President Trump on Tuesday night is expected to make what he told a meeting of governors on Monday would be "a big statement" on infrastructure spending. Democrats who have been fighting Trump fiercely on virtually every other issue have been eagerly awaiting an infrastructure plan from Trump they can sign on to, because they hear in Trump's rhetoric their own calls to put people to work fixing the nation's decaying roads, bridges and other public assets.
But a report just released by the People's Action Institute warns that if the goals are good jobs, boosting communities left behind by the anemic economic growth of the last seven years and slowing climate change, Democrats need to be wary of the fine print of any infrastructure plan coming out of the Trump administration. As in virtually every other policy area, what Trump and the Republican party is offering on infrastructure calls for resistance, not accommodation.
The new report, "Prosperity, Not Poverty," is part of The Job Gap Economic Prosperity Series that has been produced since 1999 by the Alliance for a Just Society, which became part of People's Action last year. This report underscores the urgent need for living-wage jobs, defined in the report as jobs that pay a national average of $17.28 per hour. That's the wage the report says a single adult needs to earn in order to meet basic needs without public assistance, with enough left over to save for an emergency.
There are seven job seekers for every job opening that pays at least that wage, according to the report. "This leaves six out of seven job seekers unable to secure employment that allows a single adult to make ends meet, much less support a family," the report emphasizes.
That brings home the reason why in spite of more than seven years of continuous job growth, so many people resonate with Trump's labeling of the economy a "disaster." It is well-known that most of the job growth in the past decade has been in low-wage jobs. What hasn't been fully appreciated is the gap between the wages paid by these jobs and what families actually need in order to make ends meet.
The report also underscores how this shortage of living-wage jobs disproportionately affects communities of color, women, and LGBTQI people. These communities are already on the wrong end of a wide racial wealth gap between themselves and white households, thanks to structural racism and other forms of discrimination.
At the same time, "these communities are the hardest hit by dilapidated local and national infrastructure that makes water toxic, roads impassable, and access to digital information unreliable," the report says. "While a national infrastructure spending plan could be the key to beginning to solve both problems, it could just as easily exacerbate both if done poorly."
A good infrastructure plan, the report says, "should not perpetuate structural inequities and it must not lead to the privatization of public goods. It should move us away from dependence on the fossil fuels that are worsening climate change. Finally, how we choose to pay for infrastructure matters as much as the plan itself."
In other words, the infrastructure plan should be targeted to provide the most benefits to communities that have been left behind by the economic recovery and people who because of structural inequities have not been able to accumulate wealth. Privatization, the report says, is a wrong idea not only because it shifts priorities to what would most benefit Wall Street investors instead of the public, but it is usually implemented to drive down wages, not raise them.
The report also calls for investments that move the economy away from dependence on fossil fuels. This is because not only does fossil-fuel-induced climate change threaten the planet, but a green economy based on renewable and sustainable energy sources would actually produce more jobs, according to prominent economists like Robert Pollin. Also, shifting more transportation infrastructure investments into areas such as public transportation would lower carbon emissions and connect more unemployed and low-income workers to higher-paying jobs.
This is not the Trump infrastructure plan. The McClatchy news service reported Monday that Trump administration officials and congressional Republicans "were telling governors to expect little new federal investment in roads, bridges, transit systems, dam repairs and other water works.
"Instead, the administration and congressional leaders plan to take a more incremental approach of spurring public-private partnerships – such as toll roads – by loosening environmental reviews, removing other red tape and possibly approving new tax credits. While some governors say private projects will provide little help in repairing their aging infrastructure, others say they will be forced to embrace the fiscal reality."
“Communities across the country are hungry for good jobs, clean water and systems that work. We’ll be watching closely to see if President Trump’s plan delivers or if it’s just another corporate giveaway.” said Liz Ryan Murray, policy director for People’s Action Institute.
As it stands now, what the Trump administration and the Republican Congress are gearing up to deliver is more tax breaks for the wealthy, more "Lexus lanes" on our highways, more carbon emissions, more environmental degradation. If that's the bargain, Congress should flatly reject it.