Speech source: Papers of John F. Kennedy. Pre-Presidential Papers. Senate Files. Speech Files, 1953-1960. Box 907, Folder: "Beloit, Wisconsin, 1 April 1960".
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There is no group in America which has suffered more from economic distress and government neglect -- no group which has participated less in our current national prosperity and high standard of living -- then those workers who make up our great army of unemployed. And the ranks of this army are swelled by the growing number of workers deprived of jobs by technological advance -- victims of automation.
Today nearly four million people -- 5% of our entire working force -- are jobless. Nearly four million Americans must struggle for subsistence on unemployment payments which average a meager $31 per month -- payments which are, in many states, completely exhausted in four weeks to four months.
This system of payment might have been adequate 22 years ago, when our current system of unemployment was devised. But it cannot meet today’s high cost of living. The benefits of the thirties do not pay for the food and hospital bills, the rent and clothing costs of the sixties.
Last year I introduced a bill to modernize our unemployment system -- to provide workers with a decent and dignified living while they seek work -- and while our government works to eliminate the root causes of unemployment, so that those who are willing to work may contribute their productive skill to a growing American economy.
This bill provides that unemployed workers should receive half their pay for a period of 39 weeks. I have reintroduced this legislation this year -- and I intend to keep fighting for its passage. For I strongly believe -- and I think the Congress will agree -- that our unemployed workers, most of them the victims of economic circumstances, far beyond their control, are entitled to the minimum economic requirements for a decent and dignified and self-respecting existence for themselves and for their families.