Speeches by John F. Kennedy

From the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum

Remarks of Senator John F. Kennedy at Charleston, West Virginia, May 5, 1960

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 here at the John F. Kennedy Library.

Today much of the United States is living better than it ever has before. We have more swimming pools, more freezers, boats, and air conditioners than any country has ever had 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 eight years have been eight years of economic failure - eight years of retreat from historic aims. Last month, in his annual economic message, the President painted a picture of a fat and complacent nation - a nation of wealth and abundance - a satisfied nation: satisfied with what it had and satisfied with where it was going. But the truth of the matter is that behind the President'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 President, "has made possible very great gains in the well-being of American families."

Yet - in an age of record national income and unprecedented national production - we have 7 million families who must struggle to survive on incomes of less than two thousand dollars a year. We have more than 4 million unemployed. We have hundreds of severely depressed areas where more than one quarter of the workers have no jobs and no prospects of employment. We have states like West Virginia where hundreds of thousands of people are forced to struggle for existence on a meager and inadequate diet of governmental surplus foods. And we have millions of families who have not made gains, but suffered severe losses, in their "well-being" during the last eight years.

2. "The American economy," said the President, "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. The Soviet Union is expanding its economy three times as fast as the United States. Eight years of drift and retrenchment - holding down purchasing power, curbing small business, destroying our coal industry, neglecting our farms and cities, wasting our natural resources - these are the policies that need to be reversed if we are to increase national income, create national wealth, restore prosperity to states like West Virginia, and bring the good life to all Americans.

3. "Notable gains," said the President, "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 failing - to make what the President 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 President "has been advanced significantly."

But the security of our families has not been advanced significantly when the props beneath that security - fashioned nearly a generation ago by Franklin Roosevelt and a Democratic Congress - have been permitted to rust and decay: minimum wages are no longer living wages - Social Security has failed to keep pace with the cost of living - unemployment compensation does not provide for today's long-term, Republican, unemployment - and programs of help to housing, farmers, and small businesses have been forgotten or discarded. Nor has family security been advanced significantly when that security is constantly subjected to the whims of economic fluctuation. Under this Administration we have seen 2 serious recessions and - at the very same time - serious price inflation, eating away family 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, and causing a record number of small business failures.

These facts - the harsh, undeniable facts behind the President's message - reveal clearly that under the last eight years of Republican rule the United States has moved further and further away from the Roosevelt goal of an equal share in America's abundance for all Americans.

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