THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
|For Immediate Release|| ||September 24, 1998|
REMARKS BY THE PRESIDENT
ON INCOME AND POVERTY REPORT
The Rose Garden
12:20 P.M. EDT
THE PRESIDENT: She was terrific, wasn't she? Let'sgive her another hand. I thought she was great. (Applause.)
Congressman Cardin, welcome. I know you're proud ofyour constituent here. Jessica, welcome. We're glad to see you. Ithink Congressman Blagojevich is here. We welcome him, along withSenator Ephraim Gonzalez, who is the President of National HispanicCaucus of State Legislators; and Councilman Robert Cantana ofBuffalo.
Let me once again thank Monique for her remarkablestatement and her even more remarkable life. I'm delighted to bejoined here by our economic team -- by Erskine Bowles and SecretaryRubin, Secretary Herman, Gene Sperling, Jack Lew, Janet Yellen, LarrySummers. Their tireless, often literally sleepless work has beenvery instrumental in sparking and maintaining what soon will be thelongest peacetime boom in American history.
Officials of the Census Bureau who are here today, Iwant to thank all of you. We're going to be talking a little bitabout some Census Bureau statistics. Sometimes we take your hardwork and statistics for granted. The fact is that you ensure thatour democracy is truly representative. And let me say in thatconnection once again, Congress must not hamstring the CensusBureau's efforts to maintain the most up-to-date, accurate scientificmethods to produce the year 2000 census. They deserve the chance tosucceed. (Applause.) Monique Miskimon has shown us today once againthat every American counts. That means that every American deservesto be counted.
Now, before I get into the details of the very positiveeconomic report, which Monique and her daughter so vividly represent,I think we all want to say just a few words and reflect on thepowerful impact of Hurricane Georges. In the Caribbean islands,businesses and homes have been swept away; tragically, many liveshave been lost. Meanwhile, the projected track of the storm placesthe hurricane center over or near the Florida Keys late tonight orearly tomorrow morning. As we speak, we're helping the people ofFlorida prepare for the hurricane. We've already sent assistance toHaiti and the Dominican Republic. Obviously, we're working with theofficials in Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands.
James Lee Witt, the Director of the Federal EmergencyManagement Agency, has informed me that FEMA's Region Six EmergencyResponse Team arrived in Tallahassee, Florida, at 10:00 a.m. thismorning. Here in Washington, the FEMA Emergency Support Team isoperating at Level One, its highest level, on a 24-hour basis.
Our support teams and our prayers are with those in theCaribbean as they begin to rebuild, and those in the Florida Keys asthey brace for the impact of the storm.
Now, as President, from my first day here, I have donemy best to fulfill a commitment I made to the American people: firstof all, to restore the reality of the American Dream -- ofopportunity for all responsible citizens, of a community in which weall count and work together -- and secondly, to reclaim the futurefor our children, to strengthen our country for the century ahead.
To accomplish that mission, we began first with aneconomic strategy to shrink the deficit and balance the budget, toinvest in the education and skills of our people, and to expand theexport of American goods. The census report released this morningrepresents one more year's worth of compelling evidence that thiseconomic strategy is working, and that there are lots more people outthere like Monique Miskimon.
The report shows that last year the income of thetypical American household grew at nearly twice the rate ofinflation. Since we launched our economic plan in 1993, the typicalfamily's real income has risen by more than $3,500. That's an extra$3,500 that hardworking families can put toward their children'seducation or a down payment on a first home. Income for typicalAfrican American and Hispanic families increased by more than $1,000last year alone.
This report also shows that our growing economy isgiving more and more families a chance to work their way out ofpoverty. The poverty rate fell to 13.3 percent, and while we stillhave plenty of room for improvement, the African American povertyrate fell to another record low. Hispanic poverty saw the largestone-year drop in two decades. Child poverty has dropped in the pastfour years, more than in any four-year period in the last threedecades. And the Earned Income Tax Credit, which Monique spoke of amoment ago, has raised more than 4 million people out of poverty inthe last year alone.
