September 29, 2010

Creating Jobs by Investing in Infrastructure

When President Obama took office, the economy was in a tailspin the likes of which we have not seen since the Great Depression.  Back in January of 2008, we were losing 700,000 jobs per month and things appeared to be getting worse.

In response to this crisis, President Obama worked with Congress to pass the Recovery Act, which stemmed the bleeding by creating or supporting an estimated 3 million jobs to date, including 11,000 in Rhode Island.  While we can never know exactly how bad things might have gotten in the absence of federal action, a recent study by economists Alan Blinder and Mark Zandi, an advisor to Senator McCain’s Presidential campaign, estimates that GDP would have been 11.5% lower this year and the economy would have had 8.5 million fewer jobs, an outright Depression, if not for the Recovery Act and the federal government’s actions to address the financial crisis.

In Rhode Island, we have seen some early improvements in our economy, but our unemployment level is still among the highest in the nation at 11.9 percent.  The unemployed Rhode Islanders with whom I’ve spoken desperately want to get back to work, but jobs just aren’t there.  They don’t need any additional motivation to work (as some Republicans have suggested) — they need jobs.

One of the most efficient ways to create jobs is to rebuild our nation’s crumbling infrastructure.  From transportation projects like the Pawtucket River Bridge on Route 95 to water and waste water needs estimated at $600 billion nationally, our state and country have a substantial infrastructure deficit.  Infrastructure jobs can put people to work now and protect public safety.   These projects will only grow more expensive the longer they are put off, so it just makes sense to address them now when we badly need the jobs.   

As Chairman of the Oversight Subcommittee of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, I held a field briefing earlier this year in Providence to examine the impact of the Recovery Act on the economy and environment in Rhode Island.  I heard from Jeffrey Saletin, a Rhode Island developer, that a $3.4 million Recovery Act investment in Johnston has made possible the construction of a $40 million shopping complex, which will support hundreds of local jobs.  Anthony B. Simeone of the Rhode Island Clean Water Finance Agency testified about his agency’s success in leveraging $19.5 million in stimulus funding to provide $65 million in investment for our drinking water infrastructure.  I also heard from Richard Cardi of the Cardi Corporation that without ARRA money, his company would not have many projects to bid on in Rhode Island.

In the weeks and months ahead, I’ll continue urging my Senate colleagues to support investments in necessary infrastructure projects.  I share our country’s concern about our national debt, but reducing our infrastructure deficit adds to our country’s wealth.  When a family fixes their home’s leaky roof and pays for it on a credit card, it doesn’t make the family poorer; it may even save money overall.  Federal investments kept our economy out of a full depression, and further programs could help a recovery that has been too slow for the tens of thousands of Rhode Islanders still looking for jobs. 

By: Senator Sheldon Whitehouse