Our people can rebuild American infrastructure
American cities are getting old, and the infrastructure that sustains those cities -- the bridges, roads, underground pipe systems -- are starting to break down, are no longer able to operate efficiently. The breakdown of these systems is costing the American taxpayers millions in repair and, in some cases it's costing some unfortunate residents their lives. American cities are getting old, and the infrastructure that sustains those cities -- the bridges, roads, underground pipe systems -- are starting to break down, are no longer able to operate efficiently. The breakdown of these systems is costing the American taxpayers millions in repair and, in some cases it's costing some unfortunate residents their lives.
Recently, a forty-year old bridge in Minnesota collapsed, killing at least half a dozen people. The bridge stretched across the Mississippi river and, according to one news report, was declared "structurally deficient" two years ago. In July, a steam explosion from an eighty-three-year old underground pipe in Manhattan killed one and injured nearly forty. Clean-up costs were estimated to reach in the millions.
The American Society of Civil Engineers says that it will take over one trillion dollars to repair the country's roads, airports and water systems over the next five years. The number is staggering, but the repairs are needed. Also needed are jobs for those Americans who are increasingly becoming isolated from the mainstream, particularly Black men. It's time we learned a lesson from history and instituted a public works project that would train Black men and connect them with public improvement jobs. Such a program would save the country billions while simultaneously saving a population that is slipping away.
The story of Black men in America has always been one that breaks the heart. There are success stories. But for every LeBron James or Sean Combs there are dozens more who never reach their full potential. In 2006, a study revealed that more than half of the Black men in the inner city do not finish high school. By the time they reach their mid-thirties, sixty percent of the Black men who had dropped out of school will have spent time in prison. A high school education doesn't guarantee success: half of Black men in their twenties, including those with a diploma, are unemployed. It doesn't have to be this way.
Black men can help rebuild American cities. During the Great Depression, the U.S. government established the Works Progress Administration (WPA) to provide jobs and income to the unemployed. Over the course of eight years, more than eight million Americans were hired through the WPA. The program built highways, sewers and parks, providing work to both blue and white collar workers alike. Unemployed Blacks were given a portion of these jobs as well. A similar program, one that focuses on repairing existing infrastructure and the need to empower Black men, could have the same positive effect on this country.
To solve many of the problems this country is facing -- such as urban blight and failing infrastructures -- creativity is needed. And we need to be smart about our resources. A program similar to the WPA that uplifts Black men and addresses the needs of aging cities would be both creative and resourceful. Over the last ten to fifteen years, poor women have, for the most part, thrived. The overhaul of the welfare system, while flawed, allowed many women to become self-sufficient for the first time in their lives. Black men deserve a similar opportunity, one that is implemented on a national scale.
Judge Greg Mathis is national vice president of Rainbow PUSH and a national board member of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.