The report this morning shows that economic growthcontinues to raise incomes, lift millions out of poverty, and extendopportunity. It also shows that we have more to do. Since 1993,every income group has benefitted from our nation's economic growthand the lowest 20 percent of our people in terms of income have hadthe highest percentage increases. That's the good news, after over20 years of increasing inequality.
But that inequality is still too high, and it simplymeans there are too many American families out there working hard,doing everything we could possibly ask of them, and still having ahard time getting ahead. We have to use our prosperity and theconfidence that it inspires to help our hardest pressed families andour hardest pressed communities to ensure economic growth for allAmericans.
The most important thing we have to do, of course, is tomaintain the economic strategy that got us here in the first place --above all, the strict fiscal discipline that has given us lowinterest rates, low inflation, big investments and more jobs.
Exactly a week from today, we will have the firstbalanced budget and surplus since Neil Armstrong walked on the moonin 1969. Unfortunately, this week in the House of Representatives,the Republicans are moving forward with a proposal that drains thenew surplus to pay for their tax plan. We can cut taxes. Indeed, mybalanced budget includes targeted tax cuts for child care, foreducation, for environmental clean-up. But tax cuts must be paid forin full if we are to expand opportunity in the years to come.
I say again, we have been waiting for 29 years to seethe red ink turn to black. We have a huge baby boom challenge comingwhen all the baby boomers retire. Social Security, as presentlyconstituted, cannot sustain that retirement. We have to reformSocial Security if we want to have it for our parents -- that's me,when the baby boomers retire -- without undermining the standard ofliving of our children and grandchildren.
So I say again, let us not get into this surplus we haveworked for 29 years for -- or we've waited for 29 years for andworked for 6 years for. Let's don't get into that and spend it in anelection year tax cut until we have saved Social Security for the21st century, for the sake of our children and our grandchildren.(Applause.)
Second, we have to continue to invest in our people andlift them all up. I was deeply disappointed this week when 95percent of the Republicans in the Senate voted not to raise theminimum wage. To reject an increase in the minimum wage when thereare still so many people working full-time and raising children inpoverty, when the unemployment rate and the inflation rate is so low,I believe is a mistake and sends the wrong signal to the Americanpeople.
I thank the 95 percent of the Democratic Caucus in theSenate who voted for the increase in the minimum wage. WorkingAmericans deserve it. I'm disappointed, with only a week left in thefiscal year we rejected this, and I haven't quit fighting for it. Ithink eventually we will get it in the next several months; if wehave to wait until next year, we will get it.
But I'm also disappointed -- as I said, a week fromtoday we end the fiscal year and we start a new one. And there'sstill been no action in the Congress on our vital educationinvestments. Indeed, what action there has been in the House ofRepresentatives has been negative, has been a setback for education.
Congress should work with us to enact my plan, paid forin the balanced budget, to reduce class size to an average of 18 inthe early grades; to hire 100,000 teachers to teach those children insmaller classes; to rebuild or to construct or repair 5,000 schoolsso our kids will have good, adequate, safe schools to attend; to hookup all of our classrooms -- all of them, even in the poorestneighborhoods -- to the Internet by the year 2000; to improve earlyliteracy by funding the program to send volunteers in to make surethat every eight-year old can read; to lift our children's sightswith voluntary national standards and clear means of measuring them.
Now, if we hope to maintain our economic growth wellinto the next generation, we have to give every American child aworld-class elementary and secondary education. So I say again,we've been here for months and months; there's just a week left inthe budget year -- let's finally have action to improve our publicschools and give all of our kids a world-class education.(Applause.)
The third thing I'd like to say is we have to continueto lead in the global economy if we want the American economy tocontinue to grow. We're enjoying unsurpassed economic prosperity,but all of you read the papers every day, you see the news at night,you know there are troubles elsewhere in the world. You know ourfriends in Asia and Russia are facing great turmoil. You know we'retrying to keep our big trading partners and friends in Latin Americafrom having the negative effect of that turmoil reach them eventhough they are pursuing good policies.
