THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
REMARKS BY THE PRESIDENT AT SUMMER JOBS CONFERENCE
Hyatt Regency Crystal City, Virginia
11:22 A.M. EDT
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you very much. The speech that Octavius gave says more than anything I will be able to say today about why it's important to give all of our young people a chance to get a work experience and to continue to learn, to merge the nature of learning and work; why it's important to honor the efforts of people like Jerry Levin and Nancye Combs and Pat Irving and all of those who are here.
I want to thank the Secretaries of Labor and Education and all the people who work with them for sponsoring this; and my good friend, Governor Wilder, for being here and for speaking; and all of the business and local community leaders from the city and county and state level from around America who are here.
This has been a pretty fun day. (Laughter.) I loved hearing the young people sing. It was music to my ears because it is their future that we are really struggling about. (Applause.) A year and a half ago I began the quest to seek the presidency because I was concerned about their future. Because I believe that our country, which had always been a beacon of hope for the young, had too little opportunity, was too divided among ourselves across lines of income and race and region and other ways, without a vision to take us into the future.
I entered with the hope that together we could create more opportunity and insist on much more responsibility from all of our people. But in the process we might recreate the best of America's community, knowing that together we could always to more than we could individually and that we might secure our future.
All of you here today are committed to that. The 1,000 jobs that Jerry Levin has committed Time-Warner to is symbolic of the commitments made by many of the private sector people who are here, and those who are around the country. The work that Nancye Combs does, and the successes of all the young people like those on this stage, and especially the eloquent statement Octavius Jeffers -- all those things show that together we know what we need to do, and we're on the right track.
Last July when I was traveling across America's heartland in my luxurious bus, I visited Seneca High School in Louisville, Kentucky. And there I met young people and business people who were participating in the Louisville Education and Employment Partnership. I saw what Nancye Combs talked about today. I saw how the young people were making an extra effort to succeed both in school and at work. I saw, as I have seen many times in my own state, the principle illustrated that Octavius has talked about -- that for millions of American young people it is really an impediment to both their learning and their ability to be good workers to draw a sharp dividing line between what is work and what is learning.
In the world in which we are living, the average young person will change the nature of work seven or eight times in a lifetime. We must learn to merge the work world and the learning world much better. And we must determine that all of our young people see the opportunities that some of them have had showcased here today.
Whether you're in business or in government or in education, you know that we have a big job to do when it comes to building a future that really, honestly includes opportunity for all of our people. There are still a lot of people who say, well, things are pretty good here in Washington and everything's fine; the best thing we can do about this whole thing is nothing. They all have jobs. (Laughter.) All the people who say that. (Applause.)
They all have health insurance. They all have a pretty good education. And they all have a pretty secure knowledge that they'll be okay no matter what happens. I say that not to be either political or unduly critical, but to point out that one of the great challenges of this age for every advanced nation -- everyone -- is to fully develop the capacities of all of its people, and then find work for them to do.
All the European countries have higher unemployment rates than we do, but also stronger support systems for the unemployed. The Japanese unemployment rate has been going up. They're going to adopt a stimulus that, even if you count it in its most rigorous terms, is three or four times bigger than the one that I have proposed to create jobs.
In West Germany alone, the unemployment rate is now about as high as ours. This is a big problem for advanced nations. It costs a lot of money to add an extra employee, with a lot of pressure from low-wage producers in other countries that are growing their own economies and trying to provide new opportunity for their people.
But it is especially important for America for two reasons: One is, we have a whole lot of folks who, unless we move aggressively, will not have the education and skills we need to be competitive and productive in a nation like this. The second is, even if we educate them all, if there aren't jobs they will be robbed of the fruits of their educational labors. People need to be able to work in this country. (Applause.)
We have always had some unemployment; and, indeed, some of it is normal. You've always got some people leaving jobs and moving around the country and doing first one thing and another. We have now, at this moment in our history, the necessity for all big organizations, including the government, to reexamine the way they are organized and who ask whether there are too many people working at some kinds of jobs. But in the whole, we must still be able to create jobs in a country like America, to provide people with the chance to work.
It's going to be difficult for me to make the welfare reform proposals that I will make to Congress in the next couple of months -- it's going to be hard for me to make those work if, at the end of all this work, to get off welfare there isn't a job. (Applause.)
