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Our Crumbling Infrastructure: This Time, It's Personal

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For the second day in a row, there is no power in the building which houses my employer, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (the CBPP website is still up, though). Apparently, a number of buildings in that part of town are out. PEPCO, our local utility, says we'll be back on at noon today, but we'll see.

OK, so let's get this straight. We've got major infrastructure deficits in this country, including an electricity grid that's demonstrably unreliable. I get that systems come down, but a city block...for two days! That's a little scary.

And my situation is, of course, a microcosm of a larger, known problem. Check out the 2009 Report Card from the American Society of Civil Engineers:

Aviation D

Bridges C

Dams D

Drinking Water D-

Energy D+

Hazardous Waste D

Inland Waterways D-

Levees D-

Public Parks and Recreation
C-

Rail C-

Roads D-

Schools D

Solid Waste C+

Transit D

Wastewater D-

America's Infrastructure GPA: D

Estimated 5 Year Investment Need: $2.2 Trillion

There's the demand. Where's the supply? Um... how about 20+ million un- or underemployed, including construction workers, whose unemployment rate is about 18%.

I know... show me the money. These are public goods, and thus private industry will underinvest in them. Now, I know we're in the midst of spending-cut frenzy, but infrastructure investment -- that's "investment" as in: do this right and it boosts the economy's productive capacity -- has historically been one area where partisans agree.

In that regard, it was unfortunate to read Rep. Eric Cantor in this AM's paper get this wrong: "The president talked about a need for us to continue to quote-unquote invest from Washington's standpoint, and for a lot of us that's code for more Washington spending, something that we can't afford right now."

No, sir -- with respect, that is not secret code. The president is right, and to ignore needed public investments based on anti-spending ideology is to create an infrastructure deficit much more worrisome and damaging to the long-term economic well-being of this nation than the federal budget deficit.

Plus, I kinda need to get back in the office one of these days.

This post originally appeared at Jared Bernstein's On The Economy blog.