Stop Blocking Infrastructure Jobs!

Dave Johnson

Whatever the March unemployment numbers are today, they are far, far from robust enough to employ everyone who needs work any time soon. (Please, surprise me!)

There is something that can be done to really improve things. This something also gives Republicans a chance to show they aren’t just sabotaging the economy to improve their own election prospects. Let’s see if they go along.

When the Labor Department releases its jobs report later this morning, it is expected to show a couple hundred thousand new jobs were created. That’s good — and vastly, vastly better than where things were when President Obama took office. But even these job-creation numbers are still far from enough to put all of the people who lost their jobs as a result of the financial-deregulation crash back to work any time soon. To do that, we need to be creating jobs at a rate of close to 400,000 a month for the next 36 months to get the unemployment rate down to 5 percent by then.

Republicans Intentionally Sabotaging The Economy?

Republicans have been blocking efforts to use government to get the economy creating jobs, as well as efforts to assist the unemployed — itself an economy-boosting, job-creating measure. They have also been forcing large numbers of layoffs of local, state and federal government workers, saying they don’t think government creates real jobs. On top of that, they have been blocking new stimulus efforts as wasteful government spending. They have been blocking job-creating high-speed rail projects. Recently they have been trying to block the Export-Import Bank that helps businesses sell products overseas.

They have been blocking everything that might help improve the economy, claiming that only tax cuts for millionaire “job creators” can do the trick (even though that’s what ‘W’ did, with no resulting growth at all.)

Republicans say they are blocking all of these job-creating and economy-improving efforts because they honestly believe that these things shouldn’t be the role of government, that government “takes money out of the economy. That’s what they say, in spite of all the historical evidence to the contrary. But some people suspect Republicans have been blocking all these efforts for a different reason: because a bad economy might improve their own election prospects, as less-informed people blame “the people in charge” — Obama and his party — and the corporate media fails to inform people that “the people in charge” are being obstructed and filibustered.

Opportunity For Republicans To Demonstrate Good Faith

Here is an opportunity for Republicans to demonstrate that they are not just sabotaging the economy in a cynical political manipulation. Republicans can vote to invest in maintaining and modernizing the country’s infrastructure.

Everyone agrees, whether they are Republicans or Democrats, that maintaining and modernizing our country’s infrastructure is a proper and essential role for government. Everyone agrees, whether they are Republicans or Democrats, that investing in improving the infrastructure helps businesses and the economy.

Infrastructure

Even the most conservative, anti-government Republicans recognize that an economy depends on its infrastructure. They understand that businesses need good roads, airports, a good energy delivery system and other infrastructure components if they are going to thrive and compete in the world’s markets.

Currently our infrastructure is in disrepair, following decades of tax-cut-induced neglect. Other countries are investing massively in modern infrastructure. Our country will be trying to compete with those modernized economies, with our outdated electrical grid, rail system, etc.

The American Society of Civil Engineers earlier this month estimated that the nation needs to spend $1.7 trillion over the next nine years just on its surface transportation network alone—almost double what is currently on the books. Being cheap on this front is costing us plenty: $130 billion in 2010, according to the ASCE, “including approximately $97 billion in vehicle operating costs, $32 billion in delays in travel time, $1.2 billion in safety costs, and $590 million in environmental costs.”

In addition, investing in infrastructure costs less than the cost of high levels of unemployment: the lower tax revenues, loss of business activity, and all of the forms of government spending resulting from slow growth and increased joblessness.

Here are a few infrastructure facts:

  • The American Society of Civil Engineers has graded our infrastructure ‘D,’ estimating that $2.122 trillion must be spent just to bring it up to “satisfactory” condition. [American Society of Civil Engineers]
  • More than 25% of bridges in the United States need significant repairs and/or are handling more traffic than they were designed to carry. [Christian Science Monitor and U.S. Department of Transportation]
  • Nearly a third of all highway fatalities are related to substandard road conditions, obsolete road designs, or roadside hazards. [New America Foundation]
  • A significant water line bursts every two minutes in the United States. [The New York Times]
  • One in three schools are in bad enough condition “to interfere with the delivery of instruction.” [U.S. Department of Education]
  • In 2010, deficiencies in America’s roads, bridges, and transit systems cost American households and businesses more than $129 billion. [ASCE]
  • By 2020 the nation’s deteriorating surface transportation infrastructure will cost the American economy more than 870,000 jobs and suppress the growth of the country’s Gross Domestic Product by $3.1 trillion.” [ASCE ]
  • The quality of U.S. infrastructure is falling behind competitors like Brazil, China and India. [Urban Land Institute ]
  • If infrastructure needs are not addressed, within 10 years U.S. businesses will pay an added $430 billion in transportation costs, household incomes will fall by more than $7,000, and U.S. exports will fall by $28 billion. [ASCE]

At the same time as all of this work needs doing, we have millions of people who need work to do. On top of that government is abke to finance projects at a near-zero rate of interest! Yet efforts to maintain and modernize our infrastructure are blocked, and blocked, and obstructed.

Infrastructure Construction Would Knock 1% Off Unemployment Rate

The President said yesterday that unemployment could be lowered by 3% immediately by restoring state and local government hiring, plus spending on maintaining and modernizing our infrastructure, with each accounting for 1%. Republicans do not agree that we should restore state and local government hiring, but Democrats and Republicans both agree that infrastructure is a proper role of government.

So we could knock 1% off of unemployment right now if Republicans would agree to invest in infrastructure projects, thereby putting millions to work, and making our economy that much more efficient and competitive.

CNN Money reports in “Obama: How we could get to 6% unemployment rate,”

“The construction industry and state and local governments are among the biggest drags on the nation’s economic recovery, President Obama said … If these areas were to have a similar rebound now, each one would take a point off of the nation’s 8.3 unemployment rate … Now is an especially good time to revamp the nation’s infrastructure, which would boost job growth, Obama said. Interest rates are historically low, construction workers are dying to get back on the job, and contractors are competing for projects, coming in on time and under budget.

Opportunity For Improvement? Or Agenda To Sabotage?

So three key ingredients for immediate economic improvement are in place:

  • Work that really, really needs doing.
  • People that really, really need work.
  • Financing these projects at best terms in history.

    If there ever was a role for government, even in the conservative worldview, it is maintaining and modernizing our country’s infrastructure. There has never been a time when people are more available to do the work, and when money is cheaper for financing the work.

    There is a formula for economic improvement that even the most conservative Republicans would agree is an opportunity — unless… unless their real agenda is not to improve the economy, but instead to sabotage the economy.

    Improve Or Sabotage Economy? Time To Demonstrate Intent

    If Republicans are honestly pursuing a conservative vision when they block government hiring and stimulus and other efforts to revive the economy, they will at least agree that we need to do massive infrastructure maintenance and modernization projects. But if they are just out to sabotage the economy and jobs for the purpose of improving election chances, they won’t.

    This is the opportunity for the public to find out which it is.

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