An investment in infrastructure will put us on road to economic recovery

During a recent trip to Nevada, I met a plumber who spent half of his life mastering his craft at a company from which he hoped to retire. Then, the recession hit — hard. Despite having a job that people of my father’s generation thought was recession-proof, he found himself unemployed. He didn’t want to tell me his problems. Instead, he told me how he was leveraging opportunity, specifically a training program made available by my department, into a new career. Although it had been years since he was in a classroom, he learned a new skill. Today, he is a solar-panel installer. And he is doing well.

This story is not unique. I have heard similar ones from countless people across the country. Each reminds me that America’s spirit of “can do” is unstoppable and that our nation’s workers are the best in the world.

But I’ve heard other stories, too, throughout my travels as the nation’s secretary of labor — in small towns and large cities alike: the seamstress who is making half as much as she used to; the recent college graduate who can’t find a job; the senior who thought she would be retired by now but can’t afford to; and the veteran returning from service and wondering how he will make a living to support his wife and new baby.

The big question I always get is: What is Washington doing to turn this situation around?

From day one, President Obama and I have focused on reversing nearly a decade’s worth of failed economic policies that helped cause the worst recession since the Great Depression.  We’ve taken steps to move the economy forward and get our people back to work while rebuilding a strong economic foundation to ensure future prosperity.  

And we’ve come a long way since this recession took hold. After 22 straight months of job losses, we have seen our economy create private sector jobs for seven months in a row, totaling 600,000 new jobs so far this year. But, without question, we need to do more. And there are several steps we can take now that could make the difference in both promoting growth and hiring in the short term, and increasing our economy’s competitiveness in the long term.

The recession has been particularly tough on the construction trades. That’s why President Obama recently laid out a bold new six-year plan for rebuilding and modernizing America’s transportation infrastructure — combining new investments to renew and expand our roads, railways and runways. This plan will bring jobs to our economy now, be fully paid for and not add to the deficit over time and increase our nation’s growth and productivity over the long term.

But that is only part of the answer. We are also fighting for the extension of middle-class tax cuts. We’re working to double our exports of American-made goods and services — a step that will support American companies and American jobs. And we’re investing in the areas of our economy where the potential for job growth is greatest, such as hybrid vehicles, lithium batteries and clean energy, including wind, solar and biofuels.  

We also need to provide relief to our small businesses, the engine of job creation in our country.  Small businesses have been hit particularly hard, accounting for 60 percent of job losses in the final few months of last year. 

That’s why we are proposing a series of initiatives to make it easier for small businesses to grow and hire. We’ve passed eight different tax cuts for small businesses. We’ve supported nearly 70,000 new loans to small businesses, giving their owners the funds they needed to invest in their companies. 

The president is urging Congress to swiftly approve a set of tax breaks and lending incentives to spur hiring and growth at small businesses. It would help them get the credit they need and eliminate capital gains taxes on key investments so they have more incentive to invest right now. It would accelerate $55 billion of tax relief to encourage American businesses, small and large, to expand their investments over the next 14 months. Unfortunately, this bill is languishing in the Senate because a partisan minority won’t allow a vote on it.  

We are climbing out of this recession. The president and I have confidence in the American economy. We have confidence in the American people. And we will continue fighting every day to keep the American economy – and the American people — moving forward.

Solis is secretary of labor.