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Bob Moon: These days the first thing “dire straits” brings to mind isn’t the name of a band from the 1980s. There is no money for nothing. President-elect Obama has brought the phrase back to its more literal meaning this week. He’s used it time and again to describe the state of the nation’s economy. And he used it again today in reaction to the latest grim unemployment news from the government.
The Labor Department counted more than half a million workers slashed from payrolls last month.
That pushed the unemployment rate to 7.2 percent. It was bad enough at 6.8 percent the month before.
Mr. Obama says the jobless news adds urgency to getting his $800 billion stimulus plan passed by Congress.
Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle, though, have been questioning proposed tax cuts and seemingly endless government spending. But according to commentator Angela Glover Blackwell, no one is talking about the people who need it most.
Angela Glover Blackwell: To jolt the economy back to life, the Obama Administration is ready to spend $500 billion or more on infrastructure projects. I’m glad the thinking is big, but it also needs to be different. If we do this right, this stimulus package can boost America’s economy for the long-run and be the greatest anti-poverty tool this country has seen in generations.
For decades, the current system has poured money into new highways to far-off suburbs, enabling even more sprawl and making us even more dependent on our cars. That kind of thinking just doesn’t work anymore. America needs smarter, more targeted spending in people, places and projects that gets a solid return on our investment and actually builds up communities too often left behind. But how do we do that?
First, we need to invest where people live. More than two-thirds of Americans, including the vast majority of the nation’s poor, live in the top 100 metro regions. These urban areas and inner-ring suburbs are the economic and social engines of the nation. We can have an immediate and sustainable impact by rebuilding their schools, parks and transit systems. When we invest in public transit, we connect working families to the good jobs they need. When we lay new broadband lines in poor communities, we can unleash a new wave entrepreneurs and small-business owners who have been cut off from the digital revolution. When we encourage the construction of new grocery stores in communities long-abandoned by national chains, we put people to work, we improve healthy eating and we bring economic vitality to overlooked communities.
And when we build any project, we can set aside one or two percent of the cost to create job training programs. Developing a pipeline of ready and able workers is vital, and a wonderful chance to expand opportunity for low-income young people. But none of this will happen if we spend the stimulus money the way we’ve been doing for years. We need to make this chance count. Smart, targeted infrastructure projects are precisely the stimulus we need to help millions of Americans realize their true potential.
Moon: Angela Glover Blackwell is founder and COO of Policylink in Washington, D.C.