Speeches by John F. Kennedy

From the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum

Remarks of Senator John F. Kennedy at Bethany College, Bethany, West Virginia, April 19, 1960

This is a transcription of this speech made for the convenience of readers and researchers. One draft of the speech exists in the John F. Kennedy Pre-Presidential Papers at the John F. Kennedy Library.

Today the United States is living better than ever before. We have more swimming pools, freezers, boats and air-conditioners than the world has ever seen before.

But "the test of our progress," said Franklin Roosevelt, "is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much; it is whether we provide enough for those who have too little."

By that test, the last several years have been years of economic failure - years of retreat from historic aims. A few months ago, the annual economic report painted a picture of a fat and complacent nation - a nation of wealth and abundance - a satisfied nation: satisfied with what it had and satisfies with where it was going. But the truth of the matter is that behind this report's contented phrases are facts that give us no cause for such satisfaction. They do not meet the Roosevelt test.

Let us look at some of the phrases and some of the facts.

1. "The increase in national output," said the economic report, "has made possible very great gains in the well-being of American families."

Yet - in an age of record national income - we have seven million families who must struggle to survive on incomes of less than $2000 a year. We have more than three million unemployed. We have depressed areas - many of them here in West Virginia - where one-quarter of the workers have no job, and millions struggle for existence on government food handouts.

These "very great gains" the report talks about do not include those drawing unemployment compensation, whose families must get by on an average of $31 a week, or for those whose benefits have run out completely. We have seen no "very great gains" for 80 percent of our old people, who must survive on substandard incomes - no very great gain in well-being of seventeen million Americans who suffer from malnutrition while our farms produce ever-costlier surpluses - no very great gain in the well-being of those who must live in the five million homes that lack plumbing, or the five million residences which need desperately to be replaced.

2. "The American economy," said the economic report, "has sustained its long-term record of growth." But in fact we have declined to a growth rate which is only half the record increases of the Roosevelt-Truman era. And in some states growth has completely stopped. The Soviet Union is expanding its economy three times as fast as the United States. Yet we have had policies which hold down purchasing power, curb small business, neglect our farms and cities, waste our natural resources - these are the policies that need to be reversed if we are to increase national income, create national wealth, and bring the good life to all Americans, while allowing us to meet our obligations abroad.

3. "Notable gains," said the economic report, "have been made in education and other cultural areas."

And yet today millions of young Americans are deprived of a decent education because of overcrowded classrooms - a lack of competent and well-paid teachers - and the unwillingness of our great, rich nation to ensure that poverty will not be a bar to higher education for any talented student. And these problems are getting worse as our population expands - as our schools grow older - as cities and towns are priced out of the teacher market. We are failing - shamefully falling - to make what the report calls "notable gains" - but we cannot fail education much longer without failing our future as well.

4. "The economic security of American families," said the economic report, "has been advanced significantly."

But family security has not been advanced significantly when the props beneath that security - fashioned nearly a generation ago - have been permitted to rust and decay: Minimum wages, social security, unemployment compensation, aids to housing and farmers and small business. And family security has not been advanced significantly when it is still subject to the whims of economic fluctuation. We have seen recently two serious recessions and - at the very same time - serious price inflation, eating away a family's savings, using up wage increases, destroying the value of insurance policies and pensions. We have seen the highest interest rates in history driving the price of money continually higher, slowing the construction of badly needed homes, causing a record number of small business failures.

These are just a few of the facts behind the phrases - the hard facts of America's economy, stripped of the cover of complacent and unjustified words. We are failing to provide for those who have too little. We are increasing our wealth, but we are failing to use that great wealth to meet the urgent needs of millions of our citizens, and the demands of our growing nation.

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