[Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: William J. Clinton (1998, Book I)]
[May 1, 1998]
[Pages 653-662]
[From the U.S. Government Publishing Office www.gpo.gov]

Remarks at a Roundtable Discussion With Employees of Therma, Inc., in 
San Jose, California
May 1, 1998

    The President. Thank you very much. I want to thank Joe and Nicki for welcoming me here. 
I want to thank Dan Kirby for the tour through the 
operations. He did a great job. Thanks to Congresswoman Zoe 
Lofgren and Mayor Susan Hammer, my good friends, for joining me here today. I thank the 
labor leaders that are here, Amy Dean, Ray 
Lancaster, Mark Van Den Heuvel, Steve Preminger. But 
most of all, I thank all of you for giving me a chance to leave 
Washington and come out and visit the real world. It's great. Thank you 
very much.
    Before I say a little more about why I came here today, I'd like to 
make a brief comment on something very important to your future that did 
happen in Washington, DC, late last night. Last night an overwhelming 
bipartisan majority of 80 Members of the United States Senate voted for 
a treaty that will permit us to bring Poland, Hungary, and the Czech 
Republic into the NATO military alliance.

[[Page 654]]

    Now, why does this matter to you out here on this factory floor? I 
think it's very important to you and to every American. We fought two 
World Wars and lost a lot of Americans, and waged a long cold war in a 
deeply divided Europe. The Berlin Wall fell, communism dissipated, 
giving us the chance for the first time in history, ever, to deal with a 
Europe that is free, democratic, and undivided. That's important. If we 
can do that, that means you will know that you'll have stable partners 
for trading purposes. You can sell them things; you can buy things from 
them; you can be a part of growing. Even more important, it means you 
know that your children will likely never have to go there to fight and 
die in a war. And furthermore, you know that we'll be able to work 
together on the problems that do exist in the world, to contain them.
    Now, just in the last few years since I've been President, we have 
used NATO for those purposes. We've brought in two dozen other countries 
in a Partnership For Peace, and they work with us all over the world, 
training, working with our militaries together. We made a special 
agreement with Russia and with Ukraine. And together, we went into 
Bosnia and stopped the bloodiest war in Europe since the end of World 
War II, with no conflicts, no shooting, no deaths.
    So that's why this is important. Poland, Hungary, and the Czech 
Republic--three more partners that will make our alliance stronger. If 
we have to do something in the future, that's three more countries that 
will be contributing people, sharing our burden, and building a future 
of strong partnership based on trade and commerce and travel and 
visitation, not on conflict. It's a big deal.
    And I would like to thank the Senate Majority Leader, Trent 
Lott; the Senate Minority Leader, Tom 
Daschle; Senator Jesse Helms; Senator Joe Biden--all 
of them. This was an unusual coalition of people--[laughter]--who worked 
together to do something that a lot of people didn't think we could do. 
And it's going to make a better world for our children. Ten years from 
now, it will look like an even bigger vote than it does this morning. So 
I thank them.
    I'd also like, before I begin, to offer my condolences to the family 
of the police officer, David Chetcuti, who 
was killed in the line of duty last Saturday, and express my gratitude 
for the bravery he showed when he lost his life. And in that connection, 
I'd like to thank the police officers from the motorcycle crew from 
Santa Clara County, because they had to accompany me on this visit, and 
they're missing his memorial service that is going on this morning. So I 
thank them for doing that.
    Now, let me tell you why I came here: because, to me, you guys 
represent the future. You're good at what you do; you're changing all 
the time; you're committed to getting better; you're operating in a 
global economy; you have a good management-labor partnership; you have 
apprenticeships for new workers; you have training for veteran workers 
to make sure they learn new skills and master new technologies. You're 
proving that Silicon Valley's economic revolution does not just include 
computer programmers; it can include all the workers of America if we're 
all well-trained, highly competitive, and the best in the world at what 
we do.
    You're evidence of that. I thank you for it. I wanted America to see 
it. And mostly, I wanted to talk to you and your representatives behind 
me about how we can do this all over America, in every part of America, 
and set the processes in motion that will keep it going year-in and 
    You are a very important part of this wonderful economic renaissance 
going on in America now. Yesterday we saw that the economic strategy 
that we put in place over 5 years ago in Washington did, in fact, work 
to unleash the competitive capacities of America. We said we were going 
to reduce the deficit and balance the budget. We were going to invest in 
our people, in education, in technology, in scientific research, in 
environmental investment. And we were going to trade more with the rest 
of the world. We were going to open more avenues to trade our goods and 
    Yesterday we saw more evidence that it's working. The economy grew 
in the last quarter at over 4 percent. Unemployment was the lowest in 28 
years; inflation, the lowest in 30 years; consumer confidence, the 
highest in a generation. For 5 years in a row now, our country has been 
rated the most competitive economy in the world. You did that, you and 
people like you all over America, and you should be very, very proud of 
    Another reason I wanted to come here was because this company proves 
that even in Silicon Valley, opportunity to participate in that new 
economy embraces more than those who work

