Multimedia

Investing in a stronger and better economy

Demos and the Economic Policy Institute

Tuesday, April 7, 2009
National Press Club Ballroom, Washington, DC

Video and audio now available (see below)

Today’s recession did not happen overnight. It is the direct result of 30 years of hands-off economic and regulatory policy, which has left Americans coping with stagnant wages, an explosion of high-cost revolving debt, and a crumbling infrastructure. Important public investments in infrastructure and policies that create a direct path to the middle class — those that provide greater access to healthcare, education, housing and good jobs — have dwindled in the past decades, and diminished government safety nets have left many families without the necessary tools to weather hard economic times. Now, in the aftermath of the collapse of the financial sector and the implosion of the housing bubble, families everywhere are confronted with a cold truth: government failed to protect their interests.

This time, an economic recovery that restores us to the old model is not enough. To prevent another collapse, we must strengthen the economy’s foundation. By reinvesting in the nation’s infrastructure and other shared public goods, we can promote a broad-based recovery that ensures that all Americans are provided with opportunity to get ahead and achieve financial security. This all-day conference focused on how we can rebuild our economy in an inclusive and responsible way — so that we create good jobs and broadly shared prosperity by addressing some of our most basic and pressing national concerns: developing clean energy industries, upgrading our transportation system, and greening our nation. Prominent scholars, experts, and activists discussed how to implement this recovery in a way that brings along millions of Americans who were left out of our “opportunity infrastructure” of the past because of their skin color, place of origin, or gender.

Agenda

Schedule:
9:15 am — Registration and Continental Breakfast
10:00 am — Opening Remarks
10:15 am — Panel 1: Transportation
12:00 pm — Lunch
12:25 pm — Keynote Speaker
1:15 pm — Panel 2: Green Jobs
3:00 pm — Panel 3: Investments in Communities of Color
4:45 pm — Facilitated Table Discussions and Closing Remarks
5:30 pm — END

Transportation and clean energy investments

Public infrastructure is a key driver of economic growth and opportunity, yet as a share of GDP investments in infrastructure have stagnated over the past decade. Recently, the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) estimated a $2.2 trillion investment in the nation’s infrastructure is needed over the next five years. As the dual crises of climate change and rising energy demand threaten our long-term economic prosperity, infrastructure investments are now increasingly recognized as having the potential to further our environmental and energy goals as well.

The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) and the Obama Administration’s budget request hopefully serve as mere down-payments on a long-term commitment to a cleaner and more efficient economy. But going forward, how do these investments fit in with a strategy for broadly shared economic prosperity?

Transportation infrastructure and jobs

Investments in the nation’s surface transportation infrastructure over the last half-century have been vital to the nation’s transformation into an economic superpower. With the interstate highway system now complete and an economy teetering on the brink of depression, this panel will discuss how a new transportation infrastructure policy can grow the economy and employ millions of American workers.

Speakers:

Elliott Sclar, Columbia University

Rob Puentes, Brookings Institution

Josh Bivens, Economic Policy Institute

Rob Padgette, American Public Transportation Association

Audio/Video: Opening remarks and panel discussion on transportation
(approx. 1 hour, 53 min.)

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Audio/Video: Lunch roundtable discussion
(approx. 43 min.)

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Green economy and jobs

Moving towards a green economy will also promote job growth and long-term economic prosperity. Building new transmission lines, installing solar panels, weatherizing homes, and hooking up smart meters will all employ a new generation of workers trained in old skills, but for new purposes. This panel discusses what it means to American workers when grey jobs become green jobs.

Speakers:

John Irons, EPI (Moderator)

Jeff Rickert, AFL-CIO Center for Green Jobs

Jason Walsh, Green for All

Greg LeRoy, Good Jobs First

Audio/Video: Panel discussion on green jobs
(approx. 1 hour, 32 min.)

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Social investment in communities of color

Government social investment, historically, has been the catalyst for expanding the middle class in the United States. Wealth building initiatives like the Education Act of 1965 and the Homestead Act provided the means for jump starting economic mobility and laying the foundation for the generational transfer of wealth. Unfortunately, these benefits were not distributed equally among all communities.

The recent passage of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act and Housing Rescue Bill provides a unique opportunity to close the economic gaps created by previous social investments which all but ignored the needs of communities of color. Unlike the upward mobility initiatives of the past like the GI Bill which failed to assist all Americans equally, new policies are needed to ensure that low to moderate incomes families and communities of color achieve economic security if our economy is to survive, thrive and grow.

The panel will discuss lessons learned from past government social investment initiatives, the current economic circumstances of communities of color, and whether at the current stimulus package can facilitate a fair distribution of the economic recovery.

Speakers:

Jose A. Garcia, Associate Director for Policy and Research, Economic Opportunity Program, Demos

Jim Carr, Chief Operating Officer for the National Community Reinvestment Coalition

Christian Dorsey, Director of Outreach and Interim Communications Director, EPI

Lisa Rice, Vice President of NFHA, National Fair Housing Alliance

C. Nicole Mason, Executive Director, Women of Color Policy Network, NYU Wagner

Audio/Video: Panel discussion on investment in communities of color
(approx 1 hour, 48 min.)

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