A well-known newspaperman once said he had learned after many years of reporting and writing that facts were like bricks. "With those bricks," he said, "you can build an ugly tenement or a beautiful monument."
I have some facts tonight with which no editor or writer in this or any other room could build a beautiful monument. They are ugly, cruel facts. There is no crueler fact of post-war American life than the way this nation has allowed the family structure of the poor to be battered, and buffeted, and nearly broken by blind economic forces.
There is no more bitter fact in America than the steady breaking up of Negro homes and families under the impact of rising unemployment and sinking morale. Here are some statistical facts from new, unpublished Labor Department research:
"In 1949, nine per cent of white families were headed by a female. Thirteen years later in 1962, the proportion was still 9 per cent. But the proportion among Negroes during this period rose from 19 per cent to 23 per cent.
"In 1947, the per cent of white families with the husband absent was 4.1. By 1962, it had changed very little -- 4.4 per cent. But in the same period, the per cent of Negro married families with husband absent rose from 13.7 per cent to 20.5 per cent!
"In 1954, Negro male unemployment jumped from 4.4 per cent the previous year to 9.2 per cent! In 1975, the proportion of Negro married families with husband absent jumped to 21.9 per cent.
"The per cent of absent husbands always trails the unemployment statistics by about a year -- just about the time it takes to break a man's heart and bring on desertion, the poor man's divorce."
Those are the facts which should be making page one copy in every newspaper in America, in the Catholic press as well as the lay press. But the poor rarely make headlines. They rarely even make the obituary notices. For there is a discrimination which operates against all of the poor -- not just the Negro, or the Puerto Rican, or the Spanish speaking American or the American Indian.
It's strange -- but probably true -- that day after day over the last 20 years more magazine and newspaper lineage has been devoted to the problems of the poor in foreign nations than to the poor in America. Yet the remaining poverty in this country is every bit as urgent as the remaining poverty in the underdeveloped world. In the Peace Corps, and now, in President Johnson's War on Poverty, I have been concerned with both of these problems.
And they can be solved in my judgment, only by adopting the same procedures, the same theories, the same psychological attitudes we have used abroad. The poor are the same everywhere -- and they need the same things everywhere. They need help -- but before they need help, they need hope. And before they can have hope, they need self-respect. And before they can have self-respect, they must enjoy the same opportunities the rest of us have had. This is why helping is not easy. It is not just a matter of conscience money. It is not just a matter of handing out money, jobs, or materials. Helping the poor is a sequence of things -- like building a monument. It is a sequence first of providing opportunities that the poor can seize voluntarily; then, building their self-respect, then giving them new hope. This is the lesson our Volunteers have learned in the Peace Corps. They learned that the real problem was know to help people without alienating them, without seeming to tell them, "We want to elevate you poor, backward people to our own superior level!" Such an approach only inspires resentment, bitterness, mistrust -- as so many foreign aid programs have learned!
Not long ago, a Bolivian who was formerly a: high administrator in one of the U.N. technical assistance programs told me, "I would have sworn that your Peace Corps would not work. Time and again, I have seen high powered technical assistance in which the "experts" simply failed to transfer the technical skills to the people they were supposed to help. So I did not see how your Volunteers, who are not experts after all -- I did not see how they could possibly succeed. But they did -- they have succeeded. You have found at last not only the people to help others, but the way to help others. You have found the secret."
Well it doesn't have to be a secret. This effort to help the poor in America can work just as successfully in the anti-Poverty program as it has in the Peace Corps overseas. The Volunteers learned it must be done with humility, and with acceptance and respect for the other man's integrity and dignity. They learned that we must go the poor in other countries to listen, as well as to talk; to learn as well as to teach; to live at the level of these people and understand them before we can hope to inspire them. The Volunteers learned, in short, that people need self-respect perhaps more than they need education or jobs. And so the Peace Corps proved effective, where other attempts frequently failed.
But before the Peace Corps could be effective, it had to be trusted, to be accepted by the people it was designed to help, and it had to have the best of motivations among its Volunteers. This is equally essential to the Poverty program if it is to be successful. It must be accepted, trusted not only by affluent Americans, but by the 30 million poor themselves. And it must have the wholehearted participation of the community, of all communities in America, including the communities of the poor. To bring this about we are employing four or five basic ideas in the poverty program that helped to make the design of the Peace Corps a successful one.
