ICYMI: THE WASHINGTON POST: AMERICA FAILS TO INVEST IN THE BASICS

As the Biden Administration and Congress consider a major infrastructure passage, a new analysis by the Washington Post uncovers the consequences of the fact that the United States faces a $2.59 trillion shortfall in infrastructure needs and has invested approximately half of what is required. This underinvestment in infrastructure has increased inequality and hurt the country’s growth.

The historic popularity of the American Rescue Plan’s public investments are proof that our leaders should feel empowered to go big on large-scale investments in infrastructure. According to a recent poll from Data For Progress and Invest in America, 67% of voters, including 77% of Democrats, 59% of Independents, and 61% of Republicans, support creating jobs through public investments in infrastructure, clean energy, and American manufacturing in order to fully recover from the economic downturn the pandemic created.

KEY POINTS: 

  • “The nation’s infrastructure — the airports, broadband networks, transit systems, utility lines, ports and sewers that keep society humming — is in a perilous state from decades of underinvestment”

  • “All that neglect is showing: The American Society of Civil Engineers earlier this month gave the country a C-minus for the overall quality of its infrastructure.

    “That middling mark is actually up slightly from the group’s last report card, four years ago, when the grade was an ignominious D-plus. But it still reflects the decrepitude of a nation where a water main breaks every two minutes, and where nearly half of public roads are in either poor or mediocre condition.”

The Washington Post: In the shadow of its exceptionalism, America fails to invest in the basics

The Perseverance rover, fresh off its flawless landing, was on a mission, scouring the surface of Mars for evidence of ancient life, relaying crystal-clear images of an alien world, proving that when it comes to space exploration, no one does it better than the United States.

And 139 million miles away, back on Earth, 38-year-old Chris Prescott was still washing dishes, bathing and cooking with bottled water.

It had been two weeks since an Arctic blast swooped into Texas, knocked out the power grid and busted Prescott’s pipes just as Perseverance was touching down. For many in his impoverished Houston neighborhood — only a short drive from the Johnson Space Center — the water coming out of their taps was as dark and dingy as the Martian landscape.

“People were already struggling,” said Prescott, who gets by on the money he makes doing occasional yard work, having lost his full-time job to the pandemic. “Now this has put them at the bottom of the barrel.”

Compared with its developed-world peers, America has always been a study in contrasts, a paradox of exceptional achievement and jaw-dropping deprivation. Rarely have the disparities been rendered as vividly as in recent weeks and months.

Historic breakthroughs in science, medicine and technology coexist intimately — and uneasily — alongside monumental failures of infrastructure, public health and equitable access to basic human needs.

America can put a rover on Mars, but it can’t keep the lights on and water running in the city that birthed the modern space program. It can develop vaccines, in record time, to combat a world-altering illness, but suffers one of the developed world’s highest death rates due to lack of prevention and care. It spins out endless entertainment to keep millions preoccupied during lockdown — and keep tech shares riding high on Wall Street — but leaves kids disconnected from the access they need to do their schoolwork.

“What kind of state are we living in, what kind of society are we living in when kids have to educate themselves on the curb of a Taco Bell?” said Brian Smoot, a Salinas, Calif., chiropractor who invited neighborhood students to use his WiFi after two girls were photographed outside a nearby location of the fast-food chain last year, their Chromebooks wobbling on their laps as they tried to connect to high-speed Internet.

And this in a city just a short drive from the extraordinary wealth of Silicon Valley, a global symbol of American innovation, where Apple, Facebook and Google have gleaming campuses — with record stock prices to match.

The disparities reflect a multitude of factors, experts say, but primarily stem from a few big ones: Compared with other well-to-do nations, the United States has tended to prioritize private wealth over public resources, individualism over equity and the shiny new thing over the dull but necessary task of maintaining its infrastructure, much of which is fast becoming a 20th century relic.

“Let’s face it, we don’t have ribbon cuttings when we replace a pipe. Only when there’s a brand new bridge,” said Joseph Kane, an associate fellow at the Brookings Institution. “That’s the American fascination with bigger and better.”

Those choices can pay dividends, as they do when the U.S. leads the world in health-care innovation or electrifies the automobile. They also have consequences.

The nation’s infrastructure — the airports, broadband networks, transit systems, utility lines, ports and sewers that keep society humming — is in a perilous state from decades of underinvestment that has transcended both Republican and Democratic administrations. Perhaps even more important than the lack of cash, Kane said, is the absence of a plan.

“The Eisenhower administration is really the time we really had a goal or a vision for our infrastructure,” he said. “Now we’re in a fundamentally different era with a more unpredictable and extreme climate, more inequality, a lack of accessibility. And we’re still operating as if it’s the 1950s.”

All that neglect is showing: The American Society of Civil Engineers earlier this month gave the country a C-minus for the overall quality of its infrastructure.

That middling mark is actually up slightly from the group’s last report card, four years ago, when the grade was an ignominious D-plus. But it still reflects the decrepitude of a nation where a water main breaks every two minutes, and where nearly half of public roads are in either poor or mediocre condition.

The Biden administration has said that reimagining infrastructure — with increased funding to match — will be a central focus of its legislative agenda this year. In theory, it should be a relatively easy sell: The issue is one of the few that enjoys bipartisan backing.

Yet the same was true during the Trump administration, when the notion of “infrastructure week” became a running gag and the self-described “builder president” ultimately failed to sign legislation to get workers digging and backhoes rumbling.

President Biden has said he will put racial equity at the heart of his efforts on infrastructure, an attempt to remedy a system that has long provided superior public resources to some and inferior ones to others, with skin color often making the difference.

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