So we have two tasks. One is to develop the capacity of the American people to perform without regard to race or income or the circumstances of their birth. The other is to make sure that there are some opportunities for them to bring to bear for their talent and to be rewarded with a paycheck. It is a great challenge. I do not pretend that all of the answers are simple. But I know if you want to ask the American people, all of them, to be more responsible, if you want to recreate a sense of community in this country that bridges the lines of race and income and region, you have got to have opportunity in that mix.
A part of our vision for America has to be a future for every young person in this country who's willing to play by the rules and work hard and strive for the end of the rainbow. There has to be something at the end of that rainbow. And that is what we are basically here to talk about today: What can we all do as partners, recognizing none of us can do it alone, to develop the capacities of our people to succeed wherever they live and whatever their background. And then, what can we do to make sure that there's something there for them to do?
The summer jobs program we're discussing today is an integral part of that plan, because it will promote the values of work and opportunity and fairness, community. It will put the people first, and it does have a partnership between the public and private sector.
I said when I addressed the United States Congress in February on this program that I would seek to create about 700,000 extra summer jobs from government sources and then challenge the American business community to meet that target so that we can create more than a million new summer jobs over and above what had been created before.
Many, many people have responded to that challenge. And Jerry is just a shining example of that which has been replicated in this room and around the country -- people who are going to do more than they otherwise would in the private sector to give young people a work experience. And it is terribly important.
I want to emphasize that this summer jobs program is part of an overall commitment to increase the capacity of the American people -- from retraining defense workers who lose their jobs and other adults who need to acquire new skills; to improving the transition from school to work for young people who don't go to college but do need at least two years of post-high school training either on the job or in a community college or a vocational setting, so that they can be competitive workers, making it possible for more people to go on to college who do want to go.
All these things are part and parcel of a comprehensive plan. It's also important, as I said, that we create more jobs. The emergency jobs program that I asked the Congress to adopt would create a half a million extra jobs over the next year and a half, and that would reduce the unemployment rate by a half a percent. It would also enable us to absorb more young people coming into the work force in jobs that otherwise will not be created.
It also will help a lot of cities and counties to invest in things that need to be done at the grass-roots level -- projects long delayed, water projects, sewer projects, park projects, new industries and particularly in small and medium-size communities -- a whole range of things that will improve the economy and improve the environment.
The summer jobs program is an important part of that because we have tried for the first time, through the work of the Labor Department and the Education Department and through reaching out to people like you, to make this more than just a one-shot summer jobs program; to integrate it with private sector efforts; to hopefully replicate it in each coming summer; to move these young people into further educational opportunities and to further job opportunities; and to have a strong, meaningful education component to these summer jobs -- something that the United States government has never fully emphasized before.
A lot of these young people, as you well know, because they come from difficult backgrounds, because they go to school in difficult and challenging circumstances, need extra help in building their basic skills in math and language, reasoning and in other areas. And a lot of educational studies show that young people who have difficulty in school often forget as much as 30 percent of what they learn over the summer and then that has to be repeated the next year.
What we are trying to do here is to give people the opportunity to learn good work habits and to reinforce their learning skills and to put them together; and then, hopefully, over the next couple of years, if our entire program passes, to give every school in this country the opportunity to have a good work and learning environment.
There will be more applied academics, more opportunities for people to learn and work during the school year, so that this will not simply be an isolated moment for these young folks, but will be a part of building a whole new educational experience, a whole new work experience, and moving on a pathway to a better future.
The summer jobs programs are not designed to be makework jobs. They're designed to make a future for the people holding the job. And that's what they will do. In the process, they'll help to build local communities, to strengthen local economies, to solve local problems. Real jobs -- renovating housing, repairing public buildings, doing clerical work, providing nursing assistance in hospitals, supervising and training children at child care centers, and learning all the way. Challenging young people to learn while they earn, but letting them earn.
You know, it's very difficult to make a case to people who have never seen opportunity on their own street that they should do this, that, or the other thing if there's no evidence of the opportunity that's at the end of the effort. I have not been sparing in going for the last year-and-a-half into places where it isn't exactly popular to say it, and say I wanted to reform the welfare system; I wanted to toughen child support; I wanted to require people to work; I was sick and tired of people being irresponsible in the use of guns on the streets, and I wanted to change all that. But if you're going to summon people to greater responsibility, you have to reward them when they do the right thing with opportunity. (Applause.)
