This is a transcription of this speech made for the convenience of readers and researchers. A single copy of the speech exists in the Senate Speech file of the John F. Kennedy Pre-Presidential Papers at the John F. Kennedy Library. Page images of the speech can be found here.
No problem better illustrates the lack of constructive and dynamic leadership in Washington today than the problem of chronic unemployment.
For the harsh fact of the matter is that in over half our states - including Massachusetts and Wisconsin - there are areas which have been bypassed by the current national prosperity - areas in which thousands of able, anxious workers are unable to find jobs for long periods of time - areas in which families are not concerned with the price of the latest and shiniest gadgets, but with meeting basic expenses for food and rent - areas in which inadequate unemployment benefits and lack of area redevelopment programs are not abstract exercises in political science, but harsh, tangible, frustrating facts which have to be faced every day in the week. These are the areas of chronic unemployment, of consistent economic distress - the depressed areas - the areas which have too often been neglected in Washington.
Franklin Roosevelt said that "the test of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have too much; it is whether we provide enough for those who have too little."
And he followed these words with actions - with programs - with creative leadership. Unemployment compensation - social security - federal mortgage insurance - and the many other reforms of the New and Fair Deals have staved off complete disaster for many Americans. In our hard hit areas the banks are still open - men receive limited benefits for a limited time - sweatshops have not sprung up - some help is available. But the problems are growing - unemployment is now up to 4 million - benefits are inadequate in the face of today's inflationary spiral - and - more important - we are making no effort to get at the root causes of chronic unemployment.
Yet - despite these new and growing problems - in the last eight years we have seen no new policies - no fresh programs - no increased awareness of today's problems - no increased concern for the plight of the unemployed. During the past eight years nearly all reform - all social advances have ground to a halt - and it will only be in 1961 - with a Democratic President in the White House - that the great march forward will be resumed.
But the people of La Crosse need no reminder of the failures of the past - no recitation of the hardship and distress brought about by chronic unemployment - no description of America's unshared prosperity. For the closing of automotive plants has brought widespread joblessness to La Crosse - many of your citizens are feeling the result of economic decline at first hand - the lack of vision in Washington is causing a lack of adequate incomes here in Wisconsin.
It is vitally important that this Congress take immediate action to fill the gaps in leadership - improve our social welfare programs - and raise the standards which are no longer adequate for 1960. Last year I sponsored a bill to improve and extend our program of unemployment insurance - to make sure - by a system of nationwide standards - that every unemployed worker gets a decent benefit for a decent period of time - so that he and his family will not have to get by on the present national average of less than $31 a week - which in some States is cut off after as little as six or ten weeks.
But the extension of unemployment compensation - essential as that is - is not the answer. It does not strike at the causes of unemployment in those areas which are the victims of chronic economic distress. There are - of course - a variety of causes in different sections of the country. Some areas have been hurt by shifts in plant locations and the closing down of local factories - others have exhausted their natural resources - others have always lacked basic facilities such as a water supply - still others have been hurt by fluctuating demand for their products - and others by automation or technological change.
It is no answer to say that the unemployed workers and their families in these areas should move elsewhere - that they should seek work where jobs are more plentiful.
Many do. But many are over 40 or 50 years of age - many lack the skills necessary for a new job in a new area - many lack the funds to travel to another state - many are women unwilling to leave their homes.
Moreover, is it not natural that they should want to hold on to their roots and try to "stick it out"? Their communities represent tremendous investment in schools, churches, buildings, paved streets, utility systems and all the rest. Surely these should not be abandoned - no matter what some economic theories may suggest - without a greater effort on our part to save this investment.
And they can be saved. Solutions can be found. Each community and state must bear the major responsibility. But Congress has a responsibility also - for this is a national problem. And Congress can assist the local communities in the creation of new jobs, new facilities, new capital and new industries.
To meet these ends, to deal with the problem of depressed areas in a constructive fashion, we have designed the so-called Area Redevelopment Bill. This is not a hastily conceived measure - but one that has been shaped and reshaped over the years.
This bill first passed the Senate in 1956, when - as chairman of the Labor Subcommittee as well as co-author of the bill - I had the honor of serving as its floor manager. But this important bill died under attacks in the House. Finally - in 1958 - the Area Redevelopment Bill passed both Houses of Congress. Our depressed areas and our unemployed workers thought assistance was finally on the way. But their hopes were tragically crushed when the President of the United States chose to veto the bill.
Last year, the Senate again passed area redevelopment legislation. We expect it to pass the House this year. We can only hope that the President will be unwilling to delay solution of these problems for still another year, and will permit it to become law - but if there is to be a veto, that veto must be overridden.
This program is in no sense a "handout" or a "dole". It is not a relief measure. Instead, it is a program of long-term investment in repayable loans to help these areas help themselves.
Many of the hard-hit areas have natural resources, strategic locations and an available labor supply. They are ripe for new industries, but they cannot get private capital. Local capital is more limited than in prosperous areas, and outside capital is afraid to come in. These areas need credit on favorable terms and at low rates of interest. The Federal Government can help such communities, with the cooperation of private lending institutions and state and local governments, to raise the funds necessary to create new industries. A long-term loan at a low rate of interest granted by the Federal Government may frequently be just the added incentive necessary to encourage private capital to develop the area. This is provided for in our bill.
Sometimes a community will need loans or grants to build public facilities, such as water supplies or access roads, which are needed for new industries. These are provided for in our bill.
Nearly every area suffering from severe and prolonged unemployment needs technical assistance to study ways to help itself. Such assistance would be available under the terms of our bill.
Often vocational training is necessary to retrain workers in new skills, to provide new industries with the right kind of labor force. This, too, is provided by our bill, along with subsistence payments to trainees who have exhausted their unemployment compensation payments.
This is a modest bill - this is a sensible bill. It represents the best traditions of the American people as well as the highest traditions of the Democratic Party.
It is a program which can help to re-establish La Crosse - and the many other centers of economic distress - as a center of productive industry - as a place where men can work and earn a decent living as a welcome and important part of a prosperous America. It is a program which the entire nation urgently needs - and this is the year we are going to get it.