Today I'd like to explain to you why I think New York City has turned around -- how it happened and why it happened. I think that it's particularly relevant to an audience of Republicans, because to a very large extent New York City has become the answer to a question that has existed in people's minds in the past. And that is could a Republican Administration and Republican policies and programs -- with regard to crime, with regard to welfare, with regard to the economy, with regard to schools -- could those programs work in major cities? "People were willing to accept that the fact that Republican programs could work in rural areas and suburban areas, because Republicans have a record there. But I think there was general sense that in cities you really needed a Democratic Mayor with Democratic programs, despite the fact that Cities were falling apart, certainly the large Northeastern Cities, and some of the large cities all across the country.
Now it's four or five years later. America's two largest cities, New York and Los Angeles -- heavily Democratic Cities -- have been governed by Republicans, and both have been re-elected. I think that by most people's account, over the last twenty or thirty or forty years, those cities have not been in better shape. Both New York and Los Angeles are doing better than when Democrats were sitting in the Mayor's office. They are doing better with regard to crime reduction, the economy, job growth, visitors and tourism... And a lot of it had to do with the philosophies that are at the core of the Republican party.
I'll describe it with specifics: It means giving people more freedom, and not giving government more control. In fact, it means realizing that there's a trade-off -- that the more government control you create the more you take away individual initiatives, individual freedom, individual decision-making. And the less government control there is, the more you're willing to give back to private enterprise and to people, the more you can have real growth and a sense of freedom and opportunity.
Let me see if I can describe it in terms of Welfare. When I came into office there were almost 1.2 million people on welfare. The population of New York City is very much like the population of your state. It's about 7 and a half million people. We're roughly equivalent. There's a lot more territory here for that seven and a half million people, but we have roughly the same numbers. So think about that. 1.2 million people on welfare out of a population of 7.5 million. That's almost one person out of seven on welfare. Not working, but being supported by the people who are working. And that number had remained that way for years and years and years. When we began the 1950s in New York there were 200,000 people on welfare. When we began the 1970s there were a million people on welfare. We stayed at 800,000 to over a million people on Welfare for 32 years. And it's really unfortunate because it means that it moves from one generation to the next. And the worst part of it is that the response of the City of New York to over a million people dependent on the government was to do...nothing. Not only to do nothing, but they had no ideas about what to do, except to encourage more and more people to become dependent.
We replaced that in 1994 and 1995 with a philosophy that instead of having the largest number of people be dependent, we're going to try to work towards having the largest number of people become independent of government. Let's see what happens if we set them free of the government controlling their lives. And when somebody supports you, in a very deep psychological sense, you lose the sense that you control your own life, and you lose the sense the sense of self-worth that comes from being independent. And if you can't support yourself, the next thing that happens is that you can't take care of your family. And when you can't take care of your family a lot of other things start to happen in society. So we thought if we could turn that around, we would see a real change, real progress, a real sense of optimism and morale, pervade all aspects of our city, in poor communities, in middle class communities, in all the communities of our city.
So we did two things. The first thing we did was make sure that everyone on welfare could be identified. For that, I had to encounter tremendous opposition in the State Assembly, which is the Democratic controlled house. They would not give the money that we needed to do identifications, to collect fingerprints. So we put that money up ourselves. And we started to get the welfare rolls down from people who were cheating.
The second thing that we did, and perhaps the most important, was to say: "If you go on welfare, and you're able-bodied, and you can work, and you can't find a job, then we will put you to work. We have many, many things that can be done through the city, that haven't been done in a long time, that we've never had permanent workers do, and we will give you a job for the maximum number of hours that the laws allows us to give per week. And in exchange for your welfare check, you'll work. We call it a workfare program, the Work Experience Program. And let me tell you broadly about what has happened. About 220,000 people have gone through that program in two and a half to three years. The welfare rolls are down 470,000 people. They are down to the lowest number of people since 1966, 1967. And not only is it staying there, but it's continuing to decline even more.
Now, if I stood in New York City five years ago when I was running for Mayor and I said that in five years the welfare rolls in New York City would be down by 470,000 people, the newspapers, most of them -- not all of them -- would have written editorials saying, "he's crazy. And not only is he crazy but if there are 400,000 fewer people on welfare, the city of New York will be in shambles. There will be people on the streets, there will be crime." It's a very, very demeaning critique if you think about it, about what they actually thought about those who were on welfare and those who were not. In any event, we are down 470,000 people on welfare.
