Speeches by John F. Kennedy

From the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum

Remarks of Senator John F. Kennedy at Williamson, West Virginia, April 25, 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.

This Congress and this Administration must act immediately to relieve the economic distress and despair of millions of America's older citizens - thousands of them here in West Virginia - who are trapped with falling, sub-standard incomes in a period of rapidly rising prices.

The income, the price and population figures tell the story. They unmistakably reveal the personal poverty and the dismal want which many of our older citizens must face as they near retirement. Today there are 16 million Americans over the age of 65 - and the number is growing daily. Three out of every five of these Americans - more than 9.5 million people - must struggle to survive on an income of under $1,000 a year. Three million more receive less than $2,000 a year from all sources combined.

We must immediately begin on a bold, creative program to modernize our social security program - to bring it into line with the costs and the vital needs of the sixties - to ensure our older citizens a decent retirement which they can enjoy in dignity and freedom from want.

First, we must raise our scale of benefits and we must be sure that future benefits keep pace with rises in the cost of living - that they are adjusted to meet higher prices. Only in this way can we keep inflation from destroying the economic welfare of our older citizens.

Second, we must provide a sound and effective program of health insurance for those over 65. This is the time of life when the need for health care rises sharply. We must permit our older citizens to meet their basic health needs and expenses.

Third, we must increase the lump sum payment to surviving spouses. These payments are designed to meet the cost of final illness and funeral expenses. $250 might have been adequate for this purpose twenty years ago, but it does not begin to meet 1960's costs.

Fourth, we must raise the limit on the amount which older people can earn and still be eligible for social security benefits. Today if a retired person earns over $100 a month he cannot receive social security. This limit should be raised so that our older people can supplement their meager benefits with meaningful outside employment.

With this program we can move toward a social security law which is designed for the needs of the sixties - a social security law of which the richest country on earth can be justly proud - a social security law which will truly provide our older citizens with a decent and a dignified and a healthy way of life.

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