The young people we propose to put to work under our program will spend 90 hours learning basic skills, such as math, reading, writing -- either on the job in the classroom. They will stretch their minds as well as work up a sweat. They will have a sense of accomplishment. It will literally be a summer challenge, but a challenge that will take them into a different life.
So I want to ask all of you to support this effort even as I, as your President, support your effort. At the end of the summer we will evaluate all the young people who participate. We'll see whether they, instead of falling behind over the summer academically as too many young people do, they stayed even or moved ahead. I suspect that they will.
This summer, Secretary Reich and Secretary Riley and I will be visiting many of your communities. We'll really try to learn from you which of these efforts are working, what we should do next summer, how we can build it in to what goes on during the school year, how we can build in our job training efforts and the works that we do with your companies to make sense of this whole thing -- so that we maximize the impact of the taxpayer dollar and your private investments as well.
We want to honor the companies and the communities, the business leaders and the young people who do the very best jobs this summer. And, again, I want to say to all of you in private business who have matched our effort, I thank you. And to all of you who haven't, and those across the country who may listen or learn about this event today, I want to implore other private employers to stretch a little bit to give other young people a chance to work this summer. I'm telling you, we cannot go through another 10 years when we don't give these children anything to say yes to. If we exhort them to do right, we've got to be able to reward them. (Applause.)
When the other speakers were talking, I was sitting up here on the platform, listening and reveling. And they got talking about work, and I got to thinking about all the different things I've done to make a living in my life. When I was 13, I made a very foolish short-term business investment: I set up a comic book stand and sold two trunks full of comic books. Made more money than I had ever had in my life. But if I had saved those trunks, they'd be worth $100,000 today. (Laughter.)
That does not mean young people should not be entrepreneurial. It just means that you can't foresee a generation ahead. I have mowed yards and cleared land and built houses and worked in body shops and the parts departments of a car dealership. And I've done a lot of different things for a living. Some people say I got into politics to escape work. (Laughter.)
I learned something from every job I ever had. But I grew up in a generation where I literally did not know a living soul without regard to race or income who wanted to work who didn't have a job. I grew up in a generation when all you had to really say to people is, get an education and you'll be all right. You'll get a job and you'll make more money next year than you did this year. Now I live in a generation full of people, most of whom don't make any more money in real dollars than they did 10 years ago and they're working longer hours and they're paying more for the basics of life. And we are now wondering whether we can create the jobs that these young people want.
Now, I want to close by reemphasizing these two things: It doesn't matter what kind of economic policies this administration pursues, or how much productivity increases there are in the private sector, if young Americans don't get a good education, don't learn how to work and can't be productive, those jobs will not be created in this country. Machines will do the work or the work will be done off-shore by people who have the same skill levels and can work for a third or a fourth or a fifth the wages. So nothing we can do economically will matter unless we build the skills and capacities of America's work force. And anybody that pretends otherwise is just kidding.
On the other hand, we need to be honest. Every wealthy country in the world, including the United States, is having difficulty creating jobs. If I knew everything that needs to be done I'd be glad to tell you and we could just call off the whole deliberations of Congress and everything else. I don't have all the answers. But I know this: Doing nothing is not the answer. (Applause.)
And so the jobs program that I have presented to Congress, with the summer jobs, with the money for the cities and the counties, through the Community Development Program, with the infrastructure money, is a small part of a big budget. It is an attempt to engage in an experiment to see whether or not, with the economy recovering in terms of corporate profit, we can give a little boost to it, give opportunities to young people, create a half a million jobs and maybe get the engine going again.
Most of the jobs in this program are going to be jobs in the private sector, not government jobs, even though it's government money. And the lion's share of the work in rebuilding the American economy obviously will come from the private sector. That's the kind of system we have and it works pretty well.
But this is the challenge we have. So I ask all of you here today to support the summer jobs program, to ask your friends and neighbors to support it, to go back home and ask your employers to make a little extra effort; to do what you can to help me pass the funds to create the 700,000 jobs that the United States government should create this summer, so that together we can have this partnership. Because more than anything else, we have to give a future -- a future that our young people can believe in.
We need to send them a message that here in America if you study hard and work hard, if you obey the law and contribute something to your community, you will be rewarded by your country. You can build a future from you own dreams.
That has always been the promise of America. Together that's what this summer of challenge needs to be: a reaffirmation of the promise of America for so many young people to whom that promise has been an illusion. We can make it a reality.
Thank you very much. (Applause.)
END11:45 A.M. EDT