Remarks at a White House Ceremony Marking the Beginning of the Summer Youth Employment Program

May 17, 1984

The President. Members of the Congress, Secretary Ray Donovan, our distinguished guests sharing the platform with me, and you ladies and gentlemen, good morning, and welcome to the White House.

I'm delighted to help kick off this 1984 summer youth employment program. And I want to congratulate all the Presidential Certificate Award winners for their dedication to the career development of America's youth and for their generous support of the 1983 private sector jobs program. It's times like this that remind us America was built by people helping people.

We're proud to honor you this morning. And I hope that next year your numbers will grow. Wouldn't it be great if we had to hold this out on the South Lawn -- [laughter] -- couldn't get it in the Rose Garden anymore.

Many of you'll recall that last July we held a similar ceremony right here in the Rose Garden. And since then, more than 3 million Americans have found jobs. In fact, since the economic expansion began 17 months ago, 5.4 million Americans have found jobs, and the unemployment rate has shown the sharpest drop -- or the steepest drop in 30 years. Now, that's why when I'm asked to describe our economic program I do it with three words -- jobs, jobs, jobs. But we can't rest until everyone who wants one and needs one has one.

We must and will go forward to keep opportunities expanding, particularly for the young people of America. No single sector of our nation -- government, business, labor, or nonprofit organization -- can solve the unemployment problem, the needs of our young people. But by working together, pooling our resources and building on our strengths, we can accomplish great things. That's the whole idea behind our youth employment programs' public-private partnerships -- to produce real, not makework, jobs.

Partnerships take advantage of opportunities to help America's youth gain a foothold on the economic ladder. Young people who want to work in the summer deserve the chance, and partnerships can make it happen.

The summer youth employment program includes a $725 million block grant to State and local governments. This grant will give 718,000 young Americans valuable work experience, but it's only part of our effort to help deserving young people get a start. Another program in place gives employers who hire economically disadvantaged teenagers a tax credit of up to 85 percent of the wages paid. The employers get a young employee the company may not be able to afford without the tax break, and the young worker gets a needed job and valuable work experience in the private sector.

Mr. Austin Cunningham of Orangeburg, South Carolina, who is with us today, can tell you how well the targeted jobs tax credit program works. After he discovered the program, Mr. Cunningham promoted the idea to 77 other small business men and women in Orangeburg. Together, they hired 264 economically disadvantaged young people. For most of these 16- and 17- year-olds it was their first real job. And when the summer was over, many of them were asked to stay on full-time even though the tax credit no longer applied. Now, that's partnership in action, and everybody's better off because of it.

What we're trying to do is help our young people find that critical first job. With experience in the workplace, America's youth can develop skills and demonstrate their qualifications and potential -- permanent employers.

But far too often, inexperienced and disadvantaged young people are priced out of the labor market by the minimum wage. Well, Ray Donovan and a lot of other people here today have put together legislation that will give a much-needed boost to those looking for that first job. Today I will submit our youth employment opportunity wage act to the Congress. And Senators Percy and Hatch and Congressman Packard, who have worked hard on this bill, will introduce it on the Hill in behalf of the administration and the American people.

This legislation would allow employers to hire young people at a lower minimum wage during the summer months. The bill would increase summer employment opportunities and provide explicit safeguards to protect permanent employees and sanctions to prevent abuse.

Now, I'm delighted that the National Conference of Black Mayors has endorsed the concept of the youth employment opportunity wage. And now that Mayor Johnny Ford, the past president, and Mayor Marion Barry, the current president of the National Conference of Black Mayors, have endorsed this legislation, maybe we can help Chuck, Orrin, and Ron get this important jobs initiative approved by the Congress.

While I have the chance, I want to thank Bill Kolberg and all the other executives of the National Alliance of Business for their continuing support in coordinating the summer jobs program. The White House Office of Private Sector Initiatives and the NAB have done an outstanding job in leading this year's effort. And thanks to the support of other business, community, and State and local agencies, we're reaching out and responding to the needs of our young people.