[[Page 655]]

directly with computers or in laboratories or in offices; and also 
shows, as this gentleman demonstrated, that computer technology has 
revolutionized every aspect of American labor and therefore that we all 
must become more familiar with it.
    I couldn't believe it--I told the folks that were going around with 
me that at one point during my long service as Governor of my State, I 
would go out about once a month and spend a shift working in different 
kinds of factories. And I was around a lot of sheet metal workers. I've 
seen a lot of welding in my life, and it was a long time ago now, a few 
years--that's light-years as fast as things are changing--but the 
machines I saw today and the level of the work I saw, it's just so 
breathtakingly different than just 10 years ago, it's almost 
unimaginable. You, of course, understand that better than I do. But for 
somebody like me who hasn't seen this work in a few years--I don't have 
as much time as I used to, to do these sort of things--[laughter]--it 
was quite shocking in a very positive way.
    And again, I say I think it's important that all of America see that 
these kinds of things are going on and that all American workers in all 
forms of endeavor have an important role to play in building our future.
    The other point I wanted to try to explore today is how we can 
really make sure that everybody has a chance to participate in it, 
because you know as well as I do that even though the unemployment rate 
is the lowest it's been in 28 years, there's still places in America 
where it's fairly high. And there's still workers in America who work at 
tasks where they're not improving their productivity; they're not 
learning new skills; they're not mastering new technologies; and they're 
not getting raises.
    And what we have to do now at this moment when the economy is 
working so well is to try to devise systems that will work for everybody 
who is willing to work for himself or herself. We have to try to make 
sure that the lessons that you live every day in this place are somehow 
learned where they don't exist.
    We're doing what we can in our administration to create the special 
economic incentives to go into inner-city areas and isolated rural areas 
where there hasn't been a lot of new investment. We're doing what we can 
to give people the ability to start their own businesses more easily in 
those places. But I think you know that unless we can guarantee a world-
class education to all our kids and a system of lifetime learning for 
all workers in America so that they can always continue to learn new 
skills, we will not be able to reach the people that presently have not 
yet fully participated in this recovery.
    You've done a great job on that, and I just wanted to be here. I've 
done my best to do two things that I think are important. One is to open 
the doors of college to all Americans of any age. With our HOPE 
scholarships now, we give virtually all Americans a $1,500 tax credit 
for the first 2 years of college and then credits for the second and 
third year, and for people who, like many of you, might want to go back 
and get further training, we've increased scholarships and made the loan 
program better. And there's also now an education IRA so that you save--
for example, for your children's education, you can put the money into 
an IRA and that money is not subject to tax when you put it in. And then 
the gain is not subject to tax when you take it out if you use it for 
your children's education, to try to help make it easier for people to 
save for education.
    The other thing we're trying to do is to create a training 
opportunity for people who work in companies that are not as 
sophisticated or advanced as yours, by passing what I've called--and 
I've been trying for 5 years to pass this--the ``GI bill'' for America's 
workers. We have literally dozens of Federal training programs. And if I 
gave you a sheet of paper and a pencil and I asked you to write down 
five of them, I bet you there's not a person in the room who could do 
it--probably including me. [Laughter] But there are dozens of them. And 
they were all created for some particular good purpose when the economy 
was more static than it is, before it started changing like it is now.
    What I've been trying to do for 5 years is to collapse all the 
programs, put it in a fund and just give everybody a certificate who's 
eligible for the training and let them take it to the local community 
college or wherever else, to let the people who need the training have 
the money and then choose the place where they want to get the training. 
I think most of you have enough sense to plot your own future, and most 
other adults do in this country, too. And it would be a lot better than 
having all these separate bureaucracies and programs there.

