[Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: William J. Clinton (1993, Book I)]
[April 2, 1993]
[Pages 386-387]
[From the U.S. Government Publishing Office www.gpo.gov]

Remarks Concluding the First Roundtable Discussion of the Forest 
Conference in Portland
April 2, 1993

    I'm going to refrain until the afternoon session from getting into 
the specifics of what we ought to do. But I'd like to say something to 
the people who were on this panel that talked

[[Page 387]]

about the human impact of the present conditions.
    Mr. Espy and I are neighbors, and we share a border of the 
Mississippi River. For almost all the history of this country our two 
States were the poorest States in America. When agriculture collapsed 
there in and after the Great Depression, the people who loved my State 
more than life were forced to leave in huge numbers. As a matter of 
fact, it's the only way I got elected President. Every third voter in 
Illinois and Michigan and in the inland empire in California was from 
Arkansas. [Laughter] But it bespoke a terrible inability to manage a 
process of change so that people could stay with their roots and their 
culture and their lives.
    Then we got everything going again. And then when he and I came of 
age in the early eighties and began to assume positions of 
responsibility, we had another horrible structural collapse in the rural 
areas and the small towns along the Mississippi River because 
agriculture and the labor-intensive, low-scale, low-wage industries both 
collapsed at the same time. And our little towns were turned into ghost 
towns. We had whole counties, county after county after county, with 20, 
25 percent unemployment.
    What we found was when we talk about managing the process of change, 
it was like a lot of what Nadine and others have said. Mike, you showed 
us those pictures. You had people who knew they had to change or they 
ought to change, but they had a relatively low skill level. They had 
limits on what kind of opportunities you could immediately put in the 
small towns, what the Mayor talked about, and they had a horrendous 
aversion to moving because their life was more than their livelihood. 
And then it all became complicated by the incredible pressures on family 
life, which led more and more families to disintegrate under the burden. 
And Mike and I literally began our careers dealing with the broken 
pieces of people's lives against that background.
    I say that only to make this point: I cannot repeal the laws of 
change. In every State in every area of this country the average 18-
year-old will change the nature of work seven or eight times in a 
lifetime now, in a global economy. People who take jobs as bank tellers, 
for example, even if they keep working for the banks, 10 years after 
they started what they do will be different because of technology and 
because of the changes in the economy.
    But what we have to find a way to do is to try to make it possible 
for more people to be faithful to their cultural roots and their way of 
life and to work through this process in a human way. And if you look at 
it, there's a lot of analogy here to all these defense workers that are 
on the food lines in southern California now. I mean, they did what they 
thought they were supposed to do. They won the cold war, and then we 
just cut back on defense spending. There they were in the street; nobody 
had even a theory about how they might go through the kind of process 
Larry described and be given the opportunity to reclaim their own 
    I don't pretend that any of this is easy, but I want you to know 
that at least some of us have a feel for what this must be like in those 
little towns. And we'll do what we can.
    Thank you very much.

Note: The President spoke at 12:57 p.m. at the Oregon Convention Center. 
In his remarks, he referred to Secretary of Agriculture Mike Espy and 
timber business owner Nadine Bailey.