By: Brian Krause
On January 6th, 1941, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt gave his historic eighth State of the Union address and inspired the American people with his famous Four Freedoms. The freedoms of speech and worship, with the right to live without fear and want, were spoken to be as inalienable as the rights laid out by Thomas Jefferson: life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Later depicted in the famous collection of Norman Rockwell paintings, these liberties remain strong moral guides for American leadership. FDR continued to use rousing patriotic imagery in his later 1944 State of the Union address, proposing a second edition of the Bill of Rights. In this speech, he acknowledged that America was built on the rights found in the Declaration of Independence and the Bill of Rights; yet, he argued that these rights did not go far enough in securing the freedom and liberty of all people.
“We have come to a clear realization of the fact, however, that true individual freedom cannot exist without economic security and independence. Necessitous men are not free men. People who are hungry, people who are out of a job are the stuff of which dictatorships are made.
In our day these economic truths have become accepted as self-evident. We have accepted, so to speak, a second Bill of Rights under which a new basis of security and prosperity can be established for all—regardless of station, or race or creed”
Numerous pieces of important legislation have been passed in the 75 years since the speech was given. Many of FDR’s “new goals of human happiness and well-being” have been addressed and talked about, and some have been partially fulfilled. Unfortunately, several of these rights and opportunities that he established as necessary for true equity and freedom have yet to be fully achieved.
The Right to Adequate Food, Clothing, and Recreation
With 40 million Americans currently struggling with hunger, the right to live without food insecurity has clearly not been achieved. Without the guarantee of a meal, the freedoms that every person ought to be able to enjoy are unattainable. The lack of the basic necessity of food significantly dampens the ability to be a fully engaged and productive citizen in our society. Two Obama era policies Feed the Future and the Global Food Security Act, have been important pieces of legislation towards reaching the goal of ending world hunger, as have several similar state proposals. However, in order for people to truly be free, the most basic human necessities must be provided by taking considerable federal action.
The Right to a Decent Home
Over 550,000 people are experiencing some form of homelessness in the United States. Thirty-four percent of those people find shelter in an uninhabitable space such as an abandoned building or the street. However, the vast majority of those people do live in some form of shelter or transitional housing, which makes them easily overlooked. The basic human right to a decent home extends farther than a minimal shelter. According to the United Nations Committee on Human Rights, a modern dwelling should meet the following requirements to be considered adequate housing:
Households must never be threatened by financial circumstances, nor should household payments compromise the attainment of other basic means (such as food).
Household dwellers must never face the fear of forced eviction.
Housing must provide shelter from basic weather threats.
Availability of Services:
Safe drinking water, heating, lighting, sanitation, and waste disposal all must be included in a structure for it to be considered a habitable home.
Housing must be accommodating to marginalized groups such as people with disabilities and victims of natural disasters.
Housing must allow easy access to not only employment opportunities, but also other basic social services such as education and health care.
Households must take into account cultural identity and ways of living.
If a person has to worry about a thing as basic as shelter, they cannot be truly free. We as a nation must address this issue head-on so that all people have the opportunity to achieve success and be equal members of our society. Without a comprehensive look at the causes of homelessness and the structures that allow such a thing to happen, the freedoms that are essential to our way of life are not guaranteed to all.
The Right to a Good Education
A free and public education is the backbone of our society and democracy itself. The ideals of a democratic nation are built on the premise that all people are created equal, and the best education systems are those that ensure that all 50.7 million children in the public school system have access to the same opportunities. In order for this to happen, all schools must be equipped with the funds and resources to provide the next generation with the tools to achieve higher literacy rates and greater math and science capabilities, as well as the tools necessary to become active community members and important societal contributors. Activities outside of the classroom are also vital in achieving human happiness and well-being. Full and comprehensive extra-curricular activities create well rounded and collaborative individuals, and studies have shown that participates of extra-curricular activities are less likely to skip class and are more likely to have a higher GPA. Ultimately, the provision of a free public education system will empower our society towards a mentally and physically healthy community.
The Right to Adequate Medical Care
The idea that all people need to have access to health care regardless of economic status is of the utmost importance. FDR’s call for everyone to be guaranteed “the opportunity to achieve and enjoy good health” is equally critical for achieving political and social equality and freedom. Those that have been able to afford even the most basic medical treatments have had these freedoms for decades, and implementing a broader and more universal health care system would ensure that generations of low income and middle-class families have the same access to vital medical treatment. As science and technology continue to expand and improve, it is even more necessary that all people have access to the best medical treatment available. By expanding access to medical treatment, preventative health standards would improve, disease control would be significantly more effective, free healthy fitness programs could improve community well-being, and the freedom from the stresses of worrisome medical bills would improve individuals’ mental health and workplace productivity.
The Right to a Useful and Remunerative Job
If granted to every citizen, this right would boost economies, ensure a stable economy for the future, and protect the freedom to enjoy, prosper in, and contribute to our society. In order to achieve this, securing the 3.7% of Americans that are unemployed a job is not enough. In addition to providing the worker with enough income to thrive and prosper, a job must be equally beneficial to the economy, society, and the worker. A job must include the following: a dignified workplace environment, an opportunity to advance, and protections against physical and mental strain. Every piece of these requirements must be met in order for a job to be considered decent. All of these things in combination makes our societal workforce more efficient and our nation a more equitable place to live.
The right to vital aspects of modern life including food, clothing, a home, education, and medical care were all spoken as resolute goals for the years to come. In addition, FDR laid out several more rights to ensure that citizens have economic protections from an individualist economy and a commitment to a more prosperous future. Since the speech was given, many promises that were proposed have made great progress, including the right to own a small business (protected by anti-monopoly guidelines), the right to a decent retirement (social security), and protections against losing a job (unemployment insurance). However, there are still many more promises that the government must uphold. Food security, adequate housing, a good education, medical care, and a job guarantee are the freedoms and securities that FDR laid out for America to achieve for its people. All of these rights, both economic and human, are essential to the creation of a better society.
“Each and every one of us has a solemn obligation to serve this Nation in its most critical hour—to keep this Nation great — to make this Nation greater in a better world” -Franklin Delano Roosevelt