11. 12 The Economy in the 60s
Though the nation saw a relatively low percentage
of economic growth rate at the end of Eisenhower’s tenure and the
beginning of Kennedy’s administration; the industry was making giant
strides in terms of productivity and in the development of new products.
Several industries were increasing productivity through automation.
With computers, both businesses and government were able to work
with greater speed and efficiency. Due to the application of computers
in industry, a whole series of machines could be operated and co-ordinated
from a single control panel. Thus, one operator in front of a screen
and a push-button panel could operate huge machines producing an
enormous strip of steel.
While automation increased productivity, it was
bringing about drastic changes in the work force. This is because,
with automation, more white-collar workers and technicians were
now required, while fewer unskilled and semi-skilled workers were
getting jobs. In 1961, employers were hiring 65 per cent more professionals
and technical workers than perhaps in the 1950s. In an automated
industry like that of automobiles, the number of workers on the
production line fell by 10 percent since 1947 and in the textiles
the drop was 35 percent.
The rise in unemployment or the fall in demand
for workers in industries like automobiles, textiles and bituminous
coal was creating a serious crisis at a time of boom in production
and recession in the market. The Kennedy government tried to bring
new industries in the areas of high unemployment through the Area
Redevelopment Act and to retain unemployed workers for other
jobs through the ManPower Training Bill. The process was
rather difficult and in 1962, when the economy had recovered from
recession, about 6 per cent of the American work force was still
unemployed. This was at a time when the total number of unemployed
was much larger than ever before in American history; and the weekly
wage levels had touched a new height of over $100.00.
At the same time the population of the country
had grown rapidly. The wartime prosperity and an increase in birth
rate made the population cross the 180,000,000 mark.
Simultaneously, the middle class family incomes
also rose sharply. Though there was a "hard core of poverty"
the average middle class person’s annual income was around $4600.
In other words: 96 out of 100 Americans (in 1960) families had refrigerators;
four out of 5 had television sets; 3 out of 5 had at least one car;
3 out of 5 had their own houses and one out of 10 had air conditioning
in their homes.