[[Page 656]]

    So we're working on that. The House has passed a good bill. The 
Senate has got a bill up--I think they're going to take it up today. And 
I hope that this vote last night on NATO is a good indicator of what 
might happen on the ``GI bill'' for America's workers. Because think 
what it would mean if every person in every workplace in America--every 
person in every workplace in America--if they lost a job or if they were 
grossly underemployed, could get a certificate which would basically 
empower them to get further education and training at any point during 
their life. It could revolutionize the lives of a lot of those folks 
we're talking about that have not yet fully participated in the 
recovery. And I hope we can get the support for it.
    The last thing I'd like to say is that if you all are going to keep 
producing more things in less time at higher quality, you've got to sell 
them someplace. And you have to sell them to companies that in turn sell 
their products. Everybody you sell something to has got to sell what 
they sell--produce to somebody else. Otherwise they can't buy your 
product. So it's very, very important that we have a growing American 
economy and a growing world economy.
    If we don't have a growing world economy, we're going to be in deep 
trouble. Why? Because we have 4 percent of the world's population, but 
we have 22 percent of the world's wealth. Now, you don't have to be a 
mathematical genius to know that if you've got 4 percent of the 
population and 22 percent of the wealth and 96 percent of the people are 
living someplace else, and for the next 20 years in the developing 
countries, they're projected to grow at 3 times the rate of the rich 
countries, somebody has got to sell something somewhere else than 
America in order to maintain our 22 percent share, in order to maintain 
the opportunities that we all want for our children.
    And that means that we have to help other people get wealthier, too. 
And you may have noticed, in Washington we're having a big argument now 
about whether we should pay our fair share to something called the 
International Monetary Fund, the IMF. What that fund does is to help 
countries who get in trouble stabilize their economy so they can start 
growing again--from our point of view, so they can start buying our 
products again.
    Now, we're out here in California--30 percent of our economic growth 
in the last 5 years has come from selling to other countries. Over 30 
percent of our exports go to Asia. You have been reading in the papers, 
I'm sure, that a lot of those Asian countries are in trouble. The IMF 
does not just go in and give people money; it says, if you've got a 
problem, you've got to clean up your act, organize your business 
properly, start running your economy efficiently, and if you'll do these 
things, then we'll help you get stabilized and start growing again.
    Those Asian countries are our trading partners. They're an important 
part of our future. And I think we ought to pay our fair share to the 
IMF. I don't care what other political business is going on in 
Washington--and there is a lot of other things that are going on here--
we should do whatever is necessary to keep this expansion going. And I 
hope that you will send that signal. And I want to thank you 
representative, Zoe Lofgren, for being strongly 
in favor of this position. But we've got to convince the Congress that 
America, if we want to lead the world economically, has at least got to 
pay our dues and put in our part of an institution that is going to help 
Asia come back so we can keep selling.
    I guess that's a long-winded way of saying the best way for us to 
succeed is for me to do my part and you to do yours. And I'm going to 
try to do that. But one of the things that we have to do is get the 
focus in Washington on basic things: How do we build a world-class 
education system; how do we support companies that are committed to 
changing technologies; how can we make sure workers can continue to get 
the education and training they need? That's what I hope to learn from 
you here today, and what I hope through your voices all America will 
hear on the news tonight and tomorrow morning.
    Thank you for the example you set for our country. Thank you very 

[At this point, the discussion proceeded, and it is joined in progress. 
Joe Parisi, founder and president, Therma, Inc., 
said that his company tried to be ahead of the curve and benefited from 
training schools established in partnership with employee unions.]

