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Obvious idea: Fix crumbling schools and bridges and create jobs

From the earliest discussions of economic stimulus plans this winter, EPI has consistently recommended federal funding of critical infrastructure repairs as a way to create good jobs while also laying the groundwork for future economic growth. Although the first stimulus package failed to include that approach, infrastructure spending is seen as a key part of a second round of stimulus being discussed in Congress. EPI will keep the spotlight focused on the issue in a forum on Investing in U.S. Infrastructure on Tuesday morning, April 29. Pennsylvania Gov. Edward Rendell, who has championed such investments in his state, will deliver the keynote address. A panel discussion follows with Congressman Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), who will outline needs in transportation; Mary Filardo of the 21st Century School Fund, who will discuss the economic and educational benefits of public school building and repairs; and Mark Lloyd, vice president of strategic initiatives at the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, who will discuss Internet and technology infrastructure. John Irons, EPI’s director of research and policy, will moderate the forum, which is the latest event in the Institute’s policy program, the Agenda for Shared Prosperity. Internet access Research on the related issue of Internet access led to this week’s Economic Snapshot, by John Irons and Ian Townsend, which shows the United States ranks 15th of 30 developed countries in overall broadband Internet access. The United States has also fallen behind other countries in the deployment of new broadband technologies, such as fiber optics. Evidence is strong that expanded access to the Internet is an economy-booster.

EPI researchers in the news

In an opinion piece in USA Today, EPI President Lawrence Mishel argued that a 25-year-old report on public schools called A Nation at Risk, distorted the debate on education reform, laying the groundwork for failed testing schemes and No Child Left Behind legislation. In fact, Mishel notes, such reforms are not cure-all for low-income, low-achieving schools. Senior economist Jared Bernstein is on a national tour to promote his latest book, Crunch: Why Do I Feel So Squeezed? (And Other Unsolved Economic Mysteries). The book, which discusses the phenomenon of rising inequality and the fact that most workers have not benefited from recent economic growth, was praised in the latest Utne Reader, which wrote: “No mere populist rant, Crunch (Berrett-Koehler 2008) is organized as a broad primer on U.S. economics that uses inequality as a starting point for understanding this wider subject.” EPI Board member Teresa Ghilarducci, whose work on a new, sustainable retirement plan is featured in the Institute’s Agenda for Shared Prosperity, was profiled in a Money Magazine piece that noted the economist “isn’t one for conventional wisdom. In her upcoming book, When I’m Sixty-Four: The Plot Against Pensions and the Plan to Save Them, the New School University economist argues that a rich nation ought to be able to ensure a secure old age. And she has a radical proposal for making that happen.” Here is a sample from the magazine’s Q&A:

Q. One idea for fixing Social Security is to raise the retirement age, since life spans have increased. You don’t agree.

A. No. Just because we are living longer doesn’t mean we’re living healthier. There’s no definitive evidence on that. We may be raising the retirement age presuming people can keep or find suitable jobs when in fact that won’t be true. We’ll then have a nation of elderly people trying to get jobs teenagers once had. And we will be bowing our heads in shame when an older person shuffles off to make our cappuccino.

Jeff Faux, EPI’s founding president and author of the Global Class War, has been in demand lately for his expertise on global trade agreements and immigration. This week he appeared on two high-profile public radio talk shows, the Dianne Rehm Show and Warren Olney’s To the Point. Faux also turned out an analysis of the U.S. financial crisis in The Nation, and a proposal for long-term immigration reform in the American Prospect.