Among the many unclear policy messages emanating from President-elect Donald Trump’s transition effort, none has met as much guarded optimism as the plan to boost federal infrastructure investments.
Tony Yarber, mayor of Jackson, Miss., says that he isn’t sure if President-elect Donald Trump’s proposed infrastructure investments will benefit Blacks. (Courtesy photo)
Similar to the “stimulus” policy chiseled in President Obama’s American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (an $831 billion package roundly rejected by Republicans), this $1 trillion infrastructure enhancement is being touted as a “first-priority” centerpiece for the incoming Trump administration. Looking to revive the economy through revitalized bridges, roads, and airports, Trump seeks to align with Congressional Republicans on a common ground issue. The infrastructure plan is unlikely to be contested as several Democrats seem to be on board with new infrastructure investments. Soon-to-be Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) is signaling it’s an area of shared interest.
There are currently no specifics. Congressional aides expect wrangling over infrastructure dollars to commence as soon as Trump is sworn in, with some observers wondering how the new administration can progress on it while being potentially embroiled in a battle over making changes to the Affordable Care Act.
There is a sense that Trump will naturally shift attention to infrastructure investment where it’s needed most: America’s bustling cities. Should that be the case, many Black elected officials, particularly on the state and local level, are hoping new infrastructure stimulus translates into jobs and economic opportunities for Black communities clustered in densely populated urban areas.
“Improving our nation’s transportation and infrastructure is equally critical, and it will be a top priority to work with the new administration to bring American infrastructure into the 21st century,” said Kansas City, Mo. Mayor Sly James in a statement Nov. 14. “Currently, American communities are facing crumbling roads, failing bridges, and lackluster broadband access. This is an unacceptable paradigm a time when over 63 percent of the nation’s population lives in small and large cities.”
Infrastructure is the keyword. “Donald Trump has said he will make new investments in infrastructure one of his top priorities. We look forward to working with him to make that goal a reality,” added James.
“We’re really anxious right now, we’re not really sure about things are going to check out. We’re holding our fingers and our breath,” says Jackson, Miss. Mayor Tony Yarber (D-Jackson). Like many of his Black mayor peers, Yarber struggles with what’s on the horizon in an era of Trump “Still, infrastructure is something that raises quality of life in cities. We want to see economic empowerment and social empowerment. So, we welcome the infrastructure investment. Regular folks in our city are concerned about clean drinking water, flushing toilets that don’t back up into showers, and making sure people who are incarcerated, when they get out, have job opportunities.”
Still, the direct economic benefit to Black workers from infrastructure projects and investments is unclear. According to the Business Roundtable, a national trade group based in Washington, D.C., “up to $320 billion in economic output would be generated in 2020 if U.S. infrastructure investment were boosted by 1 percent of GDP per year.” That could mean 1.7 million jobs over the first three years and $3 in economic activity for every infrastructure investment dollar. Economists expect the infrastructure tide to lift all boats, particularly in underserved or unemployment-riddled communities needing that most.
Researcher Algernon Austin wrote, “Latinos would likely receive a relatively large share of jobs from infrastructure investments because they are well represented in construction and transportation occupations.”
“African Americans receive jobs from infrastructure investments, generally; however, they receive a larger share from public transit investments,” noted Austin in a 2013 Economic Policy Institute study examining the impact. “The right infrastructure investments can help reduce the Hispanic-White and Black-White unemployment gaps.”
“Republicans are definitely primed to undermine the public good in terms of social insurance,” said Maya Rockeymoore, founding CEO of D.C.-based think tank Global Policy Solutions. “And any infrastructure done through a Trump administration would certainly bypass unions. While, for communities of color, who haven’t been included in unions historically, that’s not such a bad thing, there is a worry of a continued erosion of job opportunities for those populations.”
Rockeymoore worries that implementation of any Trump infrastructure plan could be a trap. “What’s interesting is that the way this is done is going to matter,” Rockeymoore told the AFRO. “The plan is to finance it with international funders and hedge funds, but that’s done in such a way for companies to come in to charge tolls, fines, and fees as a form of ownership over this infrastructure. That’s predatory capitalism. It will be done in a way that squeezes individuals and families, but also the public sector.”