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A message to the next president: invest in America

By Marc H. Morial
On August 2, 2016

Marc H. Morial

( – "America can't compete if she continues to warehouse a significant proportion of her work force in poverty and ignorance. If America is going to be competitive, she can't do so without investing in human resources." – John E. Jacob, National Urban League President and CEO, 1982-1994

As the major-party conventions have concluded and the general election season begins in earnest, the National Urban League has a message for the next president, whoever he or she might be: invest in America.

When Europe found itself in physical and economic ruin after World War II, the United States invested $13 billion ($130 billion in today’s dollars) through the European Recovery Program, more commonly known as the Marshall Plan, after Secretary of State George Marshall. Since 2006, the United States has spent nearly $50 billion rebuilding Afghanistan through the Afghanistan Infrastructure Rehabilitation Program. The Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP), signed into law by President George W. Bush in 2008, infused the nation’s faltering financial institutions with investments of more than $400 billion. The United States’ collections under TARP and affiliated relief efforts, actually have exceed total disbursements by more than $12 billion.

Whether we call it “recovery” “rehabilitation” or “relief,” it’s time for America to demonstrate that our commitment to our own struggling urban families and communities is as powerful and compelling as it was for Europe, or for Afghanistan or for Wall Street.

National Urban League proposes a sweeping and decisive solution to the nation’s persistent social and economic disparities: the Main Street Marshall Plan: From Poverty To Shared Prosperity.

In many ways, the country's recovery from the Great Recession is well underway. But the recovery essentially has bypassed struggling communities of color. Black Americans remain twice as likely as Whites to be unemployed. Since 1976, the Black unemployment rate has consistently remained about twice the White rate across time and at every level of education. The household income gap remains at about 60 cents for every dollar. Black Americans are only slightly less likely today to live in poverty than they were 40 years ago.

The Main Street Marshall Plan is a bold and strategic investment of $1 trillion over the next five years in America’s urban communities is a commitment of $1 trillion over the next five years, including:

  • Universal early childhood education
  • A federal living wage indexed to inflation
  • An urban infrastructure fund to fund schools, community centers, libraries, water systems and urban transportation
  • A new Main Street small- and micro-business financing plan with emphasis on businesses owned by women and people of color
  • Expansion of summer youth employment programs, housing vouchers and workforce tax credits
  • A new homeownership tax credit for middle and low-income homebuyers
  • Expansion of the Earned Income Tax Credit
  • Workforce training programs administered thru community-based organizations and targeted to areas of high unemployment
  • A doubling of the Pell Grant program to make college more affordable, increasing the maximum grant from $5,775 to $11,550
  • Expansion of financial literacy and homebuyer education and counseling
  • Increased access to affordable broadband and mobile technology for working- and low-income Americans

Under President Obama, the nation has made great strides in stabilizing the economy. In eight years, the nation has gone from losing hundreds of thousands of jobs per month to 73 straight months of job growth. During President Obama’s term, the private sector has added 14.4 million new jobs. The Economic Recovery and Reinvestment Act is widely credited with protecting the nation from a second Great Depression.

Much more remains to be done, however. The benefits of the recovery have not reached our most troubled communities. We cannot continue to rely on policies that have proved ineffective in communities of high unemployment and low income; we must focus our resources and efforts on the neighborhoods where they are most desperately needed.

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