    The President. How do you determine--first of all, who pays for the 
    Mr. Parisi. The employers donate so many cents per hour toward a 
training fund.

[[Page 657]]

    The President. And are the training programs just for the employees 
of your company, or do they include people from other companies?
    Mr. Parisi. All of the people in the construction trades go to the 
training schools.
    The President. And is there a regular schedule for doing it, or does 
it depend on what new things you're doing at any given time?

[Mr. Parisi explained that most of the employees participate in a 5-year 
apprenticeship training program in order to become a journeyman and that 
60 percent of employees at the journeyman level continue their education 
in evening classes.]

    The President. And you started this company 31 years ago?
    Mr. Parisi. Yes.
    Nicki Parisi. Yes.
    The President. When Nicki was underage. [Laughter] Now, I didn't 
want to put this out on the record. How many employees did you have when 
you started?
    Mr. Parisi. Well, one or two. [Laughter]
    The President. And how many do you have here today?
    Mr. Parisi. You're looking at them--1,600, I think, give or take.
    The President. That's pretty good growth. That's impressive.
    LeRoy, do you want to talk about----

[LeRoy Ginn, project manager, Therma, Inc., 
discussed how the company gave its employees opportunity to prosper in 
their careers.]

    The President. Give us an idea of the different kinds of customers 
you have. Do you serve people in the computer business, people in the 
biotech business?

[Mr. Ginn said the company served every major computer manufacturer, as 
well as manufacturers of tools to make computer chips. Another 
participant noted that the short product life cycle in the technology 
industry encouraged Therma employees to be innovative in order to help 
their customers stay competitive. Another praised Mr. Parisi and his 
wife, Nicki, cofounder and chief executive 
officer, Therma, Inc., for promoting independent decisionmaking by field 

    The President. Good for you.

[The participant explained that the fast turnover of projects in the 
high-tech industry fostered utilization of the best talent. Patricia 
Glenn, customer service manager, Fix Air Co., 
said that time constraints mandated cooperation among companies in the 
industry. Other participants cited the willingness of employees to adapt 
and react quickly because of the level of trust placed in them.]

    The President. That may be the single, most significant revolution, 
even more important than all the technology, that's occurred in 
manufacturing in America over the last two decades or so. The companies 
that are doing really well are the companies that empower their workers 
and that learn from them as well as teach them, and where people are 
working together.
    I can go to any part of America and spend half an hour in a plant 
and immediately know, without anybody having to say anything, how people 
feel about that, because that's the most important thing that you see--
anyplace you go, whether the answer is a good one or not a good one, 
it's down deep inside the most important thing to the people that work 

[A participant commented that the lack of a formal hierarchy at Therma 
allowed for a friendly and cooperative work environment. Other 
participants concurred that the company's teamwork approach inspired 
both customer and employee loyalty over the long term.]

    The President. That's what you said, right?
    Participant. It's true. That's right. [Laughter]
    The President. You could go somewhere else.

[Participants described training and learning opportunities provided to 
employees to enhance their skills and improve their careers.]

