Remarks During a Meeting With Puerto Rican Leaders

March 15, 1984

Vice President Bush, Governor Ferre, and ladies and gentlemen:

Good afternoon, and I know that the Vice President and I both bid you a very warm welcome. And let me say to each of you, ``Mi casa, su casa.'' And it really is.

I'm delighted to have this opportunity to spend a few minutes with you, and an opportunity is what I'd like to talk about in those few minutes.

America has always been a magnet for people seeking freedom and peace and the opportunity to better their lot and to go as far as their God-given talents will let them. Pioneers came to our shores with the courage to start all over again because they knew America offered a hope for the future. Today our task is to make sure that even the most recent pioneers have good reason to dream the same great dreams as those who came before.

A promising future begins with a foothold on the economic ladder, and the recovery now surging through this land is providing millions of our people that chance. The economic recovery is helping every American and every ethnic group. And just this morning we received more good news. In February, industrial production rose another 1.2 percent. That is the 15th consecutive monthly increase. And just to put a little frosting on the cake, this morning when they gave us that news about February, the month of February, they also corrected the information they'd previously given us about January, and it was higher than had previously been announced.

Industrial production, of course, we know, is one of the most significant measures of economic health. And this means that 1984 is starting off very strong. And, of course, that means more jobs. Last month alone, 700,000 Americans found jobs. And we're experiencing the steepest drop in the unemployment rate in more than 30 years. Since the beginning of the recovery, nearly 5 million -- well, actually, 4,900,000 Americans have found work. But we can't rest until every American who wants a job can find a job.

We want to build an opportunity society. And that means we cannot go back to the failed policies of big taxing and spending. The painful consequences of those policies haven't been forgotten. Too many dreams were shattered when double-digit inflation, record interest rates, economic stagnation knocked industries, small businesses, homemakers, and breadwinners off their feet. Inflation robbed us all, and the worst hardships were borne by those at the bottom of the economic ladder.

Nor did the explosion in social spending get crime and drugs off the street or give us a better education for our children. The disadvantaged became more dependent on Federal programs as work disincentives discouraged initiative. Urban America was going downhill, and solutions seemed farther and farther away. It is no wonder that Americans were losing confidence in their government. And now that we're regaining confidence, and now that America is back on the road to robust growth, I believe it's time to build even wider opportunities.

We must go forward to new goals to keep the nightmare of inflation from ever coming back. We must enact constitutional budget reforms like the line-item veto and the balanced budget amendment. And to make taxes more simple and fair and to provide greater incentives to our people, we must press for tax simplification, a sweeping and comprehensive reform of the entire tax code.

There are some in government who have a very simple tax proposal in mind. There will only be two lines on the tax form: How much did you make last year? Send it. [Laughter]

Now I know that Secretary of Labor Ray Donovan and Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Sam Pierce and others are going to be speaking with you this afternoon. And at the risk of preempting them, I'd like to highlight several programs that offer exciting opportunities for urban America.

In the area of jobs, the Job Training Partnership Act gives communities new flexibility, and by using private industry councils, it matches local needs with sensible training. This program will train over a million workers a year for productive jobs. The old job program, CETA, did just the opposite. It spent $53 billion to find private sector jobs for only 15 percent of the participants.

Well, those days are over, and the future is now a genuine partnership for real jobs with a bright future. And while I'm talking about jobs, let me mention that more and more people recognize that the minimum wage puts unskilled young people at a disadvantage when they're looking, particularly, for those first jobs or those summer vacation jobs. Our youth employment opportunity wage proposal would give our young people the opportunity to gain their first foothold on the economic ladder. And the proposal would protect current workers from displacement. It'll soon be before the Congress, and I'd like to appeal for your strong support.

Enterprise zones is another legislative initiative that would mean welcome renewal for urban areas of hardcore unemployment. Enterprise zones encourage growth and opportunity where we need it most -- in areas of high unemployment and in areas that are hardest hit by urban decay. The legislation provides incentives for business firms and entrepreneurs to invest in blighted areas, create new jobs, and bring new life to distressed areas. This legislation has been on Capitol Hill for 2 years. The Senate has passed it, but the House continues to drag its feet. And, forgive me, but those who refuse to take action on a bill that's to create jobs and opportunity are the last people who should be giving speeches about their compassion for the unemployed.

And too many of those Members in the House are dragging their feet on another important piece of legislation -- one that would get tough on criminals. For too many years, crime and the fear of crime robbed our cities of their strength and vitality, and inner cities suffered the most. Well, common sense is beginning to pay off. In 1982 the crime rate dropped by 4.3 percent, and that's the biggest decline in a decade. But we still need to do much more, and I am determined to do everything possible to get crime off our streets.

We need new laws to stop drug traffickers and tougher laws to fight the criminal elements in our society. And the way to get long-overdue reform begins with the passage of our Comprehensive Crime Control Act. This package will give more protection to our law-abiding citizens by cracking down on criminals, particularly organized crime and drug traffickers. It would enable authorities to keep people considered dangerous to the community behind bars, pending trial, and it would eliminate paroles. The legislation has, as I say, already passed the Senate. The House should stop delaying, put partisan politics aside, and do what's right for you, the law-abiding people of this country.

These programs -- and they're only a sample -- will help those who need help, and they'll promote stronger, more prosperous, and stable urban communities.

I sense a spirit of optimism spreading across our land, carrying hope and opportunity for more and more urban areas. And I think it's justified. America is moving forward again. I know much remains to be done. I know many of our fellow countrymen still wonder what will come of their hopes and dreams. Success will not come easy, but it will come. And to make it happen, America needs the help of all Americans, including those from la isla de encanto.

You'll forgive me for stumbling on that one word there. [Laughter] It's so close to St. Patrick's Day, I've been rehearsing me Irish. [Laughter]

But you've enriched our national culture and our heritage. And we need your energy, your hard work, and your values. We need people like Antonio Monroig, Rita DiMartino, Reynaldo Maduro, and Rafael Capo -- Puerto Ricans who are doing an outstanding job in leadership positions in our administration. If you follow their hopes and dreams, all of us will benefit.

So -- I'll try to do better now -- muchas gracias and vaya con Dios.

Note: The President spoke at 1:31 p.m. in the East Room at the White House.

In his opening remarks, the President referred to former Gov. Luis Ferre of Puerto Rico, head of the Commonwealth's Republican Party.