Remarks at the Conference Luncheon of the Women Business Owners of New York

April 5, 1984

Good afternoon, and thank you for that warm reception. I'm delighted to be back in the Big Apple. And I've been eager to get to one of these conferences for women in business ever since the Small Business Administration's office of women's business ownership, under Carolyn Gray, started cosponsoring them.

It's a special honor to be here with you, the members and friends of Women Business Owners of New York. You and your firms make up a vibrant part of the New York economy, employing thousands of men and women, providing goods and services that range from bookbinding to financial consulting. Each of you knows from personal experience that American women have the vision, the talent, and the determination to make great contributions to our nation's economy. And you're serving as role models for a new generation of women -- women for whom participating in the economy will be much easier because of your efforts. On behalf of all Americans, I commend you.

In our lifetime, America has begun an historical social change that offers women exciting new opportunities. Just 35 years ago, only a third of adult women held jobs outside the home. Today more than two-thirds of the women between the ages of 25 and 44 are in paid positions. Growing numbers of women are doctors, military officers, police, and firefighters; more than a third of our law students are female; and women business owners represent the fastest growing segment of the small business community.

On a personal level, I've seen these changes clearly in the lives of the women closest to me. My mother, Nelle, never had the chance to go beyond elementary school. All her life she devoted herself to our family and held us together both emotionally and financially. For a while during the depression, she helped make ends meet by working in a dress shop for $14 a week.

My wife, Nancy, belongs to a later generation of women, in which many were raised with society expecting one thing of them, only to discover years afterward that society had come to expect something else. Like so many women, Nancy's had both the challenges and the rich rewards of adapting. She pursued a successful career as an actress, and today she gracefully combines her role as a loving wife and mother with her many duties as First Lady.

And, you know, the Government gets quite a bargain with First Ladies. They aren't on the payroll, but Nancy's office hours and duties run about even with mine. That's why she's not here at this moment. No words can express how proud I am to be the man in her life.

And my daughters, Patti and Maureen, belong to a new generation. And Maureen, as you've heard, has worked in radio and television, promoted overseas trade, run for political office. And today she's giving advice to her dad on something she understands very well: how to communicate to women what the administration is working to accomplish. My younger daughter, Patti, seeks a career in the entertainment world. When certain people for political reasons claim that I don't understand the modern woman, I'm tempted to say, ``Then how come I have two very independent daughters? [Laughter]

But in my mother's time and throughout our history, women were always hard at work, seeking self-fulfillment, giving of themselves to their families, and building a better nation. Today women in our country are just as hardworking and giving as ever. It's America that has changed and grown, giving women increased chances to reach for the stars and go as far as their God-given talents can take them.

Women in the eighties are a diverse majority with varied interests and futures. Some seek to pursue their own careers, some run for political office, some focus on the home and family, and some seek to do all these things. No role is superior to another. What's important is that each woman must have the freedom to choose her path for herself, and I'm committed to just that. The simple truth is I've been frustrated by the perception that's been created about my supposed lack of interest in the welfare of women, and I'm going to take advantage of this opportunity to reveal some things our administration has been doing and that seem to have been closely guarded secrets up till now.

Once, after making a speech, a minister, the late Bill Alexander of Oklahoma, took it upon himself to tell me the story of his first sermon. I've never forgotten it. I always suspected maybe it had something to do with the length of my speech. He said that he had worked for weeks after his ordination on this first sermon and had been asked to speak -- or to pray or preach at a small country church in Oklahoma, an evening service. And he arrived after working all these weeks on that first sermon that he was going to preach as a minister and looked out at a church that was empty except for one lone little fellow sitting out there amongst all the empty pews.

And Bill went down, and he said, ``My friend, you seem to be the only member of the congregation that showed up. I'm just a young preacher getting started. What do you think? Should I go through with it?'' And the fellow said, ``Well, I wouldn't know about that sort of thing. I'm a little old cowpoke out here in Oklahoma. But I do know this. If I loaded up a truckload of hay, took it out in the prairie, and only one cow showed up, I'd feed her.'' [Laughter]

Well, Bill took that as a cue, got back up on the pulpit, and an hour and a half later said, ``Amen.'' [Laughter] And he went down and said, ``My friend, you seem to have stuck with me and, like I told you, I'm a young preacher getting started. What do you think?'' And he says, ``Well, like I told you, I'm just a little old cowpoke out here in Oklahoma. I don't know about that sort of thing. But I do know this. If I loaded up a truckload of hay, took it out in the prairie, and only one cow showed up, I sure wouldn't give her the whole load.'' [Laughter]

Now, I'm not going to miss an opportunity like this, and I'm going to take a certain advantage of the situation. [Laughter] I'm not going to talk an hour and a half, but you're going to get the whole load. [Laughter] Because during the past 3 years, I've appointed more than 1,400 women to top government positions, not because of their sex, but because they were the best people for the jobs.

