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Public Statements

FAA Reauthorization Act of 2007

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC

FAA REAUTHORIZATION ACT OF 2007 -- (Senate - May 01, 2008)


Mr. KENNEDY. Madam President, I thank my friend and colleague from New Mexico. We will not have a chance today to talk about mental health parity. But whenever I see him speak on the floor I am further inspired to make sure we are going to get that legislation passed in this Congress. I thank him for all of his good work in that undertaking. We are strongly committed to ensuring that this very important health policy issue is going to be addressed in the Congress.

I see my friend from Illinois. I know he was seeking the floor. I ask unanimous consent that he be recognized after I finish.

The ACTING PRESIDENT pro tempore. Without objection, it is so ordered.


Mr. KENNEDY. Madam President, tomorrow we are going to have the report by the Bureau of Labor Statistics about the unemployment figures in this country. Those unemployment figures may be statistics to some, but they are lost hopes and dreams to millions of our fellow citizens. They are a key indicator of the state of our economy. I think most of us who have had the opportunity to travel our States and listen to working families understand the extraordinary pressures these families are under, the incredible anxiety that goes to the heart and soul of these families. They really wonder if somehow they are guilty in some way for not being able to deal with the economic challenges they are facing, whether it is the increased cost of gas at the pump, or whether it is the increasing cost of tuition, the increasing cost of health care, or the challenges they are facing with their mortgages.

This afternoon I want to speak for a few minutes about the issue of unemployment and how that has impacted so many of our fellow citizens and what the implications are for so many of our fellow citizens. Even though we do not have the figures, I think we can reliably suggest there is going to be a further increase in the number of unemployed Americans when we get the figures tomorrow morning. These are the figures so far this year: we see 76,000 jobs lost in January; in February, 76,000; some 80,000 in March--232,000 jobs were lost over the period of these 3 months. There were 50,000 construction jobs lost. That sends a message in and of itself.

If we look at this chart, we see the total number of unemployed. These are the Bureau of Labor Statistics figures. In March of 2008 we have 7.8 million unemployed and only 3.9 million jobs. That's two workers for every job. Here we have individuals, Americans, who have worked hard, played by the rules, and, through no fault of their own, because of the failure of fiscal and monetary policy, they have lost their jobs. Yet when we look back at the total number of job openings, they are limited. These Americans are getting squeezed. How are they going to be able to find jobs when the jobs are not available even if they have the skills? We are going to come back to that in just a moment.

These families are hurting. That is why it is so important that we have an increase in the unemployment compensation program that is now in surplus of about $35 billion. That fund has actually been paid into by American workers. They have paid into the fund $35 billion, and the reason they paid in was for circumstances such as this, a fiscal and monetary economic policy which has failed them. They are entitled to receive the unemployment compensation. Yet we have an administration which has consistently opposed extending unemployment benefits. I am going to come to that in just a moment too.

Here are recent veterans who having served, are having a hard time finding work. The total workforce, 5.1 percent unemployed; for these veterans serving after 2001, we can see their unemployment is 6.1 percent. And the young male veterans, serving after September 2001, are at 11.2 percent. These are all veterans, but this is young men--11.2 percent. These young Americans were the ones who had the burden of conflict and now they are facing the burden, at home, of an economy that will not serve them and serve their interests. Where is the burden falling? It is falling on our young veterans, and it is falling particularly hard.

This chart indicates where the burden of this economy is falling. We are finding out it is increasingly falling on adult women, who are seeing a sharper rise in unemployment rates than men. There is a 21-percent increase for women, and 15 percent for men, between March of 2007 and March of 2008. Do we understand how it is squeezing women? Women are more likely to have subprime mortgages than men, despite having slightly better credit scores. Women are having their homes foreclosed at a more rapid rate than men, their unemployment rates are going up, and their savings are lower. They are the ones who are taking the brunt of this recession along with young veterans.

Here we find women's earnings are falling faster than men's. Men's median income in 2007 fell one-half of 1 percent for men, women's fell 3 percent. We see increasing numbers of women are unemployed, and the wages of women who have jobs are being adversely impacted to a much higher and more significant degree.

We see what has happened generally with regard to the economy. The stock market lost $2.7 trillion in value since May of 2007. This crisis has wiped out $2.7 trillion in home values. The dollar has lost one-third of its value, and the Federal debt has nearly doubled since this President took office. Again, we are looking at home values, which is the wealth for so many middle-income and working families--$2.7 trillion effectively has been wiped out during this last year.

All these figures show middle-income families, working families, are taking the heavy brunt of the recession we are facing. We should ask ourselves what are we doing about this. If we look at what we have done at other times, we have granted extended unemployment benefits. Look at the last recessions we have had, from January 1980 to July 1980, and then July 1981 to November 1982, the average number of weeks of unemployment was 16 weeks. And we extended unemployment compensation.

The next recession we had was July 1990 to March of 1991. The average weeks of unemployment was 13.9 weeks, but we had an extension of unemployment compensation.

