FEBRUARY 8, 1961
NEW YORK—The Kennedy Administration is well aware of the fact that in many parts of our country people are really facing disastrous situations at the present time, and, as the Administration has indicated, much serious study is being done on the problem.
It was no surprise to hear of the large number of people who were about to be laid off in the automotive industry, and the same will happen in many industries unless our big industrialists get together and plan for the inevitable coming of more and more automation.
One cannot hold back progress, and the increased use of machinery that replaces men is quite evidently going to continue. If such progress really brings cheaper products, this in the end should be beneficial to our economy. But the increased hardship to human beings now evident through lack of planning shows that we cannot afford in our modern civilization just to trust that people will be able to meet these new economic changes through their own ingenuity alone.
It is certainly encouraging to find in certain disaster areas certain groups of people who are trying to plan to meet this serious situation, but they need help. For instance, I have a letter from several representative citizens of Neffs, Ohio, where the community depended largely on the Hanna Coal Company mine, which closed down and was abandoned in 1954. These people tell me that since that time the town has become almost a ghost town with "no work available and men and women forced to seek employment elsewhere, hence a large number of young people have left town and those who remain are forced to drive many miles to their new places of employment."
The group now organizing feels that it needs to tell the outside world that there are possibilities for new industries in its area. These people write that they "have the land, an abundance of water, two railroads, plenty of power, natural gas and telephone service. Located in the soft-coal fields we have plenty of cheap fuel and we are not too far away from steel mills and aluminum plants."
So they are now trying to bring the advantages of their community to the knowledge of a wider public, and they are doing this on their own. They are calling together their businessmen and citizens and asking them to go out and try to rehabilitate the town and bring in new industries.
When this letter came to me I could not help but think that probably the citizens alone could not accomplish this major task. But if the great industrial powers of the country would get together with the government and try to meet the different situations that face different parts of the country, something very comprehensive and effective could be done.
Individual initiative is wonderful, and when we are so slow in awakening interest on the part of top industrial leaders in the planning that is necessary then individual initiative is all we can count on to stir the public to bring pressure on the government and the industrial leaders to organize for broader action.
It is probably necessary to have preparation made for new industries and services to be brought in simultaneously with the changeover to increased machinery or with the abandonment of an industry such as was the case in Neffs, Ohio. Bringing in new industries without a retraining program will not prepare the people for the new jobs that become available, however, so government cooperation is necessary.
We must never forget that it is essential that we have a strong economy in our country. We are the showcase of what democracy can accomplish, and certainly unemployment will give strength to the Communist assertions that they have a better form of economy than we have.
Of course, we realize that of necessity no particular economic system exists in a country because one believes in Marxism or one believes in democracy. But just as the Soviets show the representatives of underdeveloped countries with great pride the material benefits that have come to their people since their revolution and the establishment of communism, so must we realize that the well-being of our people will have an effect on the way the peoples of the world will look at democracy.
The capitalist system is not of necessity tied to the principles of democracy. But since we are functioning under that system and we are the showcase for democracy we must make sure that our economic system meets the needs of our people and gives them hope for attaining the natural desires of all human beings—namely, a decent standard of living and a dignity in everyday life that cannot be obtained under conditions of unemployment and dire poverty.