Infrastructure week! (for real)

Infrastructure week! (for real)

The House on Friday sent a $1 trillion public works bill to President Joe Biden’s desk that includes billions of dollars to upgrade Louisiana’s roads, ports, water systems, high-speed broadband and a host of other projects. The new law will create thousands of jobs and affect every region of the Pelican State, providing funding for long-neglected needs. Alan Fram and Zeke Miller of the Associated Press report

The 2,700-plus-page bill assigns spending projects to a wide array using a formula. Louisiana Republican U.S. Sen. Bill Cassidy, of Baton Rouge, contends […] the state stands to receive a significant portion of $110 billion for roads and bridges; $46 billion that will go in part to rebuild Louisiana’s eroded coastlines and waterways; $65 billion to bolster energy and strengthen the electrical grid from disaster; and $65 billion in broadband to expand internet access. The infrastructure package is a historic investment by any measure, one that Biden compares in its breadth to the building of the interstate highway system in the last century or the transcontinental railroad the century before. 

The Washington Post’s Griff Witte traveled to Jackson, Miss., where clean drinking water is a rare luxury, to learn why these investments are desperately needed. 

The disinvestment in Jackson — which is 82 percent Black, the highest for any major city in America — has been ongoing for far more than a generation. And there are fears the neglect could continue even after Biden ends up signing the bill, as Republican state lawmakers will ultimately decide where Mississippi’s water funds go.  

Still unfinished is the president’s Build Back Better plan, which proposes historic investments in child care and pre-kindergarten programs, affordable housing, elder care and other programs meant to create a more inclusive economy. The Post’s Heather Long reports that the plan’s historic investment in American families would be a net gain for the overall economy. 

Estimates from independent groups such as Oxford Economics and Moody’s Analytics predict the pace of growth will be higher and the number of people working will increase in the coming years if these bills are signed into law, largely because their models forecast that the gains from higher productivity and more women working will be greater than any drag from the tax increases to pay for the initiatives.

Bipartisan anger at insurers
Louisiana’s recovery from Hurricane Ida has been hampered by insurance companies that are taking too long to pay claims and offering low-ball settlements to customers. The anger is loudest in Lake Charles, which was ravaged by two major hurricanes in 2020 and where many citizens are still haggling with their insurers over compensation for their losses. The Advocate’s Blake Paterson reports:

“If I was in the insurance industry, I would be concerned about what legislation looks like next year,” said Rep. Tanner Magee, the second-ranking leader in the House and a Houma Republican whose district – and personal home – was pummeled by Ida. “So many parts of Louisiana are dealing with crazy difficulties from insurers … This is not a good faith effort.”

Economic growth amid anxiety
By most conventional measures, America’s economy is doing quite well. Wages are up, the unemployment rate is plummeting, and most households have improved their balance sheets dramatically during the pandemic. Yet the vast majority of Americans think economic conditions are getting worse, as economic pessimism is worse now than during the darkest days of the Great Recession. The New York Times’ Neil Irwin searches for answers

The reasons seem to be tied to the psychology of inflation and the ways people assess their economic well-being — as well as the uneven effects that rising prices and shortages have on different families. It may well be shaped by the psychological scars of the pandemic, one manifestation of this being an era of exhaustion. Regardless of the exact causes, after decades in which the availability of jobs (or lack thereof) drove economic sentiment, inflation now appears to have become the more powerful force.

Despite an overall drop in unemployment nationwide, October’s unemployment rate for Black workers remained high, at 7.9%.

Why child care is so expensive
A year of full-time child care in America costs more than buying a new Hyundai Elantra, and prices are increasing far faster than the rate of inflation. That’s partly because more women than ever are working outside the home before their children start school, and partly because the child care industry is – with good reason – highly regulated. The Atlantic’s Derek Thompson notes that most child care isn’t very high quality, meaning America has the worst of both worlds. He sees a market failure that only government can solve.

While it’s admirable for companies to fill the day-care vacuum, the absence of a national solution is an indictment of American policy. Neuroscientists and psychologists have established that the first five years of a child’s life are crucial for the development of logic and language skills. Early education has profound effects on both these cognitive skills and “noncognitive” skills, such as grit, teamwork, and emotional health. But these academic findings haven’t translated to policy, at least not in the U.S. Several European nations, such as France and Denmark, spend three to five times more than America on their young children’s care and education. 

Number of the Day
$8.60 – Estimated “societal benefit” – including higher lifetime earnings – for every $1 invested in public early-childhood education (Source: Council of Economic Advisors via The Atlantic)