John F. Kennedy on Welfare & Poverty



1960: Everyone has equal chance to develop his talents

My mother walked at breakneck pace for what seemed like hundreds of blocks to my seven-year-old legs. For an hour, all of us waited. Finally, I could hear the voice, that would soon become familiar.

"My name is John Kennedy, and I come here as the Democratic candidate for the presidency of the United States."

[Oct. 20, 1960] left a mark on my own consciousness. "I don't say that all people have equal talent," Kennedy told his crowd of supporters. "But what I do say is that everyone should have the chance to develop their talent equally. I want it said that at the end of our administration, if we are successful, that every American had an equal chance, every American had a fair chance to develop his talents, and that is all we ask and that is all that any American asks."

My mother She did not have to bring me along that day. But doing so was her way of showing me just how much she longed to believe in the yet unfilled promise of the country, and in the possibilities, it held for her son.

Source: From the Ground_Up. by Howard Schultz, p. 49-50 , Jan 28, 2019

As congressman, backed working-class social legislation

In 1946, Kennedy ran successfully for a Boston-based seat in the U.S. House of Representatives; he was reelected in 1948 and 1950. As a congressman he backed social legislation that benefited his working-class constituents.

Kennedy was a relatively ineffectual senator. During parts of 1954 and 1955 he was seriously ill with back ailments (compounded by Addison disease, for which he was treated from as early as 1953). Critics observed that he made no effort to oppose the anti-civil libertarian excesses of Joseph McCarthy. His friends later argued, not entirely persuasively, that he would have voted to censure McCarthy if he had not been hospitalized at the time.

Source: Grolier Encyclopedia article on JFK , Nov 8, 2016

Area Development Act: public works in low economic areas

Due in part to a preoccupation with his own political agenda and an intense hostility toward reformers, Kennedy was a reluctant spokesman for social justice. Still, JFK could boast of several achievements, including the Area Redevelopment Act of 1961, which promoted public works in such economically crippled areas as West Virginia. If Kennedy lacked a grand vision of what America might be, there were nonetheless a few programs he did feel strongly about.

The president must cast the net of his promises wide; the more he can offer to more people of diverse economic interests, geographic sections, and nations and racial groups, the most likely he is to triumph.

Source: A Question of Character, by Thomas Reeves, p.417-418 , Dec 10, 1997

New Deal contributes to end of capitalism in America

A billboard in Boston aptly defined the nation's appetite for change that fall of 1946: "Had Enough? Vote Republican!"

Jack Kennedy, running in the deeply Democratic district, had no reason to fear the national trend. Calling himself a "fighting conservative," he harbored private contempt for the social and economic policies of the New Deal. "Mr. Roosevelt has contributed to the end of capitalism in our own country," he wrote in this diary the summer before, "although he would probably argue the point at some length. He has done this, not through the laws which he sponsored or were passed during his presidency, but rather through the emphasis he put on rights rather than responsibilities."

Source: Kennedy & Nixon, by Chris Matthews, p. 40 , Jun 3, 1996

Substandard homes are unfinished business of War on Poverty

In the 1960 campaign Kennedy derided Nixon's view that conditions in the US could not be better: "Let them tell that to the 4 million people who are out of work, to the 3 million Americans who must work part time. Let them tell that to those who farm our farms, in our depressed areas, in our deserted textile and coal towns. Let them try to tell it to the 5 million men and women in the richest country on earth who live on a surplus food diet of $20 a month."

"The war against poverty and degradation is not yet over," he said. "As long as there are 15 million substandard American homes, as long as there are 5 million American homes in the cities of the US which lack plumbing of any kind, as long as 17 million Americans live on inadequate assistance when they get older, then I think we have unfinished business in this country." Repeatedly through the campaign he called for "an economic drive on poverty."

Source: 1000 Days, by Arthur Schlesinger, p.837 , Jan 1, 1965

Greater investment in distressed areas & distressed people

As Kennedy reflected on the war against poverty in the spring of 1963, he began to feel that the problem was one not only of greater investment in private industry but of greater investment in public services and human beings, not only of distressed areas but of distressed individuals, not only of vocational training but of elementary education, medical care, civil rights, community action and personal morale. He was reaching the conclusion that tax reduction required a comprehensive structural counterpart, taking the form, not of piecemeal programs, but of a broad war against poverty itself. Here perhaps was the unifying theme which would pull a host of social programs together and rally the nation behind a generous cause. Kennedy knew that unemployment and poverty were in part separate problems, but the problems overlapped in the area of structural remedy.
Source: 1000 Days, by Arthur Schlesinger, p.839-40 , Jan 1, 1965

Meet the problem of 25 million who are poorly fed

NIXON: There are people who go to bed hungry in the US--far less, incidentally, than used to go to bed hungry when we came into power at the end of the Truman Administration. But less people go to bed hungry in the US than in any major country. We're the best fed; we're the best clothed, with a better distribution of this world's goods to all of our people than any people in history.

KENNEDY: Well, Republican Senator George Aiken testifying in 1959--said there were 26 million Americans did not have the income to afford a decent diet. You can't tell me that any one who uses beans instead of meat--and there are 25 million of them--is well fed or adequately fed. I believe that we should not compare what our figures may be to India or some other country that has serious problems but to remember that we are the most prosperous country in the world and that these people are not getting adequate food. And they're not getting in many cases adequate shelter. And we ought to try to meet the problem.

Source: The Second Kennedy-Nixon Presidential Debate , Oct 7, 1960

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Other past presidents on Welfare & Poverty: John F. Kennedy on other issues:
Former Presidents:
Barack Obama(D,2009-2017)
George W. Bush(R,2001-2009)
Bill Clinton(D,1993-2001)
George Bush Sr.(R,1989-1993)
Ronald Reagan(R,1981-1989)
Jimmy Carter(D,1977-1981)
Gerald Ford(R,1974-1977)
Richard Nixon(R,1969-1974)
Lyndon Johnson(D,1963-1969)
John F. Kennedy(D,1961-1963)
Dwight Eisenhower(R,1953-1961)
Harry S Truman(D,1945-1953)

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Sen.Bob Dole

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Page last updated: Feb 22, 2022