Introduction: the Problem and Our Response
Thank you. Thank you very much, John (Tamberlane, President of Republic's Consumer Bank). And I appreciate the opportunity to have this beautiful and uplifting venue for the speech, and in particular I appreciate the tremendous assistance that Republic Bank has given us in creating what is really a revolution in the City of New York.
I would like to describe that revolution and then how it's going to continue and be made permanent going into the next century.
In my second Inaugural Address, I spoke of how, through an exercise of our collective will and determination, New Yorkers have changed the direction of the City of New York. And we've done that in so many different ways. We've changed its direction with regard to crime and public safety. We've changed its direction with regard to quality of life. We've changed its direction with regard to jobs. We've changed direction with regard, maybe most importantly, to the spirit of the people of the City from a spirit of depression and cynicism to a spirit of hope and the possibility that the future can actually be better than the past.
But maybe the single most permanent and most important thing that we can do is to change the philosophy of dependency that was destroying many, many people in the City of New York making it impossible for them to have decent and fulfilling lives. This wasn't an accident, it wasn't an atmospheric thing, it wasn't supernatural. It was the result of policies, choices, and a philosophy that was embraced in the 1960s and then enthusiastically endorsed in the City of New York. And it destroyed thousands and thousands of lives and sometimes into a second and third generation because it ignored one of the single-most important facts of Western philosophy and civilization and that is the value of the individual human being – and the value of that individual human being able to have a sense of their own importance realistically rooted in doing something useful for themselves and for their fellow individuals.
Welfare began, like many things, with the best intentions in the 1930s. The nation had fallen into the Great Depression, and a feeling of helplessness was spreading across the county, and our government needed the help to find a way for people to get themselves and their families back on track. President Roosevelt knew that the millions of unemployed people needed income in order to survive. But he also understood that these people needed the government's support in another important respect and that is in order to be involved and remain involved in the workforce. He understood the balance that was necessary in welfare.
The Works Progress Administration that President Roosevelt began helped people, as he put it, "keep their chins up and their hands in." Rather than making them dependent it required something of them in return for the help and assistance the government was giving them. New York City was the City that benefited the most from the Works Progress Administration. Many of the things that are landmarks now were built by people who were working in exchange for the help the government was giving them in the WPA under the leadership of Mayor LaGuardia, who was probably its biggest domestic champion after President Roosevelt.
For a time welfare functioned, both around the nation and in New York City, as a bridge to self-sufficiency. It offered temporary help when people needed help but, as quickly and as reasonably as possible, a movement back to the workforce so that you can be your own self-sufficient human being. However, beginning in the sixties, the system began to expand rapidly. This happened around the country but most dramatically it happened in the City of New York. Let's look at the gross statistics and then the chart for a moment. Between 1960 and 1967 the size of the welfare rolls more than tripled. The 1960s began with about 250,000 people on welfare; by 1968 there were 800,000 people on welfare. From that point forward it would never drop below 800,000 any day, any month, or any year between 1968 and February of this year.
Frequently it reached as high as 1.1 million people. And if we look at that chart, it's really a fascinating thing to see. Because if you understand the history of modern times or contemporary times it's very interesting to wonder why this all happened. This is the number of people on welfare in 1955… This is the number of people on welfare as the sixties began: 200,000… 250,000. And it remained at this level for a very long period going way back to the fifties. All of a sudden, between 1961 and 1968 and then 1969 and 1970, all of this happened. The welfare rolls increased from 200,000 to 800,000 to a million people to 1.1 million almost.
This was not a period of economic depression. It wasn't a period of economic decline. In fact, the mid-1960s to the late 1960s was some of our greatest boom periods in the history of this country. This is not an effect of our national or city economy. This is the result of policies and programs designed to have the maximum number of people get on welfare. This is the period of time in which it changed from a program of enablement, a program in which you would help people for a period of time and enable them to get back to taking care of themselves and their families, to the word entitlement – to a program of entitlement – and the effect of the change in philosophy from enablement to entitlement was maybe 700,000 to 800,000 to 900,000 to maybe a million additional people on welfare than had been the case before.
And the worst tragedy of it is that it remained above that level for several decades. For all of the 1970s, all of the 1980s, and half of the 1990s. This is what you mean by generational welfare. This is where the philosophy of entitlement became a philosophy passed on from one generation to a second generation with families not knowing about work – about being involved in the workforce, about what work can do for you. This was a terrible thing to do to people. It was a complete misunderstanding of human nature and a complete misreading of hundreds and hundreds of years of acquired human wisdom about the human personality and it meant that many people never realized the ability to function for themselves.
