On Tuesday, members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus released a grand proposal to help rebuild America and its embattled middle class—and it couldn’t come at a better time.
As Republicans continue to recycle their failed economic policies of the last decade—tax cuts for the wealthy and lax rules for rogue industries—The RESTORE the American Dream Act provides a serious alternative to getting our future back on track. The legislation outlines both short- and longer-term strategies for rebooting our nation’s progress, and it achieves robust deficit reduction over the next 10 years. It’s a walk-and-chew-gum-at-the-same-time approach to putting our nation back to work and getting our fiscal house in order.
Most immediately, the bill would create 5 million jobs over the next two years through direct hiring to repair our nation’s antiquated system of roads, bridges and schools. Specifically, 2.2 million people would secure jobs in basic infrastructure repair and another 650,000 eager job seekers would go to work in construction and maintenance jobs to make long overdue improvements in public schools across the country.
But this bill isn’t just about the here and now—it establishes the creation of a new Civilian Conservation Corps and a National Infrastructure Bank to leverage investments from the private sector, reigniting the rich history of public-private partnerships that has fueled our nation’s growth and security.
This component of the plan is a win-win: it delivers short-term economic recovery while leaving behind basic building blocks for long-term economic success. America can’t compete globally with a system designed and built for the mid-20th century.
And while it may not be fashionable inside the beltway to talk seriously about assisting the unemployed and their families, public job creation at this point is pretty much the only way we can ensure the millions of long-term unemployed workers can get back in the economy. And that’s no small group: no less than 43 percent of all unemployed Americans have been out of work for more than 6 months. These workers are caught in a vicious cycle: employers don’t want to hire the unemployed—and are even explicitly telling them not to apply.
The RESTORE the American Dream Act would also provide targeted resources for America’s youth, who, according to our recently released report “The State of Young America,” are employed at the lowest rate since 1980. The Act would provide several hundred thousand jobs in the park service—upgrading and maintaining our playgrounds, ball fields and picnic areas that comprise the common space that millions of families seek for relaxation and leisure.
And the Act will create a Student Jobs Corps to fund 250,000 part-time work-study jobs for eligible college students. These jobs will help college students—who are working more hours than ever before and racking up student debt—deal with rising tuition costs and the dwindling purchasing power of federal grant aid. Since 1980, the maximum Pell Grant went from covering $7 out every $10 of the costs of attending college to cover just $3 out of every $10 today.
The last major piece of the Act would provide a down payment on our nation’s need to develop green technologies by providing the resources for skilled manufacturing workers to get the training they need to fill jobs in emerging industries such as clean energy and biotechnology. In 2009, China invested $35 billion in clean energy--close to double the $19 billion invested by the United States. This piece of the Act would offer the beginnings of the type of retraining utilized in other advanced economics, especially Germany, that are essential to ensuring a competitive economy with low unemployment and top-rate skilled workers.
Of course, the bill is likely DOA—at least in Congress. But it’s exactly the type of federal response Americans have said consistently they think is needed, and precisely the kind of action needed to pull our nation out of this deep, prolonged slump. The RESTORE the American Dream Act is a response suited to the scale and depth of this crisis. Although there’s no good reason for us to pay for it in full today—given low interest rates and the solid return this investment will provide in economic growth—the Caucus provides full funding through changes in the tax rate for millionaires and with a tax that would help curb Wall Street’s destructive casino habit.
While the American Dream remains on life support, too many in Congress are promoting tired and disastrous policies that poisoned our economy in the first place. This Progressive Caucus bill shows how to get back on the road to a strong, healthy economy.