Keynote Speech at Sales & Marketing Executives International Convention

New Orleans, LA | June 5, 1967

How do you market opportunity? Not with a check or a handout. Not with a slogan or a promise. Opportunity is, by definition, the chance to help yourself. With pride, with effort. With dignity.

I am delighted to be with you today -- not as a government bureaucrat in the lion's den of private enterprise, but as a marketer among marketers.

Most of my private and public life has been spent in the field you represent. first, at the Merchandise Mart in Chicago -- then the Peace Corps and now the War on Poverty.

Believe it or not, the Peace Corps was a substantial marketing challenge. Maybe some of you remember when congressmen were calling it the Kiddie Korps -- and protesting that it would become a haven for kooks, beatniks, and draft dodgers. Or, that it would wreck the whole structure of traditional diplomacy. The Peace Corps, we seem to forget now, had a very shaky first two years, as foreign governments viewed it with suspicion as an imperialist trick and Americans viewed it with disdain as an example of sophomoric idealism.

The Peace Corps today is a triumph of a good product, a world-wide market. and the best salesmen on earth -- concerned Americans.

Now, as head of this nation's War on Poverty, they've handed me another rather challenging marketing problem. putting it most simply -- we're in the business of providing ladders of opportunity for people who have been down so long they've forgotten which end is up.

We are trying to serve America's great invisible market -- a territory no other salesman has ever staked out.

Four or five years ago, people -- including marketing experts -- didn't believe this market even existed. "There is no poverty in America," they said. "Times are too good. opportunity is too abundant. If anyone is poor today, it's either his own fault or he is too old and sick to work and charity will take care of him. "

Then the Census Bureau and some sociologists and economists did a little basic market research. and they shocked 150 million Americans into a sudden awareness of a major national crisis.

Based on the simplest statistical definition of poverty -- 23 cents per meal per day and $1.40 for all the rest -- rent, clothing, medical care, recreation. a per capita income of $750 per year -- we discovered there was a hidden market of 35 million Americans living in abject deprivation amidst the greatest abundance the world has ever known.

More shocking than that -- we found that 40% of this market was made up of children; 25% were aged; 35% were in the wage-earner age group.

55% were concentrated in cities; 45% were scattered in rural areas.

70% were white -- but the 30% who were Negro totaled one-half of all america's Negro population.

Like all good marketers, we wanted to know some more facts about these 35 million poor people. We found that very few facts were available because the poor had literally dropped out of our national consciousness for so long.

But when the facts did begin to come in -- they added up to one appalling conclusion. This nation -- with the greatest distribution system of goods and services -- this gigantic marketing machine that is America -- had never bothered to create delivery systems to reach one-fifth of its people. America's 35 million poor.

In the nation with the most comprehensive health care in the world -- the poor are not getting adequate health services. Their lives are being whittled away by sickness -- right in the shadow of magnificent medical facilities. Poverty is the third deadliest killer in the nation today.

One-half of all women having babies in public hospitals get no pre-natal care at all.

Adults in poor families have four times more disabling heart disease. Ten times more visual impairment. Six times more mental illness, retardation and nervous disorders than in families that are not poor.

The chance of a child dying before the age of one is 50% higher for the poor. And the chance of dying before the age of 35 is four times greater for the poor.

In the nation with the most advanced systems of jurisprudence in the world -- the poor are not getting justice. There are few lawyers practicing in the urban ghettos or rural backwashes. There's just no money in it. Until very recently law schools did not give courses in poverty law, the law of the housing project or the welfare agency. For most poor people the law is represented only by the policeman on the beat who is keeping him under surveillance. And so law becomes feared and justice an enemy.

In the nation with the largest public school system in the world the poor are getting little or no education. Schools have been put off-limits to parents and to the community. Facilities, equipment, buildings have fallen into obsolescence and disrepair. The dropout, not the diploma, has become the symbol of education for poor americans.

In the nation which boasts the largest gross national product in the world, the most jobs -- less than a 4% unemployment rate -- the poor cannot find more than the most menial occupations. In the urban ghettos of America, the unemployment rate is three times that of the rest of the country. And when unemployment is combined with serious under-employment that rate can reach as high as 35%. Not because the poor are lazy or shiftless, but because they lack the skills, the ability to read or write, the training or the motivation to get and hold a decent job in a complex, technological society.

These are a few of the grim characteristics of America's lost market. And for the past two and a half years we have been trying to reach the poor with programs, help and opportunity:

Head Start to give training and motivation to pre-school youngsters and their families.

Job Corps and Neighborhood Youth Corps to provide education, counseling and skill training to teen-age youth.

Legal Services to make available neighborhood lawyers concerned only with the legal problems faced by the poor.

Neighborhood Health Centers to provide comprehensive medical services in one place -- in the neighborhood where the poor live.

Upward Bound to give underachieving high school students the incentives to go on to higher education.

Foster Grandparents -- to provide meaningful, useful work with institutionalized children, for older americans.

Community action programs developed and operated locally -- to put responsibility back into the community rather than dictating programs from Washington.

All these and more have been set in motion in less than three years. And more than 8 million poor Americans have begun to climb up the ladders of opportunity we have created for them. Some have emerged from poverty altogether. For others, only the first tentative steps have been taken.

But the important thing is that we have turned the spotlight of national attention and concern on this market which had previously been in darkness. and we are doing it in the best traditions of American society: with local control; with every group pitching in; with recognition of the practical necessity of the effort, rather than a dependence on theoretical or emotional grounds.