I'd like to ask you to consider this. If a person cannot take care of themselves and needs the government to take care of them, and then you have millions of people in that category, hundreds of thousands and ultimately millions… it has to be for large percentages of those people that their inability to take care of themselves for a long period of time and even generationally means that they lose some of the ability necessary to take care of others. If you can't take care of yourself for a long period of time, the resources that you need to take care of others deteriorates. By others I mean your children, your parents, and your family. It creates a whole situation of societal dependency that had really reached very large proportions in the 1980s and 1990s. So welfare – the change in philosophy from enablement to entitlement – had a lot more repercussions than just the people on welfare. It had repercussions for our society as a whole. Now, the thing that I've always found strange is the people who supported this growth, and there were people in NYC during the administrations of Mayor Lindsay, and Mayor Beame, and Mayor Koch, and to some extent Mayor Dinkins, who very strongly supported this whole idea.
Many of these people were described as progressive politicians. I've always found this as a very strange use of the word progressive, and something worth analyzing, because so much of what happens in a large society is about philosophy and about thinking. And sometimes the loose and sloppy way in which we use words and descriptions. What is progressive about people becoming dependent? There is nothing progressive about welfare. There is something necessary about welfare. There is something that is, at times, required about welfare, but there is nothing progressive about a person falling out of the workforce, being unable to support themselves for whatever very good reason, or whatever very bad reason there may be for them, there is nothing progressive about that. And when you call that a progressive philosophy and you describe politicians as progressive who are encouraging the maximum number of people to be on welfare, what you've done is create a tremendous disconnection between the description of political philosophy and the result it has on people's lives. The "progressive" politician is the politician who is leading to the maximum number of people leading a deteriorated life.
Or is it the other way around; is the progressive politician the politician who sees the tremendous damage this is creating and tries through trial and error to come up with ways to reverse it so that the philosophy and programs of government lead to improvement in people's lives rather than masking deterioration? And I think a lot of the politically correct notion of "progressive" became almost turned on itself in the 1960s and the 1970s and the 80s and it continues in some circles in this city to be turned on itself.
Way back at the beginning of this massive change from enablement to entitlement, there were people who saw the danger of it, and there was a recent article in The New Republic, dated July 6, 1998, entitled "My RFK" which reminds us that in the late sixties during a period of unprecedented growth in welfare, one of its principal critics was none other than Robert F. Kennedy when he was a Senator representing New York. As the article points out and this is a quote, "He worried about the remoteness of big government, favored decentralized power, criticized welfare as our greatest domestic failure, challenged the faith in economic growth as a panacea for social ills, and took a hard line on crime." Indeed, Robert Kennedy's observations about welfare were in many ways prophetic. Again I quote. "Kennedy's clearest difference with mainstream liberal opinion was over welfare. Unlike conservatives who opposed federal spending for the poor, Kennedy criticized welfare on the grounds that it rendered millions of Americans dependent on handouts and thus unable to play a role in our democracy."
Unfortunately, that was not the prevailing view of our political leaders at the time who saw the continued expansion of welfare as something very, very progressive and very, very useful. And it remained unabated and you might say by the early 1990s, was revived once again, as I think the head of HRA during this period of time referred to welfare as it should be "user friendly" – you should in essence have the maximum number of people on welfare rather the minimum number of people on welfare and the maximum number able to take care of themselves. And you could actually trace some of this ebb and flow to the policies and programs of the different mayors who were in office at the time and to the policies and programs of their heads of HRA including the declines that took place here during the Koch administration when they attempted a welfare reform program of similar nature.
What that led to was our desire, when I observed this back in the early 1990s, that we had to do something about this… that this city was headed on a terrible, terrible course. We had 1.1 mill on welfare, we're a population of 7.3 million, if that 1.1 million continued to grow then the tax base of the City and the solid middle class base of the City would really erode over a period of time. We began a welfare reform program in 1994 and 1995 that was intended to reverse that. And it has had staggering consequence that are hard even for people now to fully appreciate.
We began really with two things and we continue with two things although we are going to take them now to a new and permanent level. And that is real evaluation of people who want to be on welfare, and work as something that we bring people into immediately and let them drop out of for the minimum period of time. Those two changes, honest evaluations and a workfare program, have resulted in now that the number of public assistance recipients have fallen by more than 400,000 since March of 1995. That is larger than the population of most cities in the United States. In fact, we have moved more people off the welfare rolls than the entire population of the City of Buffalo, which is the second largest city in the state of New York – just to get a sense of the dimension of what has happened.
