Remedies for years of neglect, by Marc H. Morial
10/14/2021, 6 p.m.
Filibuster. Cloture. Reconciliation. The chatter surrounding President Biden’s landmark infrastructure investment and Build Back Better agenda seems endlessly focused on the legislative process, on political maneuvering, on faceless numbers taken out of context.
What we’re not hearing enough about:
Parents desperately searching for child care only to encounter yearlong waiting lists and abrupt shut-downs due to understaffing. Schoolchildren forced to do their homework in parking lots because they have no internet access at home, and their school buildings are closed because they have no heat. Senior citizens who rely on Medicare skipping life-sustaining medications because they can’t afford their prescriptions. The mil- lions of homes and businesses stranded without electricity because storms knocked out an inadequate and shoddily maintained power grid.
Decades of neglect and failure to invest in America’s physical infrastructure and public institutions — a trend that accelerated when Tea Party members of Congress forced drastic cuts to the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, and intensified during the Trump era—have left us with dilapidated schools and crumbling bridges. Childhood asthma linked to poor air qual- ity causes 13.8 million missed days of school annually. A water main breaks every two minutes, losing enough treated water each day to fill more than 9,000 swimming pools. We’re the only developed country in the world that doesn’t mandate paid family leave, and our failure to invest in child care costs us $57 billion a year.
Black Americans have borne the brunt of this neglect. Income inequality grew at a faster rate during the Trump era than during any of the last five administrations. The typical Black family holds about $12.50 in wealth for every $100 held by the typical white family. The Black unemployment rate remains nearly twice the rate for white people, and Black women are the least recovered from pandemic job losses.
The infrastructure investment and Build Back Better agenda, which largely incorporate the National Urban League’s Main Street Marshall Plan, represent a historic opportunity to transform our economy while enhancing racial equity.
There are 5 million fewer Americans working than in February 2020, and 2.7 million people have been out of work for six months or more, even as employers struggle to fill a record number of job openings. Taken together, the infrastructure and budget reconciliation packages could
create 2 million jobs by mid- decade, according to Moody’s Analytics. During the course of the 10-year budgeting window, the combined legislation would provide fiscal support for more than 4 million jobs per year, according to the Economic Policy Institute.
In fact, Moody’s found that the educational provisions of the legislation—universal pre-K, two years of free community college, expanded Pell Grants and other education benefits—would boost the economy beyond the 10-year budget window “given greater educational attainment and higher labor force participation.”
The post-World War II Main Street Marshall Plan spurred the fastest period of growth in European history. Industrial and agricultural production skyrocketed. The poverty and starvation of the immediate postwar years disappeared, and Western Europe embarked upon an unprecedented two decades of growth that saw standards of living increase dramatically. We have not only the opportunity but the moral obligation to replicate that success in the 21st century United States.
So when you hear politicians and talking heads opining about Senate and House procedures and legislative vehicles, know what’s really at stake: The future of you, your family, our community and the nation. It’s time to Build Back Better.
The writer is president and chief executive officer of the National Urban League.