In Washington, Congress has started a debate that will continue over the summer. That debate currently centered – at least in part – on the most appropriate definition of “infrastructure” and how the federal government should approach the economic recovery from the effects of COVID-19.
As an economist, I hear “infrastructure” as pure code language in politics for the essential investments that are necessary to strengthen the economy of our country and to support a strong future workforce. A dictionary definition of the term is “the basic physical and organizational structures required to run a society or business”.
Some congressmen argue that this term only refers to physical improvements by investing in repairing roads and bridges, upgrading water and sewer systems, or possibly better internet access. These investments are important to our economy, but they form an incomplete picture of what can build this nation’s economic future and raise the workers who are vital to real economic prosperity.
Take this macroeconomic and political debate to the microeconomic level. Imagine a West Virginian getting up in the morning to make his way to a job. It will certainly help this person if the road is in good condition and the bridge between home and work is passable. It is important that you start the day with clean water and not face the nasty challenges of a failing sewage system.
But this West Virginian – who wants to go to work and get a living wage to support his family – can’t even be on his way to work if he doesn’t have a safe place for his preschooler or can’t leave you Check in with elderly parents with health problems who live with them. They need to know that their school-age children are not left unsupervised at home after school, but can attend a safe after-school program. And that West Virginian needs to be able to attend to their own health problems so that they have the basic, decent health it takes to get their job done at work.
As our nation looks to the future, we must seize this opportunity to invest in a resilient recovery and just economy in which we support all working and struggling people. where all children can develop their full potential and are protected from hardship and poverty; and where everyone has health insurance and can get the care they need without fear of financial ruin.
There are important long-term investments that Congress needs to make, including:
n Expansion of the child tax credit and the earned income tax credit, which increases income so that work is economically worthwhile.
n Expand the tax credits that make health insurance premiums affordable and the programs that open the door to new, more affordable options for health coverage.
n Expand residential stability programs with vouchers to help low-income families pay rent and keep a roof over their heads.
n Expanding nutrition programs, including SNAP, school meals, and WIC (Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children), so that our children and families can afford enough to eat.
n New funding for safe and affordable childcare for lower and middle class families.
All debates about investing for a resilient economic future in Washington keep coming back to the question: What can our wealthy nation afford to spend? Indeed, our nation can afford to invest in workers in West Virginia and in our nation. Just a few years ago, Congress passed huge corporate tax cuts that were of little use to low- and middle-income families. Corporate taxes stood at 35% until President Trump and Congress lowered that rate to 21%. Congress can raise taxes on wealthy companies to 28% – still a lower rate than before the 2017 tax law amendment. And we can close tax loopholes so that companies pay fair taxes on offshore profits and investments.
We are a nation that has the tools to fix the organizational structures – the backbone – of our nation and economy. the backbone that supports our workers and their families. We will see if our elected representatives in Congress have the backbone to take up this challenge.
Kathleen Stoll is Policy Director for West Virginians for Affordable Health Care (wvahc.org) and runs a political and business consultancy, Kat Consulting.