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Tooling Up For Tomorrow

May 31, 2021

In my last column, I reviewed President Biden’s ideas for repairing the physical infrastructure of the United States and how it would be financed. An innovative dimension of Biden’s plan regards education, housing, health care, climate control, and other social issues.  His rationale for including them is that his criterion for judging the health of our economy is the quality of everyday life experienced by all citizens, not just the fate of the stock market.

Unifying his proposals is the aim of creating non-exportable jobs that embrace rather than resist the century’s emerging technological realities. A cornerstone of his thinking is to invest $100 billion to build new schools and upgrade aging public schools to provide teachers and students with the technological equipment and knowhow needed to prepare for jobs related to the rapidly evolving world of robotics, artificial intelligence, and electronic energy. A second $100 billion will be spent on creating appropriate health and safety systems for the schools and $12 billion on modernizing community colleges.                                                                                                                        

A Dislocated Workers Program will retrain workers of the old fossil-fuel industries in the skills needed for future employment. This includes training in technological institutes and community-centers, not just college courses. The emphasis would be to focus on preparing people to work in high-demand industries. 

Main Street enterprises will receive $31 million to create programs offering easier access to credit, venture capital, and development agencies. What are called small business incubators would spur development of neglected communities, bringing them into the mainstream economy rather than being environments plagued with unemployment, lack of community resources, and social unrest. The incubators would involve community organizations, organized labor, educational institutions, and mainstream financial institutions.

Understanding that the likelihood of the outbreak of a new virus such as COVID-19, is likely, Biden is allocating $30 billion to prevention and research development. The funds would be used to stockpile materials that might be needed in a new emergency and determine hospital needs in a crisis. The United States would also become actively involved in a worldwide scrutiny of emerging viral dangers. This would be accompanied by working to find means of accelerating the testing of new vaccines in a valid manner and monitoring their applications. Such efforts would lower the risk of the United States being caught unprepared as was the case with COVID-19. Instead, the government would have the knowledge and resources to  swiftly deal with the danger at its earliest stages.                                                                                                

Even before COVID-19, many American families felt the financial and emotional burdens of caring for aging parents, disabled family members, and children needing day care. Biden would enable hundreds of thousands of such families to be covered by the Affordable Care Act.  Countless studies have shown that both long-term and short-term costs in health care and social services are lowered by such measures. The now-low wages of home care workers would be lifted to that of conventional workers. Most critically, these actions would allow single parent families and families where all adults work to seek full employment.

Climate change concerns are a constant in Biden’s vision of a better America. This includes strict enforcement of safety measures and elimination of legislation that has allowed carbon-monoxides emissions to hit new highs. Exploring hydrogen technology, flexible works hours, and reintroducing environmental regulations limited or curtailed by his predecessor are givens. Another combination of job creation and environmental aid is to spend $16 billion to cap existing spent oil and gas wells throughout the nation. This effort would create a multitude of jobs in every state.

A combination of job creation, permanent infrastructure, and climate control is again evident in a plan to produce, preserve, retrofit and electrify more than a million housing units. The financing would be through targeted tax credits, grants and project-based rental assistance. The plan is national in scope, covering rural, urban, and tribal areas.

The housing plans also calls for the building of 500,000 homes priced for low- and middle-income potential buyers. Much of the financing is through tax credits with stiff penalties for builders who violate workplace safety and environmental guidelines. Another $18 million will be spent upgrading Veteran’s Administration hospitals and clinics. Comparable efforts will upgrade all federal buildings.

Space does not allow me to cover Biden’s other non-traditional proposals but their thrust is to extend for decades the dynamic momentum being creating by the reopening of the economy. He seeks to lessen the gross wealth gap in America, stimulate domestically-rooted manufacturing, and create an infrastructure relevant for the needs of the present era.

The Republican response has been to resist these measures rather than creatively engaging in improving them or mounting a viable alternative. Most likely, this means Biden’s infrastructure plan can only pass by the thin Democratic edge in Congress. Hopefully, this would happen before the sectarian Congress retires for its summer vacation.

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