National Urban League president Vernon E. Jordan warned Department of Health, Education and Welfare employes yesterday that a "New Negativism" has seized American voters, and that it could be particularly damaging to their department and its programs.
He cited as the leading example California's celebrated tax-reducing Proposition 13, which he said won favor with the voters earlier this year because of a mix of racism, greed and "frustration . . . over inroads of inflation." But there are other examples as well, he said, and mentioned resistance to affirmative action, acceptance of high unemployment and neglect of cities' problems.
Speaking to an audience of some 700 HEW workers, Jordan warned that the quality of their performance is central to the Carter administration's desire for "political success and history's blessings."
Unless government programs are made more effective and humane, public support for them will decline, he said, admonishing the workers, "Your work is with people, not with paper."
Jordan was the seventh in HEW's Fleming-Cohen distinguished speaker series, an innovation of Secretary Joseph A. Califano's to give department workers "insight and intellectual stimulation."
Jordan criticized the Carter administration for lack of commitment to passage of programs for the poor and minority group members citing actions on national health insurance and welfare revision as examples.
The largely female and predominantly black audience, admitted by ticket to the lecture, applauded when Jordan charged that HEW has been insensitive to the special needs and historical importance of black colleges, a criticism that heads of several institutions made to President Carter last month.
The administration "knows it was elected through the votes of black and low and moderate-income people," Jordan said, and it wants to leave a record of facilitating progress for those groups. HEW, as the only department with a constituency of the poor and dispossessed, is key to Carter's desire to make such a mark, he said.
After his half-hour speech, Jordan was questioned from the audience on the Bakke decision, the Hatch Act, absence of upward mobility for minorities in HEW and abortion, among other subjects. He side-stepped most of the internal issues, directing them to Califano.
Califano, who introduced Jordan as a leader of economic opportunity over the past decade, presented him a plaque recognizing his "unflagging efforts" for the poor and disadvantaged.