Councils like the Greater Kansas City Alliance of Business are using innovative ideas and modern marketing techniques to develop thousands of summer jobs. Companies like Philip Morris, Coca-Cola, Chevron, the American Council of Life Insurance have donated generously to meet the challenge.

Television stations like WTVJ in Miami, KPIX in San Francisco, have held job-a-thons. WPIX - TV is leading a very successful summer jobs program for New York City. Small business men and women all across America are opening their hearts and their business doors to American youth.

And thousands of caring Americans, like Roosevelt Grier and Dave Winfield, who hit a two-run homer in the 10th last night -- [laughter] -- are with us today pitching in to help make this year's program the best ever.

Yes, America is reaching out with a gift of opportunity, and that's a gift that'll last a lifetime. But there are still far too many young people, particularly disadvantaged and minority youth, who cannot find summer employment. We can and must help them get the chance they so richly deserve.

Let me close by asking America's business men and women two questions. Do you remember your first job? Do you remember the lucky break you received even though you were inexperienced and the only skills you had were enthusiasm and determination?

I can remember mine. I was 14. It was summer, and there I was with a pick and shovel. And you do learn things, not only about using that pick and shovel. I remember one day, all morning, I'd been swinging that pick. And I had it up for another swing when the noon whistle blew. And I just felt, ``That's it,'' and I just let go and stepped out from under it and let it fall behind me. And then I heard some very strong language immediately to my rear. And I turned around, and the boss was standing there, and the pick was embedded in the ground right between his feet. [Laughter] And I learned, if you get that thing up there, swing it. [Laughter]

Well, it's your turn now to offer the same opportunity, and you'll never regret it. And thank you, and God bless you all for being here.

Mr. Grier. Mr. President and distinguished people up here and you business men and women, I really love this country, and I love this spirit which we have. I know the young people sometimes think that people don't really care about them, and I think today it proves it that you really do care about them. A lot of minority youth have given up. They turn to drugs and other things. And we don't want that to happen to our young people. They have so much to contribute, and we all have so much to give them in inspiring them.

I like it when people like yourself help the young people because they think that no one really cares about them. They don't see their future as we see it. We've all grown up. And we went through our hard knocks, and they're going to do the same thing. But with your help, they're really going to make it.

And, Mr. President, on behalf of the young people and these men here, here is an outstanding award for a job well done.

[The President was presented with an award that resembled the Motion Picture Academy's Oscar award.]

The President. And I wasn't acting at all. [Laughter] But then there were some who said that I wasn't before. [Laughter]

Mr. Winfield. Ladies and gentlemen, most of my adult life, I've worked with young people. It's just been part of my ideological philosophy. That's just the way I basically am. And I've worked through my Winfield Foundation, and I've worked with kids in health and education and sports and recreation.

And recently -- this past year -- I was asked by the New York City Partnership and the Daily News in New York City to spearhead the Summer Jobs '84, the jobs for youth in the city of New York. And our plan is to get at least 25,000 jobs for the young people of New York City. So, I am here today representing those people, and I'd like to say, Mr. President, on behalf of Summer Jobs '84 and at least 25,000 youngsters in New York City, I'm happy to present this Daily News recognition of your support.

You know, we've tried to not only get the private sector involved, but, in fact, that is the main thing we're emphasizing this year, to get involved, along with the corporations. It means a lot, and I know it's encouraging me to work a little harder. But one thing I do know, aside from the clear benefits that the youngsters receive from these jobs, businesses really prosper from their help also. When given a chance, these youngsters will always do us proud.

So, once again, thanks again for your recognition of these efforts and your support. Thank you, Mr. President.

Note: The President spoke at 10:45 a.m. in the Rose Garden at the White House. Prior to his appearance before the group, Secretary of Labor Raymond J. Donovan participated in the awards ceremony for the 166 business and community leaders who had supported private sector summer jobs programs for disadvantaged youth.