The city is not only in a situation where there hasn't been more crime as a result of that -- but crime is down by staggering numbers -- 50% of all crime, 70% of murders -- And jobs are back. What's the difference? The difference is that we are empowering people, and moving them toward taking care of themselves, rather government dominating their lives. And the notion that Republicans are somehow less compassionate is really a sad one. Because the fact is that it takes more compassion to help people toward helping themselves than it is just to throw money at them. I often like to compare the difference in philosophy to this: Just pretend that the person for whom you are developing the social policy is your child, your brother or sister or your relatives or somebody that you love. Would you want them on welfare for thirty years, with no program to get them off, or would you want to help them for the period of time they needed help, but move them back as quickly as you could to where they'd be able to take care of themselves? And of course, the answer to that is, if you love somebody, you don't want them to have to become dependent on you, right? You bring your children up, so that they can be able to live independent lives, because you love them. It's when people are treated as a statistical mass -- a hundred thousand people, two hundred thousand people -- when you can put a title on them like underclass, which is a horrible title, then when you do that, then you get Democrat programs of welfare dependency.
Just think about if you lived in a crime-infested neighborhood you might as well live in an oppressed society and a society without civil rights or freedoms because you can't exercise those freedoms. Now the other side of it is you can reduce crime -- we have neighborhoods in New York City and some that used to be among the poorest, where crime is down even more than 58%. In those neighborhoods, people can now go out at night, they can go to a movie, they can go visit a friend, they can walk the streets. And the reason they're feeling much more optimistic is because they can exercise those freedoms. But the thing that can prevent us from continuing that is if we don't do more about the problem of drugs. It has to be done at the federal level. Let me see if I can explain this very briefly to you. This is a problem that I have worked with and worked on in many different capacities over the past 30 years and it makes me really sad about the present direction of America.
The drug problem that we face, which by all accounts is growing, it's certainly not declining anywhere near the level that it should be...The drug problem that we face is not a mystical problem, this isn't a plague. This is something that happens because of some evil ... Americans dependent on drugs. This is a problem that we created in our culture, in our messages that we send to each other, we created this in the attitude that we have as a society ... in the 60s and in the 70s and we created it in the 80s. We created ...role model .. teachers and ... and doctors and actors and athletes and it sent a very clear message to young people about drugs. "It's ok to use drugs, why not experiment." In some circles you're cooler, you're sharper, you're smarter, you're more intelligent if you've had an experiment with drugs. Just think about it...how sick that is...This is a society in which we are becoming increasingly conscious of what is healthy and what is not healthy for the body, right? We know that drugs make it almost impossible for you to really function like a normal human being. They can do tremendous physical damage to your organs, but then you have a whole segment of society which isn't concerned about that. They're concerned about clean air and demonstrate about clean air. They're concerned about clean water and demonstrate about that. I'm concerned about those things too. But what they're not concerned about is a clean body, a clean mind, having a free will... because drugs rob you of a free will and a free life.
So I believe that what we need to do is make some very, very strong philosophical statements which I don't think this current administration is willing to do. In fact in some ways, New York wants to go in another direction. The statement that we have to make is a statement that I saw printed behind me when I was in Iowa a month ago. I spoke to a group in Iowa and the big sign said "Partnership for a Drug Free Iowa." We should have a drug-free Iowa, we should have a drug-free North Carolina, we should have a drug-free New York, and we should have a drug-free America. There is no reason why we shouldn't aim for the ideal goal of a society in which, if not every single individual, the maximum number of people possible can live their lives free of drugs. If you aim for that goal, you'll get closer to it. However, if you aim for the goal that, "Well, people are using drugs, let's give them another drug to substitute for it... Or it really isn't so bad...Or, actually it's a sickness and there isn't anything you can do about it..." If you end up thinking this way then you are left with the maximum number people dependent on the drug. Just like the City's policies behind welfare reform, we don't want to encourage the use of methadone by sending the wrong messages -- we don't want to make drugs like methadone user-friendly. Because when we do this, we perpetuate a society in which the maximum number of people remain trapped in a state of dependency and, even worse, life threatening situations.