    The President. You know, it's interesting, I have worked hard--with 
limited success, I might add, but more than I would like--more than I 
thought in the beginning we'd have--with the Vice President, to try to organize this kind of workplace in as 
many Government agencies as possible. And it's harder in some ways, 
because you're organized to make good things happen and to make good 
things happen in a hurry. A lot of people who go to work for the 
Government are terrified that something bad will happen, and it will be 
on them, and they'll read about it in the newspaper, and then they'll 
have to be a scapegoat for it.
    So what that tends to do is to create a kind of a--to reinforce the 
sort of bureaucratic mentality: Don't venture out, don't try, because if 
you make a mistake, it will be in the papers;

[[Page 658]]

all the taxpayers will be mad; you'll be the goat; you'll be out the 
door sort of thing. As a consequence, more mistakes are made.
    If you think about it, we've still got--we are really trying to 
create an environment in which we can respond more quickly to people's 
needs. We're having--just a little example--we're having millions of 
people this year are filing their income taxes by E-mail or telephone, 
in just a few minutes. And most people have a fairly simple form. There 
may be, I don't know, some percentage that will be harder to check, or 
whatever. But the point is, it's really worth doing because it's a 
hassle on the best of terms and to make it easier for people is a good 
thing to do.
    And the Social Security Administration, believe it or not, won an 
award, over L.L. Bean and a lot of other places, for the best telephone 
service of any major, big organization in America. [Laughter] But we 
really worked at it.
    But it requires getting people to not be afraid to try something 
new, and to let them know that, assuming they're not abusing the 
citizens or something, that if you're actually out there trying to do 
something new and you're taking a chance, if it doesn't work out, you're 
not going to be punished because you want people to feel that way.
    But it is really--it's an enormous challenge to try to create the 
flexibility and productivity you have in an organization like this, 
where you have clear common goals. I mean, it's not like there's no 
uniformity of objective--or uniformity of standards. But you still have 
some creativity in carrying it out. And you've kind of got my juices 
flowing to keep trying today.
    But every effort we've made in Government has been worth it. But I 
just--I want to urge all of you to support us in doing that, too, 
because it's like everything else. If you give people a lot of freedom 
and you ask them to try, once in a while you make a mistake, because 
nobody is perfect. And you have to create an environment in which your 
people are trying to do the right thing for the right reason and not 
being reckless in doing it--you support that.

[A participant agreed with the President, and Ms. Parisi asserted that 
if mistakes were not made, nothing was being attempted. She then quipped 
that she and her husband could make a lot of mistakes, but their 
employees covered them up.]

    The President. I could say something hilarious about that but I 
won't. [Laughter]
    Let me say again, though, I think--one of the places, interestingly 
enough, where we've had quite a bit of success is a place that you might 
not expect, is in the military, because we have very rigorous, uniform 
training characteristics. I was out here a couple of years ago, actually 
in the harbor at Oakland, having lunch on an aircraft carrier with some 
career Navy people. And I talked to an enlisted man who had done 19 
years in the Navy, and he'd quit and gone to work in the private sector 
for 2\1/2\ years, and he came back to the Navy because he said that as 
compared to the private sector job he had, he had much more 
responsibility and they trained him--they gave him at least one new 
skill every year. It was fascinating. And he said, ``Eventually I'll 
have to quit this, and I'll still be a young person,'' but he couldn't 
find another job in the private sector where someone was always teaching 
him something new and where he was being given more and more 
responsibility. And that's basically what I'm hearing from all of you.
    Participant. Hopefully.

[A participant discussed Mr. Parisi's devotion to the company's training 
center and stressed the importance of training in the high-tech 

    The President. You'd be amazed how little of this is done in some 
other parts of the country and some other sectors of the economy. And 
yet I'm convinced you would have pretty much the same pay-off 
everywhere, because what you go around here, you see that--I mean, sure, 
you're serving all these high-tech industries, but if this company were 
located out in the middle of the country somewhere where you had a 
totally different customer base, you would still be making more money if 
you were doing the same things you're doing here. Isn't that right? And 
you would still have that gentleman over there running your computer 
program for you and you'd still have all this--in other words, you'd be 
doing all this stuff that you're doing here, even if you had a different 
customer base.
    That's what we've got to get people to understand, that we need--
that you can't--education and technology dominate every form of 
production. And just the fact that your end users happen to be in 
Silicon Valley predominantly, or be in this kind of business, is almost 

[[Page 659]]

to what we should be doing in every workplace in America, I think.

