Since the early 1980s, America has made public policy largely based on the conservative notion that government is so broken its role in the lives of everyday Americans should be severely limited.
This philosophy of governance has failed us, and will continue to fail us. During recent decades most Americans have lost significant economic ground compared with other post-WWII generations in areas ranging from wages to major expenses such as housing, healthcare and education.
With deregulation and lax tax laws for big-business and the mega-rich has come a disturbing trend of growing disparities between rich and poor, as well as between various racial and ethnic groups relative to income and wealth distribution. Today, in fact, comparably educated and experienced black and Latino workers make considerably less money for the same or similar work done by their white counterparts.
In Chicago, for example, as recently as 2011, Latinos earned just 55 percent and blacks only 82 percent of what whites earned for comparable work. During that same period, in Seattle, Latinos earned only 59 percent and blacks only 68 percent of what their white counterparts earned.
More broadly, on average, female workers make only 79 cents to the dollar compared to male workers.
Too many are being left behind by our nation's continuing reliance on supply side economic policies--policies that have long been shown to produce more problems than solutions for average Americans. Even major Republican presidential hopefuls like Rand Paul, Paul Ryan, and Jeb Bush are vocalizing the need for new public policy efforts to promote more broadly shared prosperity.
To achieve the better outcomes we all seek, America needs a bipartisan next generation economic growth accord. The nation needs a growth model and plan that aligns both major parties behind a new social contract that can sustain American political and economic leadership in the world for the next generation and beyond. As in past eras, public investment will be a necessary driver of America's forward progress.
Republican leaders have, until recently, actively shaped America's economic fate for the better by investing in major public infrastructure projects. Abraham Lincoln initiated national investment in the Inter-Continental Railroad during the height of the Civil War. Theodore Roosevelt invested in our national parks system. Dwight Eisenhower gave us the Interstate Highway System. Richard Nixon doubled down on JFK's investments in the NASA space program. And Ronald Reagan significantly invested in military infrastructure and R&D programs.
By contrast, today's conservative congressional leadership shows an unprecedented disregard for public reinvestment in our increasingly outdated transportation, school and water systems. Major reinvestment in these systems would create millions of new jobs. As developing nations like China and Brazil have significantly increased their investments in public infrastructure, the United States stands idle as our highways, bridges, ports, schools and other public facilities decay.
We should be able to agree that our public transit, educational facilities and water systems infrastructure urgently need to be maintained and modernized; and that corresponding efforts in these areas should be more closely linked to career pathways leading to quality jobs, workforce enhancements and improved global competitiveness.
The current Republican-controlled Congress would do well to find ways to work with the President and Democrats to seize such opportunities for future generations. Now more than ever it is imperative that Republicans and Democrats work together to focus our vast national resources on new and better ways to grow our economy that are more sustainable and inclusive for Americans of all backgrounds and political persuasions.
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Henry A. J. Ramos is CEO of the Insight Center for Community Economic Development.