Remarks at a White House Luncheon for Hispanic Leaders
August 5, 1983 Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the White House. It's a pleasure for me to have old friends here, and I know there are some new ones, also. I hope they will be friends. I look out and see so many of you, however, who've been with me in campaigns over the past years, and to each and all of you for all you've done, muchas gracias. And for you who played such an important role in getting here, I think at this occasion it's appropriate for me to add, mi casa es su casa.
I have to tell you, I remember the first time when I understood the real meaning of that expression. It was during the time I was Governor of California, and we had experienced one of those natural disasters that we have there when it rains a little bit more than usual. So, I visited an area down in the Santa Barbara part of our State where there had been great mudslides. And I was in there to see what the damage does and what we could do and to be of help and perhaps to forestall this happening in the future. And an elderly gentleman of Mexican descent motioned to me and invited me to come into his home. And I did. And there we stood in the wreckage of what had been his living room, both of us knee-deep in the muddy water that was still there in that room. And with the greatest of dignity, he said to me, ``Mi casa es su casa.'' [Laughter]
Right now, we're just emerging from a time of great economic adversity and national uncertainty. Unlike the old gentleman I just mentioned, what we suffered didn't result from a natural catastrophe or something beyond our control. It wasn't even the result of bad people doing something out of malice or on purpose. Our economic problems were a predictable result of decades of irresponsible government spending and taxing policies. And with your support, we've changed those taxing and spending patterns. And I'm proud to tell you today, it's working.
In fact, just this morning we received new and dramatic evidence of the ongoing economic recovery -- great news for all Americans. Unemployment for July is down to 9.3 percent, total unemployment, from 10 percent last month. The number of unemployed declined by 556,000, and the number of employees on payrolls rose by 487,000. And that means that the economic recovery has added 1.7 million new jobs to the economy since last December. Now, the number of long-term unemployed also fell sharply -- a decline of 365,000.
And the good news is that jobs spread across the board. The unemployment rate went down in every major category, from every group that you could name, and spread evenly across men and women employees.
You know better than anyone, the unemployment rate for Americans of Hispanic descent has been much higher than the national average -- 14 percent in June. Well, it's still too high, no question about that. But we've got it down to 12.3 percent.
Now I also understand that many of you come from districts in the country where the national average is not the story in those districts. Unemployment is not evenly distributed according to a national average. Sometimes when we use these figures, it's a little like the man that drowned trying to wade across a river whose average depth was only 3 feet. [Laughter]
We know that there are places in this country -- and it isn't inclined to any one segment of our society, but due to the kind of employment -- where there are still pockets of great and heavy employment [unemployment], and we know this is particularly true along our Southern border, many communities down there. So, we're going to keep on with what we've been doing until we can eliminate those pockets as well.
We know that our economic policies are working, and they are getting Americans back on the job. It hasn't been easy, but we've laid the foundation for a strong, noninflationary recovery that is benefiting all our people. When we got here, inflation was running at double-digit levels and had been doing so for 2 straight years. It was the first time that we'd had back-to-back, double-digit inflation in 60 years in this country. But we've brought it down to where, for the last 12 months, it's been running at 2.6 percent. That's the lowest 12-month rate in nearly 16 years.
When we got here the prime interest rate had hit 21\1/2\ percent. Carefully and slowly we brought that down to half that amount. And after years of almost no growth and declining real wages, last quarter the annual growth rate hit 8.7 percent, and real wages are on the rise. Productivity is up. Factory orders are up. Retail sales are up, housing starts and auto sales have turned around. And let me say, this isn't just happening -- as some would have us believe -- by accident.
We're restoring opportunity to hard-working people like yourselves to get America moving again. There's one way you can tell our program is beginning to work: They don't call it Reaganomics anymore. [Laughter] Well, we've managed to give the people a tax rate reduction and to start -- because this is a continuing struggle -- to get spending under control. And this is no time to let up.
There are those who constantly are pushing to return to the disastrous taxing and spending patterns of the past, and I hope I can count on you to stand with us to make sure that doesn't happen. We can't let the people forget what it was like just 3 years ago. You can remember: Our people seemed to have lost the optimism that is so characteristic of Americans. Some people were saying America's best days were behind us. Well, together we've turned the situation around and given the American people hope for the first time in years.
And before we have a dialog, instead of me just standing up here making a speech, I'd like to mention one other area which is vital to all of us as Americans. You, as Americans of Hispanic descent, know well that our country had ignored Central and South America for too long. If we're to prevent the people of this important area from falling under the heel of Marxist dictators and spreading instability to our own borders, it's going to take a determined commitment. It'll require economic and military aid and national resolve.
Let there be no question in your minds: We're dealing with an issue that affects our national interests. Moreover, alien philosophies are being forced on countries that are ill-equipped to reject them. And so we're standing by our friends. We're using American economic and security assistance in the best tradition of President Truman to protect the forces for democracy, economic opportunity, and peace against the expansion of communism. The difference is President Truman was helping countries thousands of miles away when he had to do this. We're trying to assist nearby neighbors who are only a few hundred miles away. And if we run away from our responsibilities so close to home, it won't be our grandchildren, but our children, who will pay the price. So, I just hope that I have your support in what we're trying to do. It affects us all.
You, as leaders in the Hispanic community, can serve as a bridge to our understanding our neighbors to the South. I hope to work closely with you on this and on other challenges that we face. My representative, Cathy Villalpando, [Special Assistant to the President for Public Liaison] a young woman from Texas, will be keeping me up to date on your ideas and areas of concern.
We have many fine Americans of Hispanic descent, like Cathy, who are playing major roles in this administration. The number stands at 125 right now. And don't let anyone tell you these people are being brought on board because of their ethnic background. They are hard-working, competent people, first and foremost professionals. And that's why they're in those positions, because they were the best available for the job. So, we may like to point out that Hispanics are playing a significant role -- Hispanics like Joe Salgado, [Associate Director of Presidential Personnel] who comes from California and has been brought to the White House to make personnel decisions -- and we're glad to have them. They're fine individuals.
And now we're going to have dessert and coffee, and then we'll have some more communication. And I will get to say, individually, hello to all of you in the other room as we leave here, and I'll get to shake your hands, which I'm looking forward to.
Note: The President spoke at 12:51 p.m. in the State Dining Room at the White House.