[A participant said he had acquired skills he could take elsewhere if 
necessary, though he wanted to stay at Therma. Other participants agreed 
and discussed the level of cooperation within the company and with 
specialists in the industry, as well as the rate of growth of companies 
in high-tech fields, particularly the pharmaceutical-biotechnology 

    The President. For whatever it's worth, our people believe that that 
will continue for another 20 years because of the human genome project 
and all the mysteries we're unlocking. Just 2 years ago--year before 
last, we found these two genes that are predominate in causing breast 
cancer. We've seen splicing of nerves in laboratory animals that 
actually repair the spines of laboratory animals that have been broken, 
so that they can actually have lower body movement again, which offers 
the possibility, if we can work out the genetic sequencing in people, 
that people who are in wheelchairs because of spinal cord injuries may 
be able to walk again.
    All these things are happening, and the pace at which these genetic 
discoveries are being made is accelerating rather dramatically. So I 
think there will be more of it.

[A participant noted that Therma process engineers designed the process 
for a biotechnology firm to make its product.]

    The President. That's an amazing story. [Laughter]
    Participant. No, it happens all the time.
    The President. Just your typical sheet metal worker story. 
    But again, it shows the power of ideas. And if you think about it, 
work can be a lot more interesting now than it even could have been 50 
years ago, when it wasn't being powered by ideas and repetition was 
important in building the kind of traditional industrial society. Now 
work can be fun and good because the whole economy is being powered by 
ideas. And that means also that there is an unlimited, inexhaustible 
supply of future human endeavor, which is why I believe, for example, 
that the environmental movement, the movement to have--to deal with the 
problems of climate change and global warming, which we've seen a little 
bit--a taste of with El Nino this year, that that will not cost jobs, 
that will generate jobs, because we'll have to figure out how to do it 
and ideas will be brought to bear on it. All these little people that 
come up with all this stuff and then become fabulously wealthy are just 
idea machines.

[A participant agreed, noting that the ban on chlorofluorocarbons and 
certain other refrigerants caused problems in industry, but was also the 
catalyst for many cottage industries in alternative technologies.]

    The President. The CFC thing is a great example. When we took 
chlorofluorocarbons out of the atmosphere, it not only--it was projected 
to have a modest negative impact on our economy, and instead it had a 
noticeable positive impact. And I think that the important thing for the 
Government, for us, to do is to--when we make these rules is to make 
them in such a way that allows these kinds of processes to develop.
    Participant. Phase them in?
    The President. Yes. And to give a market solution a time to work. 
That's a big concern I had when we went to Japan last December to try to 
come up with some rules about how to deal with climate change. I am 
positive that--if you look at what puts carbon dioxide into the 
atmosphere today, about a third of it comes from vehicles; about a third 
of it comes from buildings, both residential and commercial; and about a 
third of it comes from power plants and factories. And we now know that 
there is available technology--just for example--you can buy windows now 
which let in 6 times as much light and let out only one tenth as much 
heat. They cost about 3 or 4 times as much, but if they have a 2-year 
payout, then after that, you're making money. And once you get the 
technology, once it all works out, then we will be doing these things 
that we ought to do for the environment because they also are good for 
the economy. You have to turn the problem into an idea machine.

[A participant described how the company's energy retrofit department 
helped companies run more energy-efficient buildings and operations by 
upgrading equipment and operating controls.]

    The President. Yes, what do you require? If you start something new 
like that, how quick does it have to pay out for you to think it's worth 

[[Page 660]]

[A participant replied that most customers wanted to see the payback in 
energy savings in 1 year, but that some were only interested in low 
construction costs, no matter how quick the payback.]