This social movement down and now declining even more dramatically, it has had an impact on the atmosphere of the City. And ask yourselves, "Is the atmosphere of the City better today than it was back in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s?" and I think the answer to that is, yes. When you have three, four, five hundred thousand people moving from independence to dependence, you have a city that is becoming depressed. When you have a city in which three to four to five hundred thousand people are moving from having been previously dependent to now becoming either independent or moving in that exciting direction, you have the City that has the kind of optimism that this city has today and we want that to continue.
The Task Ahead
We want it to continue and we want to make it permanent. So today, we're going to set a direction for the City that would have been absolutely unthinkable in the early part of this decade. It's just as bold and daring a direction as we set when we said we wanted to make this city the safest large city in America.
We're going to end welfare by the end of this century completely. We'll replace dependency with work and we will have a universal work requirement. Everybody in this city will work with the possible exception of some people who are truly disabled or for some short period of time are unable to work. From the welfare capital of America, we will become the work capital of America, the place that understands the value of work in a deep philosophical and metaphysical sense much more than any other place in the United States. We will be the place that people come to re-learn the work ethic that made America and New York City great.
We're already almost there, and now we have to make it permanent. What it means is that by the year 2000, all adults and heads of families who are now on welfare will be working in a job. Hopefully a private job, like a job at Republic National Bank, or the many other private organizations and private companies that have helped us, but if not a private job, than a public job; and if not a permanent job than a temporary job; and if not a temporary job, than a workfare assignment. But, we're going to reaffirm a philosophy that turns back the damage we started doing in the 1960s, 70s, and 80s – and that is that work is better than not working. Any form of work that is honest and decent is meaningful work. And this notion that cleaning streets is not meaningful work is terribly insulting to the human spirit. If you can work and take care of your family and not have somebody else take care of you then you are moving in a very positive direction. And any work that is decent and honest gives you the chance to expand, to grow, to grow within yourself, and we want New York City to exude that all throughout the City and permanently into the next century.
We'll assume that everyone can work, and we'll provide the necessary resources to enable them to work. Mothers with newborns will be provided with temporary maternity leave, like employers provide, for which we'll expect that they also attend parenting classes. Parents of older children will be provided with child care, so that we will make certain the children are taken care of so that the parent can remain in the workforce and not drop out for any appreciable or significant period of time. And for people with physical or other limitations that are not severe enough to qualify for disability payments, they'll be provided with work in specialized circumstances.
And for people with disabilities, we will also strive very hard to find appropriate work for them. It is demeaning to people with disabilities to just come to the conclusion they can't work, that they can't contribute, that they can't do things in return for society; in fact, very often, they can make bigger contributions than people without disabilities. So we will also embrace within the concept of work people with disabilities to the extent that we're capable of being able to find work assignments for them that are appropriate. And if, for a very good reason, a person can't work for some significant period of time, then that will go into a debit bank, and when they are capable of working, they're going to have to make up that period of time, because in essence we want to reiterate over and over again at the grassroots levels of our society the social contract because this is kinder, it's more compassionate, it's more understanding and it's more decent than the cruel, vicious, false expectations that were being created by our predecessors.
The social contract states that for every right, there is an obligation…for every benefit, there is a duty. That, in life, you have to give back. And when we re-assert that with people, we make them better people. And we call them to something higher in themselves. And it's unimaginable and untold what they can accomplish when you do that. That's America when it's at its greatest. For a period of time we were America at its worst.
1. Transforming All Welfare Offices into Job Centers
Earlier this year, in the state of the City speech, I announced that we were going to change the names of our welfare offices. But it was much more than changing the names of welfare offices; the purpose of this was to change the entire rationale and function of a welfare office. We said we would change their names from welfare office and income maintenance centers to Job Centers. And I'm very, very happy to say that under the leadership of Jason Turner and all of the people at HRA that we are very much along in that process. Four have been changed, five others will be changed by September, and ultimately by sometime early next year they will all be changed to Job Centers.
Which one is the best Job Center?
Greenwood wins every time! I don't know why that is... [laughter]
In the Job Center, the old welfare office in essence is turned on its head. It becomes something totally different. Rather than seeking to add another person to the caseload, which used to be what happened in one of these offices, instead, the whole purpose is to add another person to the workforce. That's the success of a Job Center. The success of a job office is not increasing the numbers of people who are dependent and watching your caseload grow. The success of a job office is seeing an increasing number of people who have found a place in the workforce, have found the ability to take care of themselves with the minimum amount of help, rather than with government in essence taking over their lives. And I think you can see, just from the enthusiasm people have, that this has also changed the morale of HRA.