For example, it takes personal initiative to make the Peace Corps work. Nobody is drafted into the Peace Corps. You have to have 'the energy, the imagination to get in on your own. And it takes private, personal initiative to stay in the Peace Corps. Any time anyone wants to, he or she can quit --even after he has gone overseas. We have no court martials, no brigs or jails to throw prisoners into. When I was in the Navy they used to say: "Watch out, or they will throw the book at you!" We don't even have a book to throw in the Peace Corps.
The Peace Corps has nearly 7,000 Volunteers working today in more than 3,000 locations in 4+5 countries. They are supervised by 235 people. Those 235 people can't get around to all those locations every day. Sometimes it will be weeks or months before the supervisors see the Volunteers.
There is nobody looking over anyone's shoulder in the Peace Corps. It depends on the individual -- on the Volunteer's initiative. The same thing is true about the Poverty program.
One of the most significant concepts about the Poverty Program is the reliance on local leadership. We believe that successful efforts to combat poverty must be tailor-made to the community where the poverty exists -- by the local people who know the community best. What is good for Savannah, for example, might not be appropriate for the South Side of Chicago.
In the Poverty Program, we will try to improve education and health services, and the housing of people who are suffering under poverty conditions. But they have to take advantage of these opportunities. We don't force them on them, just as in the Peace Corps where the accent is not on help, but on self -- self-help.
We are suggesting that Volunteers be brought into the Poverty Program. But these Volunteers will work under local leadership in all the community action programs.
Another point the Peace Corps and the Poverty Program share is that both are 100 percent Voluntary. There are very few financial inducements in the Peace Corps. We advertise it as tough, hard work -- and that's the way it will be in the Poverty Program. There is absolutely no compulsion connected with any part of either.
Title I of the Poverty Program -- which involves the proposed expenditure of about 400 million -- provides people with a chance for a job. It may only be a part-time job, but it is a job where they can learn more about how to hold a job. Title I also gives people a chance for training -- but they must Volunteer to apply and qualify for training.
In the Peace Corps, the Volunteers cannot step into a community in Africa, and tell that community what action it must take to improve itself. The willingness and desire for this improvement must come from the people of that community.
The same is true in our proposed program. No community has to participate. Once again, it is voluntary.
Another concept that is shared by the Peace Corps and the Poverty Program is that they are inexpensive.
This week I testified before the House Appropriations Committee on the Peace Corps appropriation for 1965. I told the Committee that we had been able to save almost $9 million of the 1964 appropriations, and that the Peace Corps was turning this money back into the Treasury.
By continued administrative economies -- and by insisting that only the best qualified persons go overseas as Peace Corps Volunteers --we were able to effect these savings. We have projected it and reduced our request for 1965.
Some people tell us we are successfully defying Parkinson's Law. We don't spend money just because we have it -- or go into a country with a show of fancy equipment and materials because we have the money to buy it. These are ideas that are inimical to the Peace Corps.
This attitude is also being applied to the Poverty Program. Every nickel in the Poverty Program proposal has already been included in the budget which President Johnson set to the Congress last January -- a budget which was $1 billion less than last year's budget.
This program will reach 600,000 human beings in its first year --and it will attack their problems in an economically sound way. For example, if we are able to raise by just $1,000 a year all the families in the United States with an annual income of $3,000 or less, we could create $14 billion in additional Gross National Product.
Or to put it another way -- we could increase the consumer purchasing power of the people of the United States by $10 billion, which is the equivalent of the current total consumer market in the states of Oregon, Oklahoma and Colorado combined.
It has also been demonstrated statistically that a high school graduate in the United States today earns about $60,000 more in his lifetime than a grade school graduate. We are directing a large portion of our effort at getting those grade school graduates through high school.
If it costs you and me $700 a year to keep a boy in high school so that he will be earning $60,000 more in his lifetime, then that is --as President Johnson says -- turning a tax-eater into a taxpayer.
Another thing that the Peace Corps and the Poverty Program share, in my opinion, is that they are effective action programs for proving the virtue of the free and Democratic way of life.
