We talk about new industries and new products for the future - and we must. We talk about reopening mines and increasing employment - and we must. But we must also do something right now, before those new industries and jobs are here, about those who are unemployed now, who can't find a job and who can't get by on an average unemployment check of $23 a week.
"The greatest confession of the failure of civilization," said Robert Louis Stevenson, "is the man who can work, and wants to work, and is not allowed to work." There are more than 60,000 of those men in West Virginia today; and only half of them are drawing unemployment compensation. It is a double failure of our civilization if we cannot permit them to pay their bills and feed their families while looking for another job.
And even this small amount runs out before long. No one can draw unemployment benefits here in West Virginia for more than 24 weeks. And 30,000 workers have exhausted their claims - run over their time period without finding a new job. What then are they supposed to do? How then can they pay their bills - their landlord and grocer and doctor - the heat and water and light bills that come month after month, whether they are working or not?
I have introduced continually in the Senate, going all the way back to 1954, a bill to provide nationwide standards for unemployment compensation - to make sure that every worker received a weekly check equal to at least one-half of his weekly wages; and to make sure he can draw that check for 39 weeks, or roughly 8 months, so as to really tide him over until he can find work. If we can have nationwide standards for this kind of program, no state - such as West Virginia - will feel its heavy unemployment will put it at a tax disadvantage with other states.
The facts of the matter are that the state legislatures, on their own, simply will not pass this kind of program. It will take Congressional action and Presidential leadership. And so far we haven't had either one.
Each time I have offered this amendment, the two Democratic Senators from West Virginia have voted with me - most liberal Democrats have voted with me - but most Republicans have not. And the Eisenhower-Nixon Administration has opposed this bill.
That is why we need a new President and a new administration - one that will sponsor this bill, not oppose - and it's up to you to elect that kind of administration in 1960.
But let us never forget those who will never go back to work - those who are too old, too sick or disabled. There is a song about them:
Who will take care of you, how'll you get by
When you're too old to work and you're too young to die?
This Republican Administration doesn't know - and it apparently doesn't care. They offer our retired workers no hope, no help with their hospital bills, no freedom to take a meaningful part-time job - only a social security check averaging $72 a month.
That is hardly a decent living in this, the richest country on earth. That is hardly the way to treat those who have spent their lives making this country what it is today. The Democrats do care. We are the party that started social security. And we are going to finish the job - and finish it right - with a new President in 1961.
Speech source: Papers of John F. Kennedy. Pre-Presidential Papers. Senate Files. Series 12. Speeches and the Press. Box 908, Folder: "'Aid to the Unemployed and Retired,' Clarksburg, West Virginia, 18 April 1960".