That's why it's important for Congress to fund ourAmerica's share of the International Monetary Fund, because theInternational Monetary Fund helps the countries that are helpingthemselves to return to growth, and serves as an insurance policyagainst having the financial crisis spread to the countries that aredoing the right thing and keeping Americans at work by buying ourproducts.
Again I say, there is no reason not to do this. We'veonly got a week left in the budget year. We've been talking about itall year long. The problem has only gotten worse. It is time now tosay, we're doing this because it's what America owes as the worldleader; and more importantly, we're doing it because it is absolutelynecessary to keep American economic growth going. (Applause.)
Finally, let me say that with just a week left in thisbudget year, I'd still like to see the Congress pass a decentpatients' bill of rights, one that covers -- (applause). Our billwould provide protections to all Americans, simple ones. If you getin an accident, you can go to the nearest emergency room, not behauled to one halfway across town. If your doctor tells you you needto see a specialist, you can see one. If it comes down to a disputeabout whether a medical procedure should or should not be applied,the decision should be made by a doctor, not an accountant. Yourmedical records ought to be protected in privacy. If your employerchanges health care providers, it shouldn't affect you if you happento be in the middle or a pregnancy or a chemotherapy treatment, orsome other thing that would be entirely disruptive and dangerous anddamaging to your health care if you had to change doctors in themiddle of the procedure.
Now, we do that for everyone. The House passed a billon a partisan vote, completely party-line vote, that doesn't protect100 million people and doesn't provide any of those protections tothe people that are covered. The Senate Majority Leader actuallyshut down business in the Senate a few days ago to keep them fromvoting for it, so they wouldn't be recorded -- they wouldn't berecorded as killing the patients' bill of rights -- but they couldkill it and still satisfy the insurance companies that are doingtheir best to do it.
There's still time. We haven't broken for the electionyet. We can still do the right thing by the American people. But wehave to think about it, we have to focus on it, and we have to putour priorities where they ought to be. I think it's worth fightingfor the patients' bill of rights in the closing days of thiscongressional session. (Applause.)
Again, I want to thank the economic team here and oursupporters in the Congress, including those who are here today, forgiving more Americans a chance to live the story that Monique hastold us about. I want to thank her for coming today and bringing herbeautiful daughter. I know we all wish them well.
Our prayers are with the people who are about to beaffected and those who have been affected by the hurricane. And Iask that all of us focus on using these last days of thiscongressional session to think about the American people, to thinkabout our responsibilities, to think about what got us here over thelast six years, and instead of departing from it, to bear down andbuild on it. That is my goal and that's what we ought to do.
Thank you very much. (Applause.)
Q Mr. President, do you see any way out of animpeachment inquiry?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, let me answer you this way: theright thing to do is for us all to focus on what's best for theAmerican people. And the right thing for me to do is what I'm doing.I'm working on leading our country, and I'm working on healing myfamily.
And if you look at what we announced today, what does ittell you? It proves, number one, that the course we have followedhas been the right course for America. That's what it proves. Aftersix years, it can't be an accident anymore.
But the second thing it proves is that it is utterlyfoolish for people to be diverted or distracted from the urgentchallenges still before us. I told you that we had a record -- arecord low in African American unemployment and poverty; a record lowin the poverty rate for children, of African American children. Doyou know what that record low is? It's about 39 percent. In otherwords, it's breathtakingly high. That's just one statistic.
So what does that tell me? It tells me that the rightthing to do is, if we all put progress over partisanship, put peopleover politics, put the American people first -- what would we do?Well, we would keep the budget balanced. We would save SocialSecurity before we squandered the surplus. We would improve ourschools. We would clean up our environment. We would pass thepatients' bill of rights. And we would keep the economy going.That's what we would be focused on. That's what I am focused on.That's the way out.
The way out here -- and the only way out is for peoplein Washington to do what the folks in America want them to do, whichis to take care of their concerns, their children, and their future.That's what I mean to do, and I'm going to do my best. (Applause.)