I'd like to tell you about the dispute that I'm having with the so-called drug czar. As it stands now, the Federal Government wants to expand the use of methadone. Methadone is a chemical that replaces heroin and is given to drug addicts.The purpose of giving it to drug addicts was to give them the transitions they can get to treatment programs and then they can be free of drugs. In New York City it is used for that but it is used as another drug. Over 50% of the people using methadone are using other drugs. .... and many of them commit crimes. And what you are essentially doing is sustaining their addiction year after year, sometimes for 20 or 30 years, and many of them fall back onto heroin. And it's a terrible thing to do and it illustrates the difference in philosophy again if we go back to the question that I raised before. I believe that what we should be doing is using methadone for the minimum number of people, using it only as a transition to an actual program to get you on drug free. And I also believe that we should never be using it to maintain somebody on it for life. The drug czar believes that we should have more people on methadone because it's quicker and more efficient and an easier way to deal with addiction ... Here's the difference. If my child or your child is addicted to drugs, there is no way in a million years; you would want your child on methadone for 20 or 30 years. You would want you child in a drug treatment program where they have a chance to be completelydrug-free. You would want your child to have an opportunity to live their life drug-free. When it's 45,000 people or 50,000 people or 100,000 people that are poor, that are nameless, that are classless, well, then, who cares, which is generally the attitude of unfortunately too many people.
I think that is a terrible direction for America. Our goal should be a drug-free America. And then we should fill in the blanks as to how we get there. We get to a drug-free America by arresting the people who are selling drugs, putting them in jail for a very, very long time, and recognizing the fact that people who sell those dangerous drugs are very much like murderers because they take people's lives from them and treating that very seriously.
We will reduce the amount of drugs in the country by being much more effective at the borders and stopping drugs from coming into the United States. We can reduce the amount of drugs in this country by finally making drug policy and drug addiction an important part of our foreign policy. Most of the drugs that we are dealing with come from foreign countries, they come from South America, and they come from Asia. The United States government, the administration in Washington, has to make this an important part of our foreign policy. Because what happens with drugs is just as important to use as what happens in trade, and in arms... and in foreign policy.
And then we need to educate people properly. We have to educate young people about the dangers of drugs; we have to revert to the messages that were sent in the 60s and 70s that tolerated drugs and encouraged drugs. Then we have to turn honestly to the young people and let them know about the dangers of getting involved in drugs, what it can do to them, what it can deprive them of. We have to create positive goals for them so that they can counteract the temptation and the movement toward drugs and having a goal. This year we wrote a book -- it's a little children's book -- because I always do this everytime I go to schools. I always ask children, "What do you want to be when you grow up?" And the reason I ask that question is when I can get a child to give me an answer to that, I know that child has a much greater chance of avoiding drugs and a much greater chance of being successful than when a child is confused about that. If a child can develop in their mind, even at a very early age, and tell me, "I want to be a doctor," "I want to be a teacher," "I want to be a pilot," "I want to be a something." Then that child will have a goal and stay focused and hopefully remain distracted from drugs. So I wrote this book because I would like to encourage youngsters to ask that question of themselves, but we have to incorporate these things into the way we educate young people.
Finally, we need real drug treatment programs. We need drug treatment programs that are aimed, toward making someone drug-free. Now these are tougher and more difficult than drug treatment programs that give someone another chemical addiction to replace the chemical addiction they already have. But they work. They can be done. They take a year; they take a year and a half. They take two years of residential treatment. They require incorporating work immediately, almost immediately, ... of a drug addict because the drug addict is immediately reincorporated into the work force while living in a residential treatment program. We can do these things as long as we are realistic about it and I think our future very much depends on our being able to produce a drug-free America. I'd like to have a crime-free America also. I know we're never going to absolutely crime-free. And we're probably never going to be absolutely drug-free. But I believe that if you aim for moral and decent ideals and even if you fall short of that ideal, you're going to vastly improve society. But instead, if we define our values down, and keep saying we can't do anything about drugs, we can't do anything about welfare, we can't do anything about crime, we can't do anything about dirt on our streets, we can't do anything about deterioration, then not only does the problem become the main worry, it inevitably gets much worse. I think the difference between whether we are going to challenge ourselves to much higher ideals and values over the next several years really depends on whether we have a good chance of electing a Republican president in the year 2000.