    The President. Well, we're trying to see if we can make a few 
changes in the Tax Code that will change that behavior, because in 
manufacturing processes there are like--there's not one big thing, as 
you know, there's dozens of little things that can be done, all of 
which, at least the ones that I've studied, have a 2-year or less 
payout, which dramatically cuts your energy bill. And then after that, 
you're making money eternally.
    And so we're trying--I have asked the Congress to adopt some minor 
changes in the Tax Code which won't cost a lot of money, but which would 
give significant incentives if you're right up against that decision--
you say, ``Well, can I wait a year, year and half to get this money 

[Participants said that such incentives would be a big stimulus to their 
industry, noting that decisions were too often based solely on bottom-
line profit and stock market success.]

    The President. They would have been better off waiting in the last 5 
years. Wait and wait and wait. [Laughter]
    Participant. It's a tough call.
    The President. You've got the biggest stake in this. [Laughter] I 
asked him if it was true he had nine children. My notes said he had nine 
children. He said it was true, and I said, congratulations. [Laughter] 
Well, I mean, it's true; you have a stake in this meeting. You have nine 
kids that will be able to do hundreds of different things that haven't 
even been invented yet by the time they're old enough to go into the 
    Johnny Gooch. That's true.
    Participant. What's the age span of them, Johnny?
    Mr. Gooch. Oh, God. [Laughter]
    The President. He's going to start bragging now. [Laughter]
    Mr. Gooch. From 23 to 17 months.
    The President. Do you have twins?
    Mr. Gooch. Yes. Most of you know who know me, I have 2 sets of 
twins, 8 years old and 17 months. Big span. [Laughter]
    The President. That's great.
    Participant. ----extended production. [Laughter]
    The President. Here's a man who wants to be taken care of in his old 
age. [Laughter]
    Participant. There won't be enough Social Security. [Laughter]
    The President. Oh, yes, there will. [Laughter]
    I will say, though, one of the things we're doing now is we're 
undertaking a process across the country to determine what we have to do 
to change and modernize both Social Security and Medicare to make sure 
it's there when the baby boomers retire.
    The generation of people who will turn--the oldest baby boomers--I'm 
one of them--the people that were born between '46 and '64, that group 
of people, are the largest group of Americans in a given generation in 
history, until last year when we got--last year there was finally a 
group of school children that were more numerous than the baby boomers. 
But that skips a whole generation and then some. So that when we're all 
in the retirement system, which is roughly 2029--that is when we're all 
65 or over, which is about 2029, we'll all be--all the baby boomers will 
be 65 or over--if we continue the projected work force participation 
rates and the projected retirement rates, there will be only two people 
working for every person who's drawing Social Security. And, so, we're 
going to have to make some fairly substantial adjustments to make sure 
that the benefits are there to provide at least the minimal support that 
Social Security provides today.
    About half of the seniors in America would be living below the 
poverty line if it weren't for Social Security, although almost all 
seniors have income over and above Social Security. Social Security 
itself is not enough for hardly anybody to maintain the standard of 
living they had before they retired, but if they didn't have it, they'd 
be in trouble--most people. So what our trick has got to be is to figure 
out how to keep what is good about it, but to make the adjustments 
necessary so that it's financially stable and so we can--and maybe have 
a little bit higher growth rate from our investments--so that we can 
deal with the coming population changes.
    Participant. The one thing nice about the unions is that they have a 
fabulous pension program. They retire real well.
    The President. Pension plan.

