What we can learn about the future of the United States by looking to the past
With the COVID-19 outbreak sweeping across the world in such a short time this spring, the unemployment rate set records for several months straight. As such, many are wondering what the world and job market will look like in the coming months and years.
One thing that is certain during this crisis, though, is that our infrastructure is crumbling. America has not invested in its infrastructure since the middle of the last century and it is undoubtedly showing. In New York City, the situation is particularly bad. The North River Tunnel, built 120 years ago in 1910, remains the only railroad crossing into the heart of New York City, connecting it to the rest of the Northeast Corridor.
But, The North River Tunnel was badly damaged in Hurricane Sandy and needs to be closed often according to Vice on HBO for repairs. While efforts for a tunnel expansion are underway, “as much as 20% of the entire country’s GDP [is put in] jeopardy every time [the tunnel] has to be closed – which is frequently.” We need alternatives and, during an unprecedented moment for the U.S. economy, we need innovative technologies that will create jobs.
Background – The New Deal
With many looking to government leaders for solutions throughout the economic crisis, the 1930s are increasingly alluded to as millions of jobs were created to combat the Great Depression.
With an initial appropriation of just under $5 billion, this was a radical change for the American government and society. While $5 billion may sound typical in today’s dollars, NPR notes that “the B-word for billion was as shocking to the ear as the T-word is today.”
During the Great Depression, President Roosevelt created the Works Progress Administration, employing millions who lost their jobs as a result of the financial crisis. Creating large transportation hubs like New York’s LaGuardia Airport and Chicago’s Midway International Airport, tens of thousands of bridges, and a thousand tunnels, large public works projects bettered our cities and helped provide a jumpstart to our economy.
Hoping to provide jobs that would stem the overwhelming tide of financial hardship, the efforts of the WPA went far beyond its short-term objectives. Building roads and bridges in addition to funding the arts and humanities, many of these achievements have stood the test of time. However, if we wish to extend these successes, a rejuvenation – a rethinking of our surroundings and public services is needed.
Coronavirus & Today
It’s not a secret that the coronavirus outbreak has severely upended our lives and communities. We need to remain socially distant and protect ourselves in public, but we also need to remedy the economic affliction that millions of our neighbors are facing.
In a June review by the New York Times, the Times finds that, despite the official 13% unemployment rate at the beginning of May, an expanded view incorporating all who have been affected brings the total to 27%. This is done by taking into account those who have been reduced to part-time and those who, regardless of their job-hunt status, say they would like a job. With over a quarter of the nation having their work status negatively affected, large-scale efforts should not be taken off the table to assist those who seek it.
In an article by Curbed, which writes on urban planning and design, titled “Stimulus isn’t enough. Our cities need a post-pandemic New Deal,” the following vision for the future is presented:
At a time when America’s public infrastructure is broadly falling into disrepair and environmentally friendly modes of transportation are needed to protect the planet, this could be one of our last opportunities to invest in innovative technologies that not only betters our daily lives, but also the environment. And, when looking at America’s infrastructure report card, it becomes painfully obvious how much room for investment there is.
Looking To The Future
2017’s release of the American Society of Civil Engineers’ Infrastructure Report Card stated that “America’s Infrastructure Scores a D+.” This is unacceptable.
Digging deeper, the situation only worsens in several categories. America’s drinking water system scores an inadequate “D” while its transit system scores a “D-”.
Exploring the nation’s transit situation, it becomes clear that there is severe underfunding compounded by expanding ridership. With a backlog of projects, particularly in rail and rapid-transit, totaling $90 billion that will grow by over $30 billion over the next decade or so, more funding and ideas are needed to solve this chronic problem.
While there is much to be done in rebuilding our infrastructure, there are innovative new ideas to bring our technology into the 21st century. Along the Northeast Corridor, Northeast Maglev is a company that will bring superconducting magnetic levitation trains from Washington, DC to New York City, connecting the two in under an hour.
The project, currently undergoing its environmental impact study, will create careers for hundreds of thousands nationwide and add tens of billions to the nation’s GDP.
Imagine connecting each of the major metropolitan areas of the Northeast Corridor connected in under one hour. The public works projects of the mid-1900s provided us with the infrastructural base on which we facilitate trade and transportation today. Likewise, building the infrastructure to travel at over 300 mph along the corridor will open new job markets to millions of people.
By building hundreds of thousands of rural roads connecting America during the era of the WPA, new opportunities were opened to those living away from major metropolitan areas. With the Northeast Maglev, working in Washington while living in Baltimore will now be a quick 15-minute ride, not the 2+ hour journey that many currently endure. Making jobs in other cities more attractive and cutting down the need to live in expensive areas will revolutionize the job market and open a host of new opportunities just like the expanded infrastructure of the 20th century did for millions.
While large-scale public works projects are not the end-all solution to our current problems, nor were they in the 1930s, they will provide some relief for thousands of people and the opportunities they allow for will bolster millions.