- - Tuesday, February 17, 2015

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Our infrastructure is collapsing, and Americans know it. They see it every day in the potholes they drive over, the bridges in their communities that have been shut down and the water pipes that burst.

The sad truth is that the American Society of Civil Engineers gives the United States of America an overall grade of D-plus on the condition of our infrastructure. That doesn’t just mean roads and bridges. It also means airports, dams, drinking water, electrical grids, hazardous waste, inland waterways, levees, mass transit, ports, public parks, rail lines, schools, and solid waste and wastewater management. Only one of the 16 categories evaluated earned as high as a B-minus (solid waste), and just four others finished in the C range (bridges, ports, public parks and rail).

It’s shameful that we’ve allowed this to happen. We are not a developing nation, dependent on foreign aid to survive. We are the richest nation in the history of the world. We were the birthplace of Yankee ingenuity in the 19th century, the arsenal of democracy in World War II, and the undisputed economic powerhouse of the last century. Once, our infrastructure was the envy of the world. Today, we’re judged to be in 12th place internationally. While bridges are collapsing around us, we’re spending only half as much as Europe on infrastructure and just over a quarter as much as the Chinese.

Is this the best our country can do? No. We can and we must do better. That’s why we need to invest at least $1 trillion over five years to rebuild America. This will not only make us safer, more productive and more efficient, but it will generate income and create jobs — lots of jobs. The estimate is that this $1 trillion investment will create and maintain 13 million jobs — which is exactly what our economy needs. We have ignored our infrastructure crisis for too long. The time to act is now.

The longer we wait, the worse it will get. Roads and bridges don’t fix themselves, and it is already costing us dearly in terms of travel delays, floods, broken water mains and brownouts (not to mention catastrophes like collapsing bridges). The American Society of Civil Engineers estimates that if we fail to make these improvements, by 2020 we will have lost $3.1 trillion in gross domestic product, along with 3.5 million jobs. We can’t afford to keep lagging behind our competitors around the world. We need to start repairing bridges, improving electrical grids, rebuilding levees and securing our drinking water supplies as soon as possible. We can do better and we must.

While unemployment has been falling, it is still much too high. In fact, as of December 2014, a shocking 17 million Americans were either without jobs, only marginally attached to the labor force, settling for part-time work when they wanted full-time jobs, or had become so discouraged by their prospects that they had left the workforce entirely. The economists are clear in telling us that the fastest way to create good-paying jobs is to rebuild our infrastructure. Let’s do it.

We are a great nation, but we cannot be a world leader when the physical infrastructure of our country is rotting and we are falling further and further behind other countries. We cannot be a world leader when real unemployment is more than 11 percent and millions of our people are unable to find decent-paying jobs. If we are serious about the future of our country and the needs of our middle class, it is imperative that we invest in infrastructure and rebuild America.

There’s a reason that investing in our infrastructure has traditionally enjoyed bipartisan support in Congress. It’s a good idea. It creates jobs, income, profits and tax revenues. It lays a foundation for the efficient operation of our economy in the future. It would give us a necessary boost in the wake of the worst economic disaster since the Great Depression. It returns us to where we should be internationally, in the front and not behind. This funding should receive the highest priority.

It’s high time we stopped bailing out Wall Street and started repairing Main Street.

Bernie Sanders is an Independent member of the U.S. Senate from Vermont.


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