It's changed it from almost an all-lose proposition to many wins, many successes, a much more in-depth human experience where you can help somebody, where you can get the sense that for ten people that came in, for two or three of them you found a job right away, for two or three others you had them in a process where they're going to acquire some skills and they're going to stay in the workforce and then for the minimum number, who need help for a period of time, they're going to get that kind of help but the more important help of allowing people to understand that they can take care of themselves. That's much more uplifting. And I think what has happened is a competition has been created within HRA like the Yankees and Mets or whatever in which now the old welfare offices are competing – bidding – to become Job Centers as quickly as possible.
Every Job Center is going to be crucial to the mission, and also the Human Resources Administration headquarters, which is going to be located in the Wall Street area at 180 Water Street, will have a Job Center. It'll have a state-of-the-art Job Center. And I think that if symbolism is important, and it is, there can be nothing more symbolic than having a Job Center in the middle of Wall Street for people who may believe they have to go on welfare, but actually can be led toward work. There are some real obstacles to accomplishing this. We've accomplished much more than I'd thought we'd be able to accomplish both with regard to the movement of people off welfare and the movement of people toward work than I ever thought would be the case at this point. We're also going through a particularly good time in our economy to be doing this; just last week the Bureau of Labor Statistics announced not only a decline in our unemployment rate, but the fact that this year looks to be the best year for the creation of jobs the City has had since 1951 or 1952. We're well over 65,000 jobs that have now been created. And when I came into office, I set a goal of trying to reverse the loss of 320,000 private sector jobs that occurred between 1990 and 1993, and now we're at about 250,000 of those 321,000 jobs that we have re-acquired. And this year is our best year so far, and it could possibly be our best year ever, if it continues at this pace. So the job market is increasing… so the opportunities are there to help to find jobs for people.
2. Integrating Work into Drug Treatment Programs
I think the greatest obstacle that we face, however, has nothing to do with our economy, or even with the finding of jobs because the fact is that this dependency grew when America's jobs were growing, when the City was in good economic health, as well as in bad economic heath. I think that the idea that welfare is directly connected to the growth or decline of the economy is part of the fallacy of the prior philosophy, rather than a real understanding of what's happening in people's lives. I think that there's something else that will hurt our growth in this direction much more than whatever happens in the economy, and that's drug addiction, and the use of drugs, and how drugs affect people. If welfare makes people dependent, which it does, and if moving them toward work makes them independent, nothing makes people more dependent than the use of drugs, particularly heroin and cocaine. And therefore in dealing with this, we're going to have to in many, many ways take on the problem of drugs including in our welfare-to-work programs. It's not enough just to do it in the area of policing, and the area of social work, it has to be done in this area as well.
So now, when a substance abuser comes into a Job Center seeking benefits, immediately that person will be enrolled in a mandatory drug-treatment program. These programs will be different than they've been in the past. For years, people in certain types of programs, particularly the methadone treatment programs, have been excused for work for the entire duration of the program. And drug and alcohol abuse has been accepted as a reason to claim medical exemption from work. Recently, 30,000 individuals, almost 10 percent of all adult recipients, were excused from work for that reason – for being on methadone or being addicted to alcohol.
To understand the scope of this problem, we recently began calling in all those who have been exempted from work for reasons of drug abuse. The first group included 6,000 individuals who have been receiving methadone treatment for more than a year. Fully 1,000 of these had been on methadone for over seven years while continuously receiving assistance and not being asked to do a single thing in return for that assistance other than to take methadone. Thirty-eight percent of the recipients on methadone treatment that we tested had other drugs in their system in addition to methadone. Exempting drug abusers from work during their treatment or at all is a counter-productive policy that works against the best interests of the person, the person's family, and of the City as a whole. We now understand that learning to work and developing discipline and work habits is a necessary part of any kind of successful drug-treatment program. So, in reaching out to drug-abusers in this way, realistically leading them toward independence through work and integrated treatment programs, we will, I believe, make a real, real change in the way in which drug abuse functions as an excuse to not work in the City of New York.
The only treatment that can succeed is one that combines work with drug treatment, understanding that for thousands of drug abusers and their families treatment makes work possible and work is treatment in and of itself. No longer will we ignore drug abusers as we essentially did in the old system and give people that kind of assistance without requiring something in return for them. If there has to be a brief period for integration within the drug treatment program, then that would be treated the same way in which we give people certain brief periods in which they don't have to work but they build up a debit and they're going to have to work more after that.