I remember when the Peace Corps got under way, it was stated that it would just be a boondoggle and never make a contribution that would justify it in terms of American Foreign Policy. But let's say I told you tonight that the Soviet Union or the Red Chinese now had 10,000 Volunteers working in classrooms and farms and communities all over the underdeveloped world that in a country such as Ethiopia, there were 400 card carrying COMMUNISTS teaching the high school kids there (instead of the 400 Peace Corps Volunteers from America).
I know what would happen. The first thing would be a Congressional investigation to find out "who lost Ethiopia". And the next thing would be an effort to counter this new Soviet thrust with some counterattack of our own....
Personally I am happy that, for once, the Free World acted first ON A GOOD IDEA..
The Poverty Program has the same kind of thrust.
Communism breeds on hopelessness, on deprivation, on lack of personal dignity. It breeds on the feeling that the economic system is not working for the benefit of the individual or certain groups of individuals.
Our country cannot afford to have 20 percent of its people for whom the American Dream has become their personal nightmare. We cannot afford to have one-fifth of our nation excluded from the tremendous advances that are taking place in this country.
Another thing that the Peace Corps and the Poverty Program can share is non-partisan support.
When we started the Peace Corps, it was politically controversial. Some Republicans came out against it. But it wasn't long before businessmen like Tom Watson of IBM, and Henry Crown of General Dynamics, were endorsing the Peace Corps and helping us with it. It wasn't long, either, before leading Republican Congressmen and Senators were doing the same thing.
I believe the same thing will happen with the Poverty Program. From the earliest days, one of the first people who came into my office to discuss the Poverty Program was Tex Thornton, Chairman of the Board of Litton Industries. And since, there have been executives from AT&T, Campbell Soup, Sears, Roebuck Olin Mathieson, Corning Glass and so on-- all taking part in the formulation of the program and its execution.
This bill, however, was not written by businessmen alone. It wouldn't be right if it were. Farm groups, labor leaders and government officials also have had a great deal to say about it.
Who can remember a piece of legislation which carried the name of Senator Pat McNamara of Michigan - one of the leading Democratic, labor oriented legislators, and Congressman Philip Landrum of Georgia, co-author of the Landrum-Griffin Bill?
These facts indicate that this bill is not a partisan effort. It was never conceived as such an effort and it is not being carried out that way!
Now I hope you won't mind if I wave the American Flag a little bit when I say that I think both of these programs -- Peace Corps and the War on Poverty are patriotic programs. Nobody joins the Peace Corps because of the money they are going to make out of it.
They don't join it for military purposes to throw the military might of the United States in the face of other peoples.
They don't join it for political purposes.
They don't join it to advance their careers.
They do join it because they think they can do something for their fellow man, and they can do something for their country, at the same time as they are doing something for themselves.
This Poverty Program has some of the same ideas.
It is not a hand-out program. We are not handing out anything to anybody, except more opportunities. A better chance for school, or a better chance for a job. We are not proposing this program as a quick and instant solution. This is not an instant wealth program. But it is a coordinated effort, a reasonable effort, to attack one of the major domestic problems in our country.
And in carrying out such a program as this, based upon the support of labor as well as capital and business, of the farmer as well as the city dweller, I am not at all embarrassed to ask your help, -_ because this program, the Poverty Program, like the Peace Corps, is a one hundred percent American style program in the sense that it is founded on our traditional way of doing things and of getting results.
It is practical, workable. It depends upon private initiative, and local initiative.
It depends upon personal commitments from people to join in, either as volunteers or as participants in the creation of local plans and in the execution of those plans.
Philosophically I think these programs are in tune with the highest American ideals, the ideals our country was founded on. Such ideals as equality of opportunity, religious and political freedom for the individual.
The spirit of the Poverty Program just like the spirit of the Peace Corps was summed up I think very eloquently by a famous musician, the famous cellist Pablo Casals who about two years ago came to an international Peace Corps meeting which he had in Puerto Rico.
He said this about the Peace Corps, and it applies to the Poverty Program. "It is new, and it is also very old. We have in a sense come full circle. We have come from the tyranny of the enormous, awesome, discordant machine back to a realization that the beginning and the end are man; that it is man who is important, not the machine; that it is man who accounts for growth, not just dollars or factories. And above all, that it is man who is the object of all our efforts."