For not even the richest nation in the world can continue to lead the pack if it carries on its back 32 million people-worth of dead, unproductive weight.

Cities and towns cannot grow and prosper when a disproportionate share of their wealth is being drained off into welfare, law enforcement, health and protective services for the poor.

Industry cannot grow when millions of men and women are shut off from the job market by rapidly growing gaps in education and training.

The spirit of a nation cannot be maintained when one-fifth of its citizens are increasingly alienated, increasingly disaffected and increasingly vulnerable to irresponsible calls to violence.

It is in recognition of these practical truths that every segment of our society is now strongly in support of all War on Poverty programs. This is a fact. There is no single significant body of opposition in America to any of the programs we have undertaken.

Even Republicans in Congress have already indicated the need for more money next year for the War on Poverty and have gone on record favoring the continuation of each of the programs we have created.

(All they are against, I might say parenthetically, is me and the agency I head. They approve of all the rest.)

But the unanimity of support is nothing short of an amazing national consensus. I don't think it has ever before happened that:

The American Bar Association has actually sponsored a federal legal services program.

The AMA has endorsed and urged expansion of neighborhood health centers, federally funded.

The U.S. Conference of Mayors has urged the continuing and strengthening of community action.

The National Education Association has endorsed the Job Corps.

The National Congress of PTA's has issued a resolution commending VISTA -- the domestic Peace Corps.

Every major civic organization and religious group has urged that the War on Poverty go forward.

But most gratifying of all to me is the warm and strong support we have had from American businessmen. They know a sound proposition when they see one -- and they recognize how great the payoff can be when poverty is finally conquered as it can and must be. Here are just a few highlights of business participation:

  1. From the very outset, businessmen helped in the design and organization of War on Poverty programs. Sixty of them serve now on a Business Leadership Advisory Council. Men like Walker Cisler, Chairman of Detroit Edison; Marion Folsom of Eastman Kodak; Edgar Kaiser of Kaiser Industries; Gerald Phillippe, chairman of G.E.  This Committee is not window dressing. Out of it have come practical proposals such as the recent "success insurance" plan, which will make it possible for hundreds of smaller businesses to participate in job training programs.
  2. In addition to the advisory council, literally thousands of businessmen serve on a volunteer basis as working members of community action agencies. Men like Cabell Brand of Roanoke, Arthur Gartland of Boston, Paul Johnson of Hartford, James Cook of Chicago, James Davis of Charleston and Thomas Godchaux of New Orleans. In fact, 80 businessmen serving on community action boards will meet in Washington next week to review the program and develop recommendations for greater involvement of the business community.
  3. The War on Poverty has contracted much of its work to business organizations -- simply because we believe the private sector can generally do this cheaper and more effectively than can bureaucrats. Since 1965 we have let 380 contracts for all kinds of programs and services to industrial organizations totaling $262,350,000.
  4. A substantial part of the work being done by industry relates to the management of Job Corps centers. There are presently 22 national centers which are providing basic education, vocational training, and job placement in a residential setting to 37,000 young men and women. These companies are not in it for the money. They see other values in their participation. As Tex Thornton, President of Litton Industries has said: "In terms of the economic benefit and in terms of savings in the cost of relief, crime and institutional care, there is very much in it for us as businessmen."

I am certain the Job Corps contractors are familiar to you. Their names read like a who's who in American industry: Xerox, IBM, Brunswick, RCA, Litton, AT&T, G.E., Westinghouse -- to name a few right off the top.

These substantial business organizations have never been known for their association with idle, naive schemes. They are engaged in War on Poverty work because they understand its deep marketing significance as well as its basic human values.

They know that one-fifth of a nation is too rich a resource to lie fallow. They know that by raising the living standards of the poor -- we are unlocking their dependency on tax dollars and welfare bureaucracies. They know that any national effort which has mobilized one million volunteers must be right and they want to be part of it.

Your own organization has for the past year operated a most successful demonstration program in Puerto Rico, training the poor in sales occupations. Now you have submitted an application which will extend this experiment to three cities in the United States.

Without an OEO -- without an SMEI -- this kind of creative marketing approach would have been impossible. Truly, the marketer is, as your conference theme suggests, a leader in a world of change. He is not bound by tradition or convention. He sees a human want and he devises new, inventive ways of satisfying that want.

The poor, want the chance to get out of poverty. They do not want to be poor.

The young men and women in Job Corps don't want to be poor. To have a 7th grade education. To read at a 4th grade level. To have never seen a doctor or a dentist. They want a chance to leave that kind of life behind.

The four-year-old in Head Start doesn't want to be poor. Not to know a book or a crayon. Not to have had a small pox vaccination or a polio shot. To be suffering malnutrition. And his parents don't want to be poor, either.

How do you market opportunity? Not with a check or a handout. Not with a slogan or a promise. Opportunity is, by definition, the chance to help yourself. With pride, with effort. With dignity.

A hand up -- not a handout. That's what the War on Poverty is all about.

I'm happy that you know and understand this and that you've joined with us and with millions of Americans in offering such a helping hand.

The lost market of America has now been found. You've helped us find it. The faulty distribution systems have now been repaired. You have helped us repair them. As president Johnson said to another group of volunteers in the War on Poverty just a few weeks ago:

"May you never grow weary of the blessed work you do. in the years to come, you can look back and say, 'I was one. We came. We saw. And we conquered. ' At least, we are going to try."