Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate Release December 4, 1998


The Roosevelt Room

10:12 A.M. EST

THE PRESIDENT: Amy's children are over there. And we also have Bernadette Hockaday and her children, and Rhonda Clarke and her children here. They're all here, and we thank them all for coming because they all have benefitted from the Earned Income Tax Credit.

I'd like to thank Gene Sperling, who believed passionately in this when I first met him, well over six years ago now; Janet Yellen, the Council of Economic Advisors; Secretary Herman, who was here in the White House helping us to implement the Earned Income Tax Credit in '93. I thank Congressman John Lewis and Congressman Bob Matsui, who are here who have been passionate advocates; and all the other advocates in the room here -- Bob Greenstein, Justin Dart, the others who are here -- we thank you for your support.

One of the main reasons that I ran for President in 1992 was that I believed that people like Amy could achieve real success if we could unstack the deck against them. I knew that when our nation was taxing working families into poverty, that was wrong. I knew that when a mother rises at dawn, putting in an honest day's work and still can't afford to buy the children's clothes, that's wrong. And I was determined to try to do something about it.

I also knew that there was a little-known provision in the tax code which had been in for several years called the Earned Income Tax Credit that had the potential if it were actually expanded at an appropriate level to lift all working families out of poverty. And that's how all this started.

Again, let me say, I'm very grateful for everybody who has supported this. I think the important -- one important thing I'd like to point out is that we have representatives here from the AFL-CIO, from AFSCME, from other unions, most of whose members do not get the Earned Income Tax Credit, and they lobbied for it, too, because they thought it was right. And so, for all of you, I just say I'm very grateful.

What we tried to do in 1993 was two things. First of all, we had to get the economy moving again, and secondly, we had to focus on the special needs of people who were working hard at lower wage levels. But first things first -- we had to get the whole economy moving again. Middle-class incomes have been stagnant for 20 years, and we could never have given lower-income working people the chance to raise their incomes if it hadn't been for a policy promoting overall economic growth.

Just this morning, we received more good news for America's families on our overall economic policies. Secretary Herman's Department reports that, last month, unemployment fell to 4.4 percent, while inflation remains low and stable. But for a year and a half, the unemployment rate has remained below 5 percent, for the first time in 28 years. And in November, the economy added more than a quarter of a million jobs, which means now America has created about 17.3 million jobs in the last six years. That is a very good record, of which the American people can be very proud.

But let's go back to the main point. Even with all those new jobs, under the present circumstances, the way the economy works, millions and millions of those people would be working full-time and still be living in poverty. So what I wanted to do in 1993 was to create new incentives to help people climb the economic ladder and reach true independence; to enable people to succeed at work and at home, in raising their children.

So we got the dramatic increase in the Earned Income Tax Credit into the budget in 1993. And two years ago we fought for and won a substantial increase in the minimum wage, which I still believe we ought to increase again. Unemployment and inflation are low, and it still has not recovered its levels of 20 or 25 years ago, in real-dollar terms.

Today, we release a report prepared by the Council of Economic Advisors. It shows that the Earned Income Tax Credit, as a family tax cut, has been a major factor in encouraging work among single mothers, which you heard Amy talk about. It has also been responsible for much of our strong progress in reducing child poverty. In fact, the report shows that, of the 4.3 million people who have been lifted out of poverty since 1993 by the Earned Income Tax Credit, over half of them -- well over half of them -- have been lifted out because we basically doubled the program in 1993.

And, again, I want to say to Bob Matsui and John Lewis, we had -- it was hard to raise the money to pay for that doubling and there were a lot of people, even in our party, who were afraid to do it -- and with some good reason, as it turned out. But it was the right thing to do, and I hope it is something that all of you will always be proud of.

Now, since 1993, families with two children and one parent working full-time at the minimum wage, therefore, have seen their incomes rise by more than $2,700 because of the increase in the minimum wage and the Earned Income Tax Credit. This has strengthened families, it strengthened communities. It's helped to restore our compact of mutual responsibility that people who work hard and play by the rules ought to have a chance to be rewarded for it. And, again, it helps us to promote both the values of family and work.

So I feel very, very good about this. And I feel great about the overall economic news this morning. But let me also say to all of you, this is not a time for self-congratulation or a time to rest. We have more to do here at home and more to do to stabilize the global economy, if we expect economic growth to continue.

We all know about the economic troubles in Asia; we all see sectors of America's steel industry being overwhelmed by imports at fire-sale prices. We have all read the headlines about Boeing's layoffs because of the inability of Asian airlines to pay for planes which they have already ordered. We see other problems in the global economy as well, and we are working hard to reverse the problems in Asia, to limit their reach, to stabilize the long-term system under which so many Americans and so many hundreds of millions of people around the world have benefitted. But it is a sobering thought to remind us that we have to continue to work on this.

Finally, let me say, we have to continue to work on the conditions of working families here at home. Many people still cannot get affordable child care. The minimum wage should still be raised. We still have a great deal to do to stabilize the conditions of working families and to genuinely reward work in this country.

In the last session of Congress we passed an expansion of our empowerment agenda to try to bring more jobs, more incomes, more investments into poor inner-city and rural areas: we still have a great deal to do there.

So as you leave here today and you think about Amy and these other two fine mothers and these beautiful children who are here, and the millions and millions of people whom they represent all across America, I hope you will always be proud of what you have done. But remember, this economy still is not working for everyone, and it is still living in a very turbulent international environment. So I ask you also to continue to support our efforts to deal with the challenges that still have to be met to keep the growth going, and to make sure that what we do here, so far from the lives of most Americans, actually helps them to make those lives better.

Thank you very much and God bless you all. Thank you, Congressman Rangel. It's good to see you. (Applause.)

CEA Report on Expansions in the EITC and the Minimum Wage

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