By Liz Hay
Elm Staff Writer
At a March 2021 rally in Pittsburgh, President Joe Biden announced the American Jobs Plan to invest over two trillion dollars in upgrades to the nation’s infrastructure and economy. These investments would be funded by increases in corporate taxation over the next 15 years.
This package is the first of a two-part policy plan from the White House intended to target economic recovery after the pandemic. The first half of the American Jobs Plan focuses largely on physical infrastructure, which will be followed by another package to address investments in areas such as education and childcare — dubbed the “care economy” in White House plans.
The United States’ physical infrastructure has been largely ignored for several decades. The American Society of Civil Engineers rated the U.S. overall as a C- on their 2021 Report Card for America’s Infrastructure, a comprehensive review of the U.S.’s physical infrastructure conditions, with variation from that national average among the states.
“Growing wear and tear on our nation’s roads have left 43% of our public roadways in poor or mediocre condition, a number that has remained stagnant over the past several years,” the report said.
According to the official fact sheet published by the White House, Biden’s plan would seek to revitalize the essential bridges, roads, trains, and pipelines that serve as the foundations of the nation’s economic activity. Biden also seeks to tackle resource inequities among communities in the U.S. and combat the impacts of climate change through this plan.
Even before the second piece of the plan is announced, it is evident that Biden hopes to not only modernize the nation’s existing infrastructure, but to bring the very concept of infrastructure into the 21st century. Infrastructure has typically meant the basic physical structures necessary for a functioning society and economy, such as roads and bridges, but Biden’s plan puts an additional emphasis on digital infrastructure.
“Biden wants to invest $100 billion in order to give every American access to affordable, reliable and high-speed broadband,” CNN said in a mid-April article.
In an era of digital work and digital learning, disparities in digital technology have become especially evident and impactful; if a student does not have reliable and fast broadband, they simply cannot participate in a Zoom class in the same way that another classmate can. These digital divides are particularly prominent among rural communities throughout Maryland, such as Kent County. Statewide, there are an estimated 324,000 rural individuals who lack access to high-speed internet, according to a 2019 report from the Maryland State Task Force on Rural Internet, Broadband, Wireless and Cellular Service.
Improving broadband through the American Jobs Plan is a critical step toward closing geographic gaps in access to essential services, but it is not the only aspect of the plan that would advantage Kent County residents.
The approval and implementation of the American Jobs Plan would provide huge benefits for Kent County due to its investment in the modern economy and environment. Roads and bridges are the backbone of commerce and actualizing the planned improvements and updates to those systems would allow the relatively remote Kent County businesses to expedite delivery of their own goods. They would also be able to cut down on production costs, since ordering supplies would be less expensive on more efficient infrastructure.
Another huge way Kent County and similar communities would be impacted by the American Jobs Plan is through its efforts to reduce environmental impacts and climate change. Rural areas that make a profit on agribusiness are already hit hard by the impacts of climate change.
Rural communities are feeling climate change’s impact through “crop and livestock loss from severe drought and flooding, damage to levees and roads from extreme storms, shifts in planting and harvesting times, and large-scale losses from fires and other weather-related disasters,” according to the National Climate Assessment.
Acting on climate change is necessary to protect rural communities in particular; the American Jobs Plan seeks to move the country’s infrastructure forward while also shifting the country toward renewable resources and environmental equity. The plan includes mechanisms to move the country toward 100% carbon-pollution free power by 2035 and also targets lead pollution, clean water, and remediation of existing hazards.
American infrastructure — particularly in rural areas — is in need of a massive overhaul, but Republicans are hesitant to commit to the financial, environmental, and social justice aspects of Biden’s proposal. They answered Biden’s American Jobs Plan in mid-April with their own $568 billion plan to tackle “core infrastructure,” The Washington Post said. This plan goes back to the basics of physical infrastructure — roads and bridges — and also severely cuts down on the time commitment of the projects.
However, the level of investment detailed in Biden’s American Jobs Plan is proportionate to the level of neglect faced by the nation’s infrastructure for decades. We have long ignored the crumbling roads and unequal internet access that plague millions of rural Americans, and the economy overall. The American Jobs Plan is a significant financial commitment, but it has the potential to revitalize infrastructure for Kent County residents and similar communities across the country, while simultaneously pushing the country toward a more sustainable future.
Featured Photo caption: Improvements to roads under the American Jobs Plan will help Kent County businesses. Photo by Sammy Jarrett.