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A Lesson From Occupy Wall Street

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The Occupy Wall Street demonstration that began in New York and evolved into a national phenomenon has faced setbacks recently, most notably the forced evacuation of protesters around the country and the violent outbursts at UC Davis. Additionally, many observers have lampooned OWS and its grab bag of ideas from the start as fanatic, socialist, wrongheaded or simply unrealistic. But the movement nevertheless has shone the national spotlight squarely upon the alarming trend of growing income inequality and shriveled opportunities within American society. As the three dread horsemen of economic stagnation, financial instability and high unemployment ride into their fourth year across America and with no end in sight, it's clear to us that many of the OWS protesters were and are more than just lazy kids who would rather camp out in the park and play music than cut their hair and get a job.

There is a palpable sense of despair among a great many Americans. Unemployment figures, at nearly 15% for those in their early twenties, confirm what anecdotal evidence suggests: many members of the Millennial Generation are buying into the notion that their hard work, education, talents and aspirations are for naught amidst a 'system' now stacked against them.

Like Bill Clinton and Mitt Romney, we sympathize with these frustrations. The young people who camped out in Lower Manhattan are members of the largest and best educated generation in American history, hungry to make a mark on the world. But they are finding the very pathways to success so well-traveled by their parents and grandparents before them blocked or even permanently barred. Their futures and the future of their country increasingly seem more murky than clear.

Although the movement is largely a shape-shifting cloud of ideas and frustrations, there is one concrete solution emanating from the Bass Pro tents staked out in town centers and college quads from coast to coast worth noting in terms of creating a brighter future for every American: bold, visionary investment in America's infrastructure, and an opportunity to rebuild the country in a tangible way.

It's no secret that much of America's infrastructure is in bad shape, particularly compared with that of many of our economic competitors. According to the American Society of Civil Engineers, our infrastructure in its current condition earns a grade of D, and an estimated $2.2 trillion investment is needed over the next five years just to bring American infrastructure back to adequate standards.

An investment of a trillion dollars in our nation's infrastructure can create six million jobs under conservative estimates, which is enough to significantly reduce our country's unacceptably high unemployment rate, get our economy moving again and jump start our global competitiveness. Initially, these jobs would largely be in construction and engineering needed for designing and building new, state-of-the art infrastructure assets. Yet, if completed on the scale we propose, this new infrastructure will infuse increased dynamism and efficiency into the American economy, which in turn will create scalable demand for multiple high-quality, permanent jobs in sectors as diffuse as human resources and biochemical engineering.

To make this happen, we have a plan to draw on the successful experience of public private partnerships throughout the world, mobilizing long-term capital from institutional investors alongside traditional sources of public sector capital, to make successful infrastructure investments and create large numbers of quality jobs here in the United States.

The bottom line is this: people need jobs. If American youth were assured abundant opportunities for acceptable employment out of school and more established professionals could be reasonably confident in making a living based on their skills and experience, the OWS protesters would not need to vent their anger and frustration at a failing system. And that's why the AFL-CIO, which has aligned itself with the OWS protesters, and the Chamber of Commerce have jointly voiced their support for increased infrastructure spending.

A trillion dollar public-private infrastructure investment strategy, and the millions of quality jobs that would follow, is a smart and eminently achievable way to get America back to work and back in gear -- and it's consistent with the story of America. Creating these jobs, jump starting the economy and giving our fellow citizens another shot at the American Dream is something we can all agree on; Republicans and Democrats, OWS and Wall Street alike.

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