Now, among many other firsts, our administration has Susan Meredith Phillips, the first woman head of the Commodity Futures Trading Commission; Elizabeth Jones, the first woman Chief Engraver of the United States Mint; and Janet McCoy, the first woman High Commissioner of the U.S. Trust Territories. And today, I'm delighted to announce that I'm sending to the Senate the nomination of Rosemary Collyer to be General Counsel of the National Labor Relations Board, and that will be another first.

For the first time in history, our nation has three women in the Cabinet -- Margaret Heckler, who as Secretary of Health and Human Services is in charge of the third largest budget in the world; Elizabeth Dole, who as Secretary of Transportation oversees matters ranging from expendable rocket launches to revisions of our maritime laws; and Jeane Kirkpatrick, who as Ambassador to the United Nations plays a crucial role -- she does play a crucial role in our country's foreign policy.

I must tell you, shortly after she had arrived there, she informed some of her colleagues from other countries that there was going to be a change. And one of them jokingly said, ``Well, you mean you're not going to stand for being kicked around?'' She said, ``No, we're just going to take off the `kick me' sign.''

Well, one of my proudest days in office came when I appointed Sandra Day O'Connor to be the first woman in history on the United States Supreme Court.

To aid women in business, our administration has put together the three-point National Initiative Program to assist women business owners. The first of the three components is the Advisory Committee on Women's Business Ownership. Now, this Committee is made up of 12 women and 3 men, all very successful in the business and professional world.

I had lunch with the Committee last week, and they told me about the hearings they're holding to learn about the problems that women business owners encounter. And if you have any suggestions for the Committee, please write to me at the White House, and I'll pass your letters on to them.

The second part of our initiative for women business owners is the Interagency Committee on Women's Business Enterprise. This Committee is composed of high-level Federal officials representing the various departments and agencies of the Federal Government. I've charged that Committee with making certain that in dealing with women-owned businesses, the Federal Government sets an example for private enterprise.

A series of conferences like this one is the final part of initiative for women business owners. In addition to this New York conference, conferences for women in business have been held in places ranging from Somerset, New Jersey, to San Francisco, as you've been told -- and many more are planned. The conferences are designed to help women acquire management skills and compete more effectively, and they're all cosponsored by private sector groups to make sure that we get private enterprises in the act.

In Atlanta, for example, local private firms responded to the conference enthusiastically. A group of businesses agreed to publish a women business owners directory for the State of Georgia at their own expense, and a group of banks established a hotline -- one number for women to call to find out about everything from the availability of venture capital to where to get help in drawing up a contract.

Now, just as we're supporting you as you make gains in private enterprise, we're making certain that women receive fair treatment under the law. Our administration has moved to amend or eliminate statutes that discriminate on the basis of sex. At my direction, the Justice Department conducted a review of Federal statutes and found 140 that give different treatment to men and women. We have already proposed legislation to correct 122 of them. Of the remaining 18, 6 are still under study, the rest favor women and will remain unchanged. [Laughter] Like the law that -- well, it's like the law that establishes a Women's Bureau in the Department of Labor. And I want to mention the superb job that Dr. Lenora Cole-Alexander is doing in heading that Bureau.

At the same time, the Task Force on Legal Equity for Women has begun a thorough review of nonstatutory rules, practices, and procedures throughout the Federal Government. Whenever it finds women treated unfairly, the Task Force works with the agencies or departments to ensure changes will be made.

To reach laws and procedures beyond the Federal level, we've established the Fifty States Project, a program that's working with Governors to help them find the areas where their State codes, regulations, and administrative rules treat women unfairly. I'm delighted to say that 42 States have already begun reviews of their laws and procedures, and more than half our States are already amending their laws to ensure equal treatment for women.

