Remarks on Signing Proclamation 4918, Proclaiming Older Americans Month, 1982

April 2, 1982

The President. Good afternoon, and welcome to the White House. We're here today to proclaim May as Older Americans Month. The proclamation concerning Older Americans Month has been issued every year since 1963, and each time it becomes more meaningful, because the number of older Americans is increasing every year.

Since 1970, for example, the national mortality rate has dropped 2 percent each year. Scientific advances in the medical profession have increased both the length and quality of life for our older citizens. Today, a typical 65-year-old will live another 16 years. And in the next decade, the median age of our country is expected to increase by another 3 years.

As our older population increases, we must remain alert to the needs and vulnerabilities of this very special segment of our population. The double-digit inflation of the last decade took a particularly heavy toll on older Americans. People who had worked so hard all their lives helplessly watched as the value of their savings shrank beyond all expectation. The progress that we've made in the battle against inflation during our 14 months here in office has already had considerable impact on these people.

I might add that older Americans currently dependent on social security did not see this program touched by our efforts to cut spending increases in our battle against inflation. In fact, while they make up only 11 percent of our population, elderly Americans will receive 28 percent of the Federal budget in this present fiscal year.

This year's proclamation reminds us that older Americans possess a reservoir of experience and a depth of knowledge that is a great national resource. Today, I'm taking this opportunity to announce my support for legislation that will make better use of this resource. I will back legislation which eliminates mandatory retirement requirements in government and private industry based solely on age.

When it comes to retirement, the criterion should be fitness for work, not year of birth. Our studies suggest that ending forced retirement based solely on age will have minimal consequences on the employment of other groups and will help to erase the unjust perception that persons over 70 are less productive than their fellow citizens. We know that many individuals have valuable contributions to make well beyond 70 years of age, and they should have the opportunity to do so if they desire.

A 1981 Harris poll found that 73 percent of retirees wished they had never quit working. Seventy-five percent of current employees and more than two-thirds of business executives oppose mandatory retirement on the basis of age. And of all U.S. adults, 90 percent oppose a mandatory retirement age.

Now, this strong support could have something to do with the fact that all of us will, given enough time, grow old. Some of us have already reached a certain chronological age, which others thought should keep them from their jobs -- or so I've been told. [Laughter]

Our proclamation suggests that we owe a special debt of gratitude to our older citizens. I have said before of my generation that that generation of Americans has fought harder, paid a higher price for freedom, and done more to advance the dignity of man than any people who have ever lived on this Earth. And now as they're reaching those older years, the contributions they make to today's America should not be cast aside. With that said, I shall now sign the proclamation.

[At this point, the President signed the proclamation.]

Now, that concludes making the world safe for people like us. [Laughter]

Reporter. Why do you feel so strongly about that, Mr. President?

Q. Before you answer, sir, would you consider saying it in front of the microphone? We weren't able to pick up anything that you said. [Laughter] And in fact, it was said so well, if you would consider repeating some of it -- [laughter] -- we might get it on the news.

The President. I don't think I should take the time to do -- I goofed.

Q. Well, that's all right.

The President. I never usually walk by a microphone. [Laughter] But I was so anxious to get at that proclamation and, as Bill Plante asked, why did I speak so feelingly? -- oh, I just have a certain prejudice about that particular subject.

Q. Would you want to just repeat what you are supporting in terms of the legislation?

The President. All right, yes.

Q. Thank you.

The President. We're here today to proclaim May as Older Americans Month. The proclamation that's concerning Older Americans Month has been issued every year since 1963. And I'm taking advantage of this occasion to announce my support for legislation that will make better use of this resource -- senior citizens, older Americans.

I will back legislation which eliminates mandatory retirement requirements in government and private industry based solely on age. When it comes to retirement, the criterion should be fitness for work, not year of birth. And I would add that many individuals have valuable contributions to make well beyond 70 years of age. They should do so if they so desire. And some of us have already reached a certain chronological age which others thought should keep them from their jobs. I've been told that. And so our proclamation suggests that we owe a special debt of gratitude to these older Americans.

Thank you very much.

Q. What about the Falkland Islands, sir? Should that Argentine invasion stop?

The President. Well, the Falkland Islands -- the argument's been going on for 149 years. We're dealing with something not quite that old. [Laughter]

Q. You don't want to see that invasion continue, do you?

The President. I wish it had not gone forward. I understand they have landed there, and I did talk to the President of Argentina in trying to persuade him not to go forward with that.

Q. Is there any action the U.S. is going to take, Mr. President?

The President. Just to be of help if we can in this dispute.

Now, I've got to meet some people here.

Note: The President spoke at 12:03 p.m. at the signing ceremony in the Rose Garden at the White House. The ceremony was attended by representatives of senior citizens organizations, the Vice President, Secretary of Health and Human Services Richard S. Schweiker, and several administration officials. Members of the press were also present at the ceremony.