But if you have a drug problem, and you want welfare, you're going to be expected to do two things: seek treatment, get involved in treatment, and as quickly as possible, meaning within weeks or no more than a month or two, you've got to be working, either in workfare or in other work programs. And we believe in doing that, that we will make a major, major additional inroad in the drug problem in the City. It is no longer an excuse from work to come into a Job Center and say, "I'm sorry; I have a drug problem. I'm sorry; I'm an alcoholic." Our answer is: "We're very, very sorry also, but you're going to have to get treatment and you're going to have to work in exchange for the help that we're giving you," and in that way, we are displaying real love and concern for you, rather than just ignoring you as a problem that we shunt aside, which is essentially what the prior philosophy of the City did in the name of misplaced compassion.
In addition to requiring work and treatment for drug-dependent adults, we'll also require more drug-treatment programs. As I outlined in the State of the City address in January, we have to institute performance-based contracts. We have to change – and this does not apply to all drug-treatment programs, because there are some that are doing very, very well, and are very much performance-based, but many are not – we have to make the same change in drug-treatment programs as we're making in HRA, and the focus of drug-treatment programs has to be not the number of people you're treating, but the number of people that you have rehabilitated. The number of people that you have gotten back to work as quickly as possible. The number of people that you have gotten re-integrated in the normal responsibilities of life. Those are the drug-treatment programs we should contract with.
And we should, over a period of time, phase out methadone. Methadone is a terrible, terrible perversion of drug treatment because it leaves a person dependent and what we should be seeking in drug-treatment programs is the more difficult but the much more loving and caring attempt to try to re-integrate into a person the ability to take care of their own life. So, over a period of time, and hopefully within the next two, three, or four years, we will phase out and do away with methadone maintenance programs in the City of New York.
In these drug situations, the people who really need assistance and help most often are the family members of the drug abusers. They're the ones who are most often hurt by the drug abuser's addiction. Families on welfare have few other resources of income, so when recipients on welfare take the money that the government gives them, including the money intended for the support of their children, and they use it to buy drugs, they are hurting people who need support, who need help, and in a way, the City is subsidizing drug-dealing and drug addiction.
And you know, during this period, in which massive amounts, hundreds of millions and billions of dollars over a period of time were being thrown into welfare with this out-of-control expansion of it, you know that some of this money was being used to fund heroin trafficking, cocaine trafficking, and the destruction of human life and neighborhoods. Well, we want to change that. And if a person is using their money for the purpose of buying drugs, we're going to take that money away from them, we're going to have a guardian appointed, and we'll make sure their children are taken care of, but they will not be the ones who are depriving their children, and their wife, or the person that they live with of the support and the help they need if they truly need that help. And that's another major change that we'll be making over the next six months or a year.
Over the last five years, we've rebuilt NYC. And there's no reason to believe that we can't rebuild this tattered and destroyed human system that was created over a thirty or forty year period. And I think we've got all – absolutely all – of the ingredients in place to do that. I think the turnaround that's taking place in the Human Resources Administration (HRA) is remarkable, and wonderful, and it's one of the most beautiful things happening in the City, and I think the turnaround that's taking place in the neighborhoods of New York City is absolutely terrific, and if in fact the work ethic made America great, which it did, the more and more people we can have acquire a true understanding of that work ethic, it's just absolutely impossible to really dream what will actually happen as a result of that.
When you release human beings to be free in a responsible way, then human beings create things that nobody ever anticipated. That's what we've done with crime by saying to people, "You can now use your neighborhoods," they are doing things that we never thought were possible before, creative and wonderful things, that's what we've done with jobs by replacing 321,000 lost jobs with 260,000 new jobs; many of those people are people that are now experiencing the sense of being able to take care of themselves, and if we can make this change, then we can fulfill the promise that I made when I got re-elected Mayor of New York City to reach out to the people in New York City who haven't yet felt the benefits of the changes that have taken place in the City. Most people have felt that. If the public opinion polls are right 60 percent, 70 percent, 75 percent, or 80 percent of the people of the City today have a much better feeling about their future and about the City that they did about four or five years ago. That means there are fifteen or twenty percent who have been left out from that.
This is the honest and realistic way to reach them. By re-introducing work into their lives. By re-introducing to them something that they know deep down but have lost for a while: that they can take care of themselves. And this is probably one of our best answers long-term, not short-term, to the whole issue of child abuse and neglect of children, because as people acquire this sense and ability of taking care of themselves, they become much more diligent, much better and much more creative in taking care of the people they love as well. So I thank you for giving us the opportunity to make this change for the City. This is one that I feel is probably the most important one that we will make, and I believe this is the one that we'll look back on 20 or 30 years from now, and say, we really did something wonderful in the history of the City of New York.
Thank you very much.