Spend our way out of recession, invest in jobs

Image for post
Image for post

The coronavirus has killed thousands of New Yorkers, put millions into quarantine for months and left our economy in a sickbed.

When we move beyond the worst of this modern-day plague, we will need smart, bold action from government to help a record number of unemployed people get back to work.

New York and the United States will have to spend their way out of the recession. The list of worthy investments across our state is large. From traffic-relieving tunnels in the southern part of the state to high-tech development across northern and western New York, the state is poised to strike back hard at the economic damage done by the virus.

Vulnerable small businesses will require mandatory debt relief and rent forgiveness so they can reopen to serve returning customers. Workers whose jobs disappeared because their employers failed during the lockdown will require rent or mortgage forgiveness and active help finding workforce training programs and apprenticeships.

Failed businesses will leave large numbers of capable people looking for new jobs. That makes it a perfect time to hire staff for a greatly expanded initiative for childhood health and learning programs, from the womb to age 5.

A majority of New York’s 5-year-olds arrive at kindergarten ill-prepared for school, even though economists tell us investments in early childhood learning yield rich returns. So let’s put people to work doing things that will boost our state’s pool of human capital. Home nurse visits during pregnancy and a toddler’s first two years — along with instruction in the importance of infant language skills, with supporting tools for parents — would be a huge start. High-quality, affordable child care for 2-year-olds and free prekindergarten for all 3- and 4-year-olds would add enormously to our investments in preparing graduates for 21st-century jobs and productive citizenship.

Image for post
Image for post

The nation’s most important infrastructure project is the stalled Gateway tunnel for rail traffic beneath the Hudson River. President Donald Trump’s refusal to release $13 billion in federal funds for it has been irresponsible and vindictive.

Trump seeks to punish New York voters for not supporting him, and to embarrass Sen. Chuck Schumer. In truth, Trump is punishing the United States. One hopes the economic havoc the pandemic has wrought will cause the president to do the right thing. If not, it is one more reason for discerning voters to turn him out of office in November, knowing a less petulant, less childish leader would put the national interest ahead of personal pique.

The New York City Housing Authority needs $31.8 billion for capital improvements. Federal, state and city government should channel sufficient resources to NYCHA to address the discouraging living conditions some 400,000 residents suffer daily. A smart program overseen by a disciplined management team could enlist able-bodied residents in training programs and work opportunities to restore their apartments to good condition, something long promised and long denied.

The MTA, which serves 60% of the state’s population, has proposed an ambitious $50 billion capital plan. It should be pursued with urgency. In the short term, it would put thousands of people to work. In the long term, it would transform a rattling transit network into one worthy of a great state.

There is an underachieving competitive corridor in New York that stretches from Albany to Buffalo and includes Syracuse and Rochester. The area is a potential high-tech center of excellence. What is lacking is the government-research support that made Silicon Valley in California and Route 128 outside Boston what they are today. We should invest heavily, perhaps $2 billion to $4 billion per year over 10 years, to transform the region into a technology powerhouse. Now is the time to start.

The compelling reality of climate change requires urgent action. New York state’s utility workforce is aging, and substantial expertise is being lost to retirement, while the task of upgrading our power systems offers a once-in-a-generation chance to create thousands of new, well-paying jobs that do not require four-year college diplomas. We should train a new cohort of workers to manage an advanced electric grid relying on distributed sources of renewable energy.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics forecasts that solar-panel installers and wind-turbine technicians will be two of the fastest-growing occupations in the country. New York state should move now to train people in those industries and make itself a national and global leader.

Government spending in productive investments that primed the economic pump at a time when it was desperately needed is how Franklin Roosevelt, first as New York governor and then as U.S. president, rescued our state and nation from the Great Depression. Roosevelt provided inspired leadership when we needed it most. We need that kind of leadership today.

Originally posted as an op-ed at www.crainsnewyork.com

Sources & Links
About Gateway Program: http://www.gatewayprogram.org/about.html

Politico: Feds again block funding for Gateway tunnel, Portal Bridge projects https://www.politico.com/states/newyork/albany/story/2019/03/15/feds-again-block-funding-for-gatewaytunnel-portal-bridge-projects-917902

NYCHA Fact Sheet: https://council.nyc.gov/budget/wpcontent/uploads/sites/54/2019/03/NYCHA-Fact-Sheet-2020.pdf

Facts About NYCHA: https://ny.curbed.com/2012/9/10/10330984/10-surprising-facts-about-nycha-new-yorks-shadow-city

MTA Capital Program: https://new.mta.info/document/10641

When we move beyond the worst of this modern-day plague, we will need smart, bold action from government to help a record number of unemployed people get back to work.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store