Monday, March 3, 2014

The Great American Infrastructure Oblivion, 2008-2014

Above: Construction safety expert Timothy Galarnyk describes America's infrastructure problem. He states: "The United States of America is the best country in the entire world. But our infrastructure is falling to the condition of a third world nation. Our bridges are in bad condition. Our roads, our dams...our flood protection, our sewers, our water, our electrical grids, and all of our infrastructure, including our airports, need our attention." Galarnyk hosted the televison show Inspector America, which highlighted deteriorating infrastructure across the country. He's interested in bringing the show back and has a Facebook page where people can show support:


On February 4, 2014, former U.S. Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood said, "The country is in a disaster when it comes to infrastructure. ... Bridges are falling down, roads are crumbling. We need a big, bold vision in Washington." A few days later, former U.S. Secretary of Labor Robert Reich wrote, "We need a new WPA to rebuild the nation's crumbling infrastructure..."

In 2013, the American Society of Civil Engineers gave American Infrastructure a letter grade of D+, noting significant problems with America's airports, bridges, water utilities, parks, and more.

Today, there are 3.6 million Americans who are classified by the Bureau of Labor Statistics as long-term unemployed, there are 24 million Americans who wish they had a full-time job but can't find one, and the labor force participation rate is at a 35-year low.

Above: In 2011, U.S. Senator Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) introduced legislation called the "21st Century WPA Act." This new WPA would have hired unemployed Americans to engage in the following types of projects: "residential and commercial water use (improvement)," "highway, bridge, and rail repair," "school, library, and firehouse construction," "trail maintenance," and more. The legislation received little or no support from President Obama, no support from Republican & Tea Party politicians, and little support even from Lautenberg's own fellow Democrats. Thus, the legislation died in committee. It died in committee despite high unemployment, deteriorating American infrastructure, and the proven success of the WPA during the Great Depression (as evidenced by our continued use of thousands of WPA projects). If you ever needed proof of a dysfunctional federal government--a government that has largely ignored the needs of the people and the country--this would be it. Photo courtesy of Wikipedia.


During the New Deal, the Public Works Administration provided funds to private contractors to modernize American infrastructure. New Deal policymakers also hired well over 10 million unemployed Americans into the Civil Works Administration, the Civilian Conservation Corps, the Works Progress Administration, and the National Youth Administration. These formerly unemployed Americans built bridges, preserved historic sites, constructed schools, improved roads, developed parks, etc., etc., etc.

The result of all these New Deal initiatives? Well, the WPA alone built, repaired, or improved 650,000 miles of roads, highways, and streets. That's enough roadwork to circle the Earth 26 times. WPA workers also built, repaired, or improved thousands of bridges, schools, water lines, sewers, and more. As a researcher noted in 1943, "So vast have the WPA's achievements been that attempts to present them in quantitative terms only stagger the imagination." (The WPA and Federal Relief Policy, by Donald S. Howard, New York: Russell Sage Foundation, 1943).

Indeed, the WPA was so effective that even "limited government" icon Ronald Reagan praised it in his autobiography, writing: "The WPA was one of the most productive elements of FDR's alphabet soup of agencies because it put people to work building roads, bridges, and other gave men and women a chance to make some money along with the satisfaction of knowing they earned it."

Above: A CCC worker, on a bridge construction project in New York state. The CCC built thousands of trails and bridges for our nation's parks. In 2012, Senate Democrats tried to create a new CCC-type program for unemployed veterans, offering work opportunities in our National Park system. Republicans blocked the legislation, even though (a) young veteran unemployment was high (and still is), (b) young veteran suicide was high (and still is), (c) unemployment can be a risk factor for suicide, and (d) the American Society of Civil Engineers, in 2009, noted a "$7 billion maintenance backlog" in our National Park system (which has since risen to $11 billion). Photo courtesy of the FDR Presidential Library and Museum and the New Deal Network.


Today, our federal policymakers are completely incapable of connecting the dots of a deteriorating infrastructure and a depressed labor market. Instead of providing more work to construction firms, and hiring the unemployed into public works programs, our Congressmen and women spend half their time bickering with each other and the other half seeking campaign contributions from the big banks and the multinational corporations that are constantly trying to ship more American jobs overseas. This is probably why Congress has a 13% approval rating. Interestingly, The Detroit News recently reported that Congressman John Dingell (D-Mich.)--the longest serving Congressman in history--decided to retire because of the "poisonous partisanship and...growing disregard for serving the interests of the people" that exists in the U.S. House of Representatives.

Welcome to the Great American Infrastructure Oblivion, 2008-2014.

(Don't forget to show support for Timothy Galarnyk's efforts to bring back Inspector America by visiting the show's Facebook page:

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