[[Page 661]]

    Participant. [Inaudible]--with the advancement of all of the medical 
advancements and lifestyle changes, that the retirement age of 65 is a 
little bit shy now, that we can extend that out.
    The President. Yes. We're raising it to 67.
    Participant. I think it should be even higher than that. I think 
people are productive way after that.
    The President. Well, one of the things that we're trying to do to 
deal with that--we've raised it to 67, and then we have made it 
possible--we've put incentives in the system for people who want to work 
to work longer.
    If you raised it to 70, for example, the real problem with that is 
that the--and, of course, you have early retirement at 62 and you take a 
discount. You'd change the discounted value. So the more you raise the 
retirement age, the less you get if you retire earlier. But the real 
problem with going--and we're looking at this, and as I said, we've 
tried to raise the incentives, for example, now, for people to keep 
working. Because if they keep working, they keep paying taxes and 
they're paying into the system even if they're also drawing some Social 
Security. And that really makes a huge difference in leveling up the 
    But if you go to 70, you could probably work here comfortably at 
70--here--but there's still a lot of people who work in jobs where it 
would be quite difficult for them to work that long. And so, if--you 
say, well, but you still have the early retirement option--that's true, 
but the early retirement option is worth considerably less, because you 
take the present value of the whole deal, because you move the full 
retirement out later than if you retired at 62, you get a little less.
    I agree that it has to be raised, and we are raising it to 67. We've 
tried to--and one of the things that--one of the variables that's being 
looked at is whether it should be raised more. Other people have 
suggested that we have, for younger workers, some portion of the payroll 
tax available for their own investment decisions on the theory that--
now, that looks like a wonderful idea now because the stock market has 
gone from 3200 to 9000 since I've been President, and there's no 
precedent for that in history.
    It's also true that over a 30-year period--any given 30-year period 
in the 20th century, stocks have always outperformed guaranteed 
Government investments. The problem is, if you had an individual 
account, it's not true in every month of every year. So what happens if 
you have to retire in a year when the thing is down for several hundred 
points and you don't get it out. If there's some way to sort of share 
the gains, if you will, across the years--that's one of the things we're 
looking at. Because, obviously, if we could generate a higher rate of 
return for the investment that you make in your payroll tax, it would 
make Social Security more attractive to younger workers.
    The other thing, don't forget, that Social Security does that other 
retirement systems don't, is it's also--it's a disability plan and it's 
a survivors insurance policy. So if you pay into Social Security here 
and something happens to you, then your surviving family at least get 
something to help them survive, and that can be quite important.
    But let me just say this--there is a huge amount of discussion about 
this out there now, and I think most Americans know we've got to make 
some changes. And I think most Americans will support us making some 
substantial changes, because there is no point in being dishonest about 
it, we can't sustain the present system as the baby boomers retire at 
the present rates of return.
    But there is also--it's important not to overlook how much good this 
program has done to stabilize--the poverty rate among seniors in America 
is now under 11 percent, and it is lower than that of the population as 
a whole. It has been for over 10 years now, for the first time in the 
whole history of America. And that's something that our country should 
be proud of. So we have to figure out how to save the best parts of it.
    But you ought to tell--if you have any ideas, specific ideas, or you 
want to even organize the folks in the company to put their ideas up, if 
you give them to Congresswoman Lofgren, I 
promise you they will be carefully reviewed by our group, because we're 
actually trying to go out in the country, tell people what the facts 
are, and figure out what the best resolution is.
    Participant. Mr. President, I think I see a signal here that we have 
to quit. [Laughter]
    The President. This is Clinton's Second Law of Politics. When you 
start to have a good time, you're supposed to be somewhere else. 

[[Page 662]]

    I've enjoyed this immensely. Thank you all very much. Thank you. I 
appreciate it.

Note: The President spoke at 12:35 p.m. in the Therma, Inc., warehouse. 
In his remarks, he referred to Dan Kirby, floor manager, and Johnny 
Gooch, sheet metal foreman, Therma, Inc.; Mayor Susan Hammer of San 
Jose; Amy Dean, business manager, and Steve Preminger, community 
services director, South Bay AFL-CIO Labor Council; Ray Lancaster, Jr., 
business representative, Plumbers, Steamfitters and Refrigeration 
Fitters Union Local 393; Mark Van Den Heuvel, business representative, 
Sheet Metal Workers Union Local 104; and David Chetcuti, a Millbrae, CA 
police officer who was shot and killed in the line of duty on April 25.