House Conference on Aging Remarks at a White House Reception. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/250278

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