At the same time, the Department of Justice has been hard at work to fight discrimination in individual cases. The Department has filed the first seven suits in its history to enforce the Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978, and one of those suits involve the rights of some 9,000 women. Just last year, the Justice Department won a record-breaking $2\3/4\ million discrimination case dealing with the rights of 685 women and blacks. Perhaps most important, the Department of Justice has so far filed more charges -- or cases charging sex discrimination in employment than did the last administration during a comparable time.

Let there be no doubt, this administration considers discrimination based on sex just as great an evil as discrimination based on religion or race, and we will prosecute cases of sex discrimination to the full extent of the law.

Now, just as we're joining you in your efforts for legal equity, we're helping in a number of ways as American women work for economic self-reliance.

For those whose former spouses are delinquent in child support payments, we've moved to strengthen the Federal child support enforcement system. The year we took office, some $4 billion were owed to the children of America. Since then, our measures have raised child support collections by two-thirds. Improvements still need to be made in this area. So, we proposed new legislation that would further improve collection of child support for both welfare and nonwelfare families.

For those receiving Aid to Families with Dependent Children, the majority of whom are women, we've increased training opportunities that will help them secure permanent, productive employment, because no government handout can give a woman who's supporting her family the same sense of dignity as a job. Now, our Job Training Partnership Act specifically targets these women as a group that must be served.

For workers in the Federal Government, I signed into law a bill that extends flexible work hours. This applies to both men and women, but it's of particular importance to women who are holding down a job while raising a family. Now they'll be better able to structure their working hours to do things like spend more time with their families and perhaps be at home when their children come home from school.

For all women, we're working with the Congress and women's groups to provide several forms of tax relief -- relief, by the way, which could and should have been passed long ago by those in Washington who had a monopoly on power and who still claim a monopoly on compassion.

Our administration has greatly reduced the income tax marriage penalty. We've eliminated estate tax that's levied on a surviving spouse, giving significant benefits to those with family farms and small businesses where women have long been hard-working partners. We've put social security back on a firm footing and made reforms that help many divorced spouses and disabled widows. And we've expanded participation in IRA accounts, helping women whether they work at home or in paid jobs.

Nothing is more important to parents than knowing their children are being taken good care of while they're on the job. So, we've almost doubled the maximum child care tax credit. In other moves to make child care more available and affordable, we proposed tax relief for organizations that care for the dependents of working people, and we're pressing for a restructuring of the dependent care tax credit to make more benefits available for low- and middle-income taxpayers.

We're also working with the Congress to pass historic legislation that will reform inequities that women suffer in some private pension plans. This legislation has passed the Senate, and we're awaiting a vote on the floor of the House, in case you'd like to call or write someone. [Laughter] I have often said it is not only necessary to make the legislators see the light; it's better to make them feel the heat. [Laughter] The reforms will lower the age at which employees can participate in company pension plans; protect nonworking spouses from losing death benefits without their knowledge; coordinate State and Federal laws so divorced spouses can collect court-awarded pension benefits more easily; require pension plans to offer survivor's benefits protection to workers after they reach 45; and permit a break in service of up to 5 years without loss of pension credit, a change that would help women take time to start a family but still go back to their careers.

Despite the importance of all these reforms, I've always believed the most important step we can take for women is the most important step that we can take for all our people -- a dynamic, sustained economic expansion. Economic growth will provide more opportunities for women than if all the promises made in the history of Washington, DC, were enacted into law.

Think back just 3 years. Raging inflation, the highest prime interest rate in more than a century, an ever-growing tax burden, government regulations that were out of control -- all these had stifled investment, smothered productivity, and brought growth to a virtual standstill.

The economic crisis hit women especially hard. Elderly women living on fixed incomes found their purchasing power eaten up by inflation. Working women saw jobs become more and more scarce. Homemakers found that 12\1/2\-percent inflation made it harder and harder to buy the groceries and pay the bills. And the thousands of women who wanted to start their own businesses saw 21\1/2\-percent prime interest rates slam the door in their faces.

When we took office, we made restoring economic vitality our top priority. We cut the growth of government spending. We pruned needless regulations. We chopped tax rates and enacted an historic reform called tax indexing. Indexing means that government will never again profit from inflation at your expense. And today, less than 3 years after we set our program in place, we're seeing a surging economic expansion.

