Note: The following are remarks prepared for the Congressional Black Caucus Commission on the Budget Deficit, Economic Crisis, and Wealth Creation.
Currently, there are over 14 million Americans who would like to work but cannot find work. This is the most important immediate problem facing the country. Although African-American workers only make up 12% of the American labor force, blacks make up 20% of the unemployed. Our ability to create jobs - sooner rather than later - matters a great deal for the well-being of millions of American families. Our failure to create jobs causes people to lose their homes, produces increases in family stress, and leads children to drop out of school.
A serious longer-term problem is the economic decline of the United States relative to other nations. In the 1950s and 1960s, the United States led the world on many important measures. Today, the United States has fallen behind. If we fail to invest in our people, in our infrastructure, and in research and development we will continue to fall behind. Even worse, we will stand by as we watch our country literally fall apart.
The good news is that we can go a long way to address these two problems - the immediate problem of a high rate of joblessness and the longer-term problem of America’s declining competitiveness - with one solution - smart investments now. The federal government needs to make investments rapidly in education, infrastructure, and research and development to make us more competitive globally. These investments if done quickly and substantially will create millions of jobs to address the current jobs crisis.
Falling Behind and Falling Apart
Below are just a few examples of how the United States is currently failing to make the necessary investments in education, infrastructure, and research and development.
Research and Development
Rising to the Sputnik Moment
If the United States wishes to remain a leader in the global economy we must make significant investments in education, infrastructure and research and development. If we make these investments now, the jobs created will help reduce the high levels of unemployment the country is currently facing.
Investments in Education
Disadvantaged children tend to begin school already behind their more advantaged peers, and these achievement gaps only widen through the children’s educational career. To increase America’s educational performance, we need to break these patterns.
We need to make the necessary investments:
Investments in Infrastructure
The infrastructure needed for the productivity, safety and health of the nation is falling apart. We need to make the necessary investments:
If we begin to make these investments now we will create a substantial number of jobs in construction, transportation, and technology, and we will be laying the foundation for U.S. competitiveness for the rest of the 21st century, just as similar investments helped to make the United States a dominant economic force in the 20th century.
The expansion and modernization of our public transportation systems are particularly important for our low-income population. These improvements to these systems will allow low-income workers greater access to jobs. Increased use of new and efficient public transportation has the additional benefits of reducing our dependency on fossil fuels and on foreign energy.
Investments in Research and Development
In the State of the Union address, President Obama stated, “In America, innovation doesn’t just change our lives. It is how we make our living.” Yet, the United States is falling behind in its investments in research and development. We need more investments in R&D to ensure that America continues its innovation leadership.
Can We Afford These Investments?
America cannot maintain its leadership position in the world without these investments. America will not continue to be a vibrant, healthy and safe society if our infrastructure continues to decay. Our roads will not stop deteriorating, our water mains will not stop breaking without the necessary investments. In the long-term, the economic growth that these investments will produce will make us a stronger and richer nation. We will have more and stronger businesses and a better and more prosperous workforce. Our history and the history of other nations show that strong economic growth can effectively reduce a country’s debt load. The greatest risk to the United States is economic decline. And we will decline if we fail to make smart investments.
There are many options for generating revenues to pay for these investments. A few of these options are to reduce defense spending, to tax capital gains and dividends as ordinary income, to repeal the Bush-era tax cuts for top earners, and to adopt a financial speculation tax. For additional options and details see Investing in America’s Economy by Rebecca Theiss and Andrew Fieldhouse of the Economic Policy Institute.
BlackCommentator.com Guest Commentator, Dr. Algernon Austin, PhD, is the Director of the Race, Ethnicity and the Economy Program at the Economic Policy Institute in Washington, D.C. Additionally, he is the author of Getting It Wrong: How Black Public Intellectuals Are Failing Black America and Achieving Blackness: Race, Black Nationalism, and Afrocentrism in the Twentieth Century, as well as scholarly articles in Ethnic and Racial Studies, Qualitative Sociology, the Journal of African American Studies, and Race, Gender and Class. He blogs at thorainstitute.blogspot.com and The Huffington Post. Click here to contact Dr. Austin.