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
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.
2008 UNICEF report ranked the United States 20th
out of 24 countries in providing early childhood education.
year olds in the United States ranked 17th
out of 65 countries in the 2009 Program for International
Student Assessment reading test. U.S. students were 23rd
in science and 31st in math.
College Board found that the United States ranked 12th
out of 36 countries in the college completion rates of
25- to 34-year olds in 2007.
American Society of Civil Engineers estimates that two-thirds
of U.S. roads are in poor or mediocre condition.
of U.S. bridges are “structurally deficient” or “functionally
of all transit assets are in poor or marginal condition.
day in the United States, there are about 700 water main
breaks, we lose 7 billion gallons of water from water
main leaks, and we put the public at risk from contaminated
analysis by the 21st Century School Fund finds that we
have neglected nearly $300 billion of required maintenance
in our public schools.
Research and Development
United States falls behind seven other countries—Israel,
Sweden, Finland, Japan, South Korea, Switzerland, and
Iceland—in terms of research and development spending
as a percent of GDP.
Economic Policy Institute found that the United States
ranked 15th out of 30 nations in broadband
penetration in 2007.
estimates that the total savings from revamping health
IT across the U.S. provider landscape could be as much
as $40 billion annually.
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
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
We need to make the necessary investments:
early childhood education so that all disadvantaged children
attend high quality pre-kindergarten.
increase the quality of teachers serving disadvantaged
children throughout their educational careers.
increase the number of teachers serving disadvantaged
students so that these students attend classes with a
low student-to-teacher ratio.
that our public colleges and universities do not have
to raise their costs out of the price range of low-income
students because of state deficits.
- If we begin to make these investments now we will create a
substantial number of jobs in the education field, push
the U.S. workforce back into a top position educationally,
and increase the economic growth and competitiveness of
Investments in Infrastructure
The infrastructure needed for the productivity, safety and
health of the nation is falling apart. We need to make the
repair, replace, and upgrade our deficient roads, bridges,
water systems, power grids, and sewers.
repair, replace, upgrade and expand our public
modernize our school infrastructure so that all our students
have access to 21st century technology and
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
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
Investments in Research and Development
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.
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.