Taking On the Domestic Economy
Kennedy turned his focus to matters he felt he could control. The economy had gone into a recession in the last year, and Kennedy was hard pressed to figure out a solution. A tax cut, public works programs, and lowering the interest rates were ineffective solutions, according to Kennedy. Instead, he focused on getting control over what the federal government could do to improve the economy. The plan, which he proposed to Congress on February 2, included dispersing tax refunds and farm subsidies more quickly, building highways, and getting urban renewal programs underway.
In his first month as president, Kennedy appointed Robert C. Weaver as the administrator of the Home Finance Agency. Southern Democrats grumbled about the appointment of an African American to such a high position, but they approved it. However, Congress blocked Kennedy's attempts to create a Department of Urban Affairs in 1961 and 1962, partially because some legislators feared Kennedy would elevate Weaver to a cabinet-level position.
Initially, the economy remained stagnant, but it began to improve steadily with the assistance of Congress's enactment of the Area Redevelopment Act, which promised to assist ten states with high unemployment rates. In addition, the minimum wage was raised to $1.25 and Social Security benefits were increased. By April, the public felt that the economy was on its way toward renewal. Fifty-eight percent of Americans polled were optimistic about the economy, compared with a meager 34 percent a month earlier. It was good news for Kennedy, who enjoyed a 72 percent approval rating.