In March 2001 to November 2001, 15 weeks was the average number of weeks of unemployment, and we had an extension of the unemployment compensation.

Here, look at this: 16.2 weeks is the average number of weeks workers are unemployed today--16.2 weeks--and this administration refuses to say the

$35 billion that is in the unemployment compensation fund that you have worked for and contributed into that fund, should be available to you when we have adverse economic conditions. These are just the kind of conditions that they are there for. This administration refuses to do anything about it. It is a striking difference for working families who are trying to make it and provide for their families.

Very briefly, this chart demonstrates that during a recession, among the limited economic stimulus measures, unemployment compensation is among the most promising investments--every dollar we invest in unemployment compensation has the effect of $1.64; for infrastructure it is $1.59 for every dollar invested; and it is $1.73 in food stamps. This is from Moody's chief economist. There is much less impact, obviously, for the Bush extended tax cuts.

We should look at what is happening in food stamps--we do not frequently think about the numbers of our fellow American citizens who are dependent on food stamps, but we should pause now. We certainly should if we have been back home and listened to those who have been running the food banks in our States and we find out the condition of those food banks. 28 million Americans are projected to receive food stamps in fiscal year 2009--28 million Americans are going to be eligible for food stamps in 2009. Look at the indicators. This is another indicator about what is happening in the economy, the kind of pressures that middle-income and working families have.

We could also ask, Why aren't we trying to provide training for these workers who are struggling to find a job? If we improve their skills, they will be able to find a job--is that right? No, it is wrong. What we are finding is Americans cannot access job training programs. This administration has been cutting back virtually every year on job training programs.

Look at this. In Massachusetts alone, for every available slot in a job training program there are 21 workers on a waiting list. Do we understand? There are 21 workers on a waiting list. These are American men and women who want to work, have worked, want to provide for their families, and they cannot even get the training in order to be able to fill the jobs. We have 83,000 jobs in my State that are not being filled today, but we have cut back. This administration has cut back on the training programs. This is the kind of misstep this administration has taken time in and time out.

I just remind the Senate about action that we took just yesterday with regard to students and the student loan program. One urgent step that we must take to ensure that the slumping economy does not prevent young people from going to college is to provide some help and assistance, and we did yesterday.

Right now, in May, students and their parents are applying for financial aid and the loans they need to attend college in the fall. This is happening just as some banks have said they are no longer offering student loans. We cannot allow the slumping economy to limit the horizons of a new generation of Americans. Students and parents need to know we will do everything we can to guarantee that every single student who needs a loan to go to college in the fall will get one, even in these troubled economic times. We will increase the amount of grant aid available to relieve the debt burden on needy students.

Yesterday the Senate passed legislation to do just that. The House of Representatives also passed the legislation just a few hours ago, and President Bush has indicated that he will sign it into law. This is what the emergency legislation does: For students, if private loans through the banks dry up, they can get lower cost government-guaranteed loans to take their place. So no matter what happens in the private loan market, the government loans will be there, and they will be there for them.

This guarantee comes in two ways. First, the bill expands the amount of Federal loans available for a student for 4 years of college from $23,000 to $31,000, an $8,000 increase. Second, it ensures that students will have easy access to Federal loans.

If banks are not willing to make these loans to students, State-based, nonprofit agencies, called the guaranty agencies, will take their place.

So for every student, there will always be someone to provide the loans, either through the private sector or through the Government.

Also, for thousands of low-income students, we increased the grant aid by up to $1,300 a year for underclassmen and $4,000 a year for upperclassmen. That is not a lot, but it is a part of an ongoing commitment to help low-income college students avoid the crushing burdens of debt that inevitably distort their choices for the future.

The bill also helps parents by providing them with better options and better access to the low-cost Federal PLUS loans alternative. This provides help to parents. It allows the parents to delay the repayment on the loans until their child has graduated from college. It makes it easier for parents who have been hit by the mortgage crisis to obtain these low-cost loans; help for the students, help as well for families.

Finally, the bill helps stabilize the overall student loan market by authorizing the Secretary of Education to purchase outstanding federal loans, allowing private lenders to replenish their capital so they can make new loans to students and parents.

For the 6 million students and over 700,000 parents currently relying on low cost federally subsidized loans, these steps mean they will continue to have ready access to these funds, even as the credit markets discourage lender participation in the Federal program. In other words, students and parents will now have multiple avenues to obtain low-cost Federal loans.

Fortunately, Congress has taken prompt action to prevent college students from becoming the next victims of our failing economy, and I commend President Bush for urging us to do so. I am grateful to Senator Enzi, Congressman Miller, Congressman McKeon for their partnership on this legislation, and for the support and assistance of the Secretary of Education.

I hope we can replicate this bipartisan effort in tackling other urgent economic issues. There is much work to be done to ensure that Main Street is insulated from the problems of Wall Street. It is clear that the Nation faces a serious ongoing economic challenge. We know what we have to do to put our economy and our country back on track. To do that we need to seize the moment and act immediately to help the millions of Americans who need our help the most.

I yield the floor.

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