The prime interest rate has fallen to about half what it was when we took office. Inflation has plummeted some two-thirds to about 4 or 4\1/2\ percent. Housing starts, factory orders, and retail sales are up. Compared to the last quarter of 1982, net private savings during the same period in 1983 shot up nearly 50 percent to over $230 billion, providing new funds to fuel innovation and spur growth.

In the 15 months since the recovery began, nearly 5 million Americans have found work, and the overall unemployment rate has fallen to 7.7 percent, marking the steepest drop in more than 30 years. And just last month it was announced that during the first quarter of 1984 our gross national product grew at the robust annual rate of more than 7 percent, proving that expansion is here to stay.

Now, just as the economic crisis hit women hard, today's expansion is giving them a powerful lift. The unemployment rate among adult women has dropped from 9.1 percent to 6.9 percent. More women have jobs today than ever before in our nation's history. Just as important, the jobs women hold are getting better and better. In 1983 women filled almost three-quarters of all the new jobs in managerial, professional, and technical fields. And the number of women-owned businesses is growing four times faster than the number of those owned by men.

Entrepreneurs like you, who own their own, mostly small businesses, are playing a special part in this expansion. Last year alone, there were almost 600,000 new business incorporations. That's an all-time high in our history and half again the number of incorporations each year during the early seventies. At the same time, bankruptcies declined some 30 percent in the second half of 1983 compared with the same period in 1982. And small business income, as measured by proprietorships and partnerships, grew by a remarkable 18 percent. Perhaps most important, during this expansion small businesses, like the ones that many of you own, provided the most new jobs, gave the most employees the freedom to work part-time, and hired the most young people, senior citizens, and women. The American entrepreneur is building a dazzling new future, and she's just getting started.

We must and will go forward to keep opportunities expanding for you and all Americans. To prevent the nightmare of inflation from ever coming back, we must enact constitutional reforms like the line-item veto and the balanced budget amendment. Please, I'd like both of those. And to provide new incentives for growth, make taxes more simple and fair, I believe we must design and enact a program of tax simplification; not tinkering here and there, but a sweeping, comprehensive reform of the entire tax code. We must and will enact these measures. And I'm convinced that when we do, the American economy will reach new heights of prosperity.

When I look at America, I see our basic industry making striking gains, and new industries, like robotics and bioengineering, gathering strength. I see America leading the world in a technological revolution that's putting men and women into space and adding years to life here on Earth. I see a country of open, self-confident people, serving as a force for peace among nations. And I see women, who are holding families together, entering the work force, starting new enterprises, and doing it all with courage and confidence. America is back.

And now, I know that many of your companies gross millions of dollars a year, but I'd like to share a letter I received that tells about a woman who started a business that's more modest. The letter comes from a person called Betty Lou, and I believe it shows the enterprising spirit of American women. She wrote, ``Mr. President, I'm a simple person in that I have simple needs . . . . My husband, a Vietnam veteran of the Marine Corps, is a union steamfitter. When we got married, he was out of work for 2 years, but we learned how to budget around it and still were able to save money . . . . Now that construction work is available in our area, we know we still have to save . . . . We both know that nothing comes from nothing -- you make your own fortune, so to speak.''

To help make ends meet, Betty Lou writes, ``. . . with only $530 and a big smile, I began a new venture. I . . . had no previous business management experience, and didn't know exactly where I'd end up. But I had the chance. Now, 3 years later, I own and operate (my own word processing company) . . . . It has grown from that initial $530 to an annual income for 1983 of $41,000; from an older-technology machine costing $3,000 to a new . . . system costing $22,000; from one person logging a huge number of hours to two full-time employees each logging over 40 hours a week . . . . We have pride in the work we do and are even more proud of the fact that we're being given the chance to do it. And, who knows what goals can be achieved in 1984.'' She closed, adding that they're a young couple in their early thirties, and they've already built a new home for themselves.

Well, whether founding their own companies like Betty Lou and so many of you, or holding down any of the millions of jobs our economy provides; or devoting themselves to caring for their loved ones and raising happy, healthy children; or doing all these things, I know that women will play a vital part in leading our nation into the future -- and that there will always be American women who are American heroes.

Thank you, and God bless you.

Note: The President spoke at 1:13 p.m. in the Empire State Ballroom at the Grand Hyatt Hotel in New York City.

Following his appearance at the luncheon, the President visited the Hudson Guild Day Care Center on the Lower West Side of Manhattan. He then went to the Plaza Hotel